Success Secrets of PR Legends: What We Wish We Knew Back Then (Part 2)


What could you learn from some of the most seasoned PR and corporate communications leaders? Plenty. Here’s a second helping of career insights from several of the Twin Cities’ most successful PR professionals:

Michael Porter, APR

Director of MBC and Health Care Communications Programs at Opus College of Business, St. Thomas University

When you’re early in your career or new to an organization, worry less about making a huge contribution in your first meeting and spend time listening to who knows and cares about which things. Seek those individuals out to share thoughts, ideas and questions. Test your ideas, even though you may not get all the limelight up front. Maybe you can work with that person to present the idea at the next gathering. Don’t anguish over whether someone might steal your idea. If someone does more than once, you can stop sharing. Take the risk and be generous – sometimes allies are worth way more than credit anyway.

Treat Everyone with Respect and Genuine Interest. That goes for the waiter, the custodian and the homeless person you pass on the way to a meeting. People you work with may not even consciously consider how you treat people “lower” than you, but it will change how you are perceived, and that seeps into every facet of your personal brand. There are no demeaning jobs, only demeaning people – don’t be one of those.

Confidence. Lack of confidence represents the single most frustrating thing I find in graduate students who are about to complete their degrees. By the time someone has a graduate degree and 5 to 10 years of experience, that person knows things that others around the organization don’t. Some of it is experience, some education, but a lot of it is from proximity – being in the thick of the action and information in the firm, combined with unique perspectives and knowledge to analyze it. Own your perceptions. Take possession of what you think and present it within the context of what management cares about. You owe it to the firm, and yourself.”

Natalie Bushaw

Public Relations Director of Life Time Fitness and former PR Director-Cause Marketing and Community Relations for Macy’s and Senior Manager, Brand PR with Best Buy

Ask. Get. Don’t. Won’t. Whether it’s asking for the story with media, asking about your growth potential in a position or asking for a raise at work, if you don’t ask, you will never get.” 

There’s No Limit to What You Can Accomplish as Long as You Don’t Care Who Gets the Credit. This is a big one for me and how I aim to lead the success of my teams. We are stronger together.

Serve. Schlep. Schmooze. Smile. It was when Patti LaBelle asked me for a doggy bag for her and Sheila E. that I coined “The Four S’s of PR.” In our industry, we really do do it all and no matter our level, can ever be too good for any of them.

Give Back. Get Back. Volunteering with organizations that you’re passionate about or have a personal or professional connection to is quite possibly the most rewarding thing we can do. As a side benefit, it’s a phenomenal way to extend your relationships and network.”

Fred Haberman

CEO and Co-Founder, Haberman 
Make a Difference in the World. At our agency, we’ve always said that a good story well told can change the world. I really believe that – we communicators have the power to raise awareness, open minds and change hearts. I encourage young folks in our field to think about that power. How can you use it for good? What will your legacy be?

Follow Your Passion. When you look back on your career, will you be proud of the people and causes you promoted? It has a lot to do with passion, too. If you follow your passion, you’ll do better work. And you’ll be happier. I guarantee it. It sounds simple. It is.

Be Vulnerable. Be OK with being uncomfortable sometimes – it’s how you learn to adapt and it’s the only way to grow.”

Alyssa Ebel

Senior Public Information Officer, Explore Minnesota Tourism
Life Is a Network. From media to peers, to big-time executives – never stop networking. It makes you a better person and better at your job. Plus, one day it might land you a placement on the awesome MaccaPR Blog (what an honor!). Now shoot someone an email to meet up for a quick coffee, or a #MNBeer that you can find #OnlyinMN. 

Cut the Hierarchy and Always be a Team Player. From two to 20+ years of experience, you’re never too ‘good’ to draft a release or pull a media list. Otherwise, your colleagues will totally talk about you.

