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Archive for November, 2012

PR Interview with Jules Zunich

November 8, 2012 5 comments

One of the selfish reasons for launching this Q&A project was to use this site to better get to know some of the good folks that I’ve met via social media – especially those that live too far away to meet for coffee. One such example is today’s feature – episode 002 or Jules to her friends.

Jules Zunich, PR Consultant, President of Z Group PR, blogger, parent, and all around cool person.

Jules, you’ve been running your own PR / Comms consultancy for over a decade, could you talk about your normal day to day looks like?

Part of the reason I work for myself is because I have four children. I fully expected to work my way up the corporate ladder at some huge firm in Los Angeles or New York, but being a mom changed my priorities. I like being able to flex through my day between my corporate self and my mommy self. I miss agency life, but kids don’t stay little forever. So my typical day is totally spastic. I am cooking and checking email, writing and doing laundry, driving and having conference calls. Even with a dedicated office that is totally kid free, I feel comfortable stopping in the middle of the day to print cut-outs for the kindergarten class. I have worked in traditional 9 to 5 office roles, but with those, I had amazing flexibility and support. I have never been chained to a desk. My personality is more suited to corporate life, but my lifestyle is more suited for consulting. I would take a great job offer, because managing a business is hard and I miss my matching 401k, but I always come back to consulting because I get to pick awesome clients and projects and not miss my kids.

You have your own blog, which you know I’ve long been a big fan of, what have you learned about blogging over the last couple of years?

Yes, you have been my biggest fan and I thank you deeply for that. It really means so much to me. I was terrified when I started my blog, but I am over it now. What I have learned is that everything I tell my clients about blogging is true: It is a pain, a labor of love, and requires a commitment to writing that most non-marketing managers lack. It can be deeply rewarding, but rarely in financial terms. As a writer and communications professional, I find the burden of managing a blog to be almost too much for me. As you have noticed, I have taken long breaks.I often think of stopping and taking it down because I know that I am not doing it right. I am exceptionally critical and I knew it should and could be so much more. I am glad that I forced myself to manage a blog so that I can really be authentic when guiding clients. Right now the advice that I am sharing is this: If you do not have an hour a day to blog, then you will not get the results that you want. If an executive sniffs at that, then I know blogging is not for them. And I do not recommend hiring it out. Yes, have a great web person who can help you with the technical stuff (yes, I have stayed up all night trying to get a widget to work) but the blogs that are great are steeped in authenticity. And anyone who lets the interns run the blog should be tarred and feathered.

What tips do you have for individuals or companies starting a blog?

After blocking access to the interns, ask yourself and your team why you want to start one and have a really, really good reason. If you do not have people clamoring for your thoughts – emailing you, calling your or finding you via social media on a daily basis – then maybe you do not need a blog and your marketing efforts could be better applied in other areas. I think people over simplify their marketing these days and are completely lost in the noise and have no idea why. The splatter effect is good for art, not business. A blog that basically says, “Me Too,” is not really going to market your products and services very well. I have had a lot of success on my blog, but would not say that it has been successful at marketing my services. Readers and paying clients are two different things.

If you could do anything outside of PR / Communications, what would you choose and why?

I have always loved to dance and I taught fitness classes when I was younger. When I see anyone dancing or even hear music, my heart stirs and I long to be in a dance studio again. If I could do it all over again, I would have been less practical and danced my heart out before I looked for a real job. Also, I am really good at giving advice. I come from a family of therapists and medical professionals, plus I am a little bossy. I would be a great therapist or life coach.

How did you get into public relations?

I was in school in California and an instructor recommended me for a paid internship at Jane Ayer Public Relations. Until that point, I had wanted to work in advertising, but after about two seconds in Jane’s office, I knew that PR was for me. I am thankful for her every day. I was actually working at a small community newspaper at the time too, so I marched into the Publishers office and laid out a new position for myself. He supported me and I started working in community relations. I like to learn by watching others, but I can make things happen for myself when needed. I had really great work experience early on.

If you could change one thing about the PR industry, what would it be?

I would make it harder to enter the field. Truck drivers have to be licensed, why shouldn’t we? Of course, the old people like me would be grandfathered in – I hate taking tests. I think that PR people had it easy in the previous decade and now we have to prove ourselves again. Dot com PR was so easy. We need to be more focused on business outcomes. Trust is a huge issue and I have seen some craziness in the profession that makes me want to run screaming. I take all of that with a grain of salt though, because I know that the vast majority of practitioners are champions of the profession. The one thing I would campaign for is strict limitations in how interns are utilized and there is some political PR and campaigning stuff that is just wrong.

How has PR/Comms industry changed in the last 5 years?

The Wizard of Oz approach is gone. You can no longer do your magic behind the curtain and then voila! news coverage. The past 5 years has brought transparency at all levels, which is good. I think the past 5 years has changed professionals, creating a chasm between the tech savvy and the not tech savvy. And by tech savvy I mean digital and social media savvy. I am seeing very senior, experienced people flailing and rookies rockin’ it. It’s an uncomfortable shift in the force, but a necessary one.

What does PR/Comms industry look like in 5 years?

Less shiny. The days of huge agency contracts will be over. I see more in-house PR as companies realize that PR is still as much a science as an art. Companies will want to harness that power. I see the superstars shining a little less brightly and everyone just getting back to business.

Did you pay much attention to the recent attempt by PRSA to redefine public relations?

Yes and no. I like structure and I like the association in general. I followed the news, but kept my mouth shut. Which is not easy. But honestly, how bad is that our PR association had to redefine our role in business. If we can’t brand ourselves…

I agree with the definitions, but the whole process highlighted the profession in a less than flattering light, I feel. I am not big on airing dirty linens. I would have liked to have seen a little less of the process publicized.

What social media platform do you use (most) professionally? And is it different from what you use for personal?

Funny. I just told someone that following me on Twitter and Facebook is like following twins with distinct personalities. For me Twitter is 99% professional and Facebook