Embrace Your Brand Outside of the Workplace. Just ask WCCO-TV’s Jason DeRusha how many times I use #OnlyinMN on my Twitter and Instagram channels. Not because I have to, but because I truly believe in Explore Minnesota’s travel marketing initiatives and have a blast sharing all the sites you can find #OnlyinMN.

Don’t be Afraid to Mingle with Media on Social Channels. I promise, they won’t bite.”

Jon Austin

Owner, J Austin & Associates crisis communications agency, former Senior Vice President of Fleishman-Hillard, and managing director for Corporate Communications with Northwest Airlines.

JonAustin.jpg “Practice Writing. Even in the digital, multimedia, 140-character world we live in, I spend at least 40 percent of my workday writing stuff. It is the single most important skill a practitioner needs and – this will sound like a cranky old guy complaint – but most writing I That’s the professional term, and I’m not being figurative; literally over half of what I’m asked to read, edit or review would have gotten the big red “F” from Mrs. Tremaine in seventh grade English. Good news is that writing is a skill that can be learned and improved with practice and by doing the simplest of all things...reading.

Pay Attention. Good public relations comes down to two requirements – judgment and understanding context. You can gain that by watching the world around you and thinking about it critically. Look at people and organizations that do communications well – or poorly – and extrapolate it to your work.

Kill PowerPoint. Really, delete it from your computer. Start a companywide ban on its use. It’s killing us from the brain down because your typical presentation involving PowerPoint kills about as many brain cells as a two-day bender. Some presenters seem to think that presenting means reading...every...word...on...every...line...on...every...slide. Not only is this the deadliest form of communication known to man, it’s insulting because what PowerPoint implies is that: 1) the presenter is unfamiliar with the material and thus wasting the audience’s time and 2) the presenter thinks the audience is too stupid to read and process the 20-40 words on the screen and must be read aloud to. Radical thought – do the whole thing without using PowerPoint. If one company does that, and then another, and another, who knows? Maybe real communication will occur. Wouldn’t that be something?”

Teresa McFarland

President of Minneapolis agency GDB Pitch, former Communications Director for Minneapolis-Saint Paul Host Committee of the 2009 Republican National Convention and Director of Public Relations for Mall of America.
"Be a Good Listener and Insanely Curious. In order to understand what your client or your boss need, start by listening and then asking questions. It isn’t about you – it’s about them. Don’t talk to talk...listen. Then talk. 

PR is a Lifestyle, Not a Job. With the 24/7 news cycle, you’re always on. PR professionals are often the eyes, ears and even the “mouthpiece” for clients or their companies. Sometimes, that means you are watching breaking news and finding an opportunity to insert a client or product into that news cycle. It also means that you have to respond when media call you at 8 p.m. on a Friday night to fact check a story. To be good at a PR job means that you are flexible and nimble and that you always respond.

Make Connections. Despite our increased reliance on social channels to communicate, personal connections trump all. Ask a reporter to go out for coffee or a beer so you can talk about their beat and better understand what they’re interested in covering. In addition, don’t reach out only when you’re pitching them. If they’ve reported a story that you really liked, email or call them and tell them that that you appreciated their work. The same goes for clients; find ways to connect with them outside of the daily grind.

And finally... 

Never Assume. When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. Always double check and ask questions. That could mean something as simple as proofing the company boilerplate before sending that release out (even though it’s the tenth one you’ve sent out for them). If something has changed – you want to catch it."

Be sure to read Part One of our MaccaPR Blog’s “Success Secrets of Minnesota PR Legends,” which featured insights from MIMA Board member and blogger Arik Hanson, Lola Red PR’s Alexis Walsko, Fast Horse founder Jorg Pierach, Fleishman-Hillard EVP Kelly Puspoki, Honeywell Business Communications Director Greg Zimprich, and Minnesota PRSA Board member Angela Babb.

Still looking for more advice? Subscribe today for Paul's top notch tips on building a kick-butt career in PR.

About the Author

Paul Maccabee

Paul Maccabee is president at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.

Topics:  PR Perspectives

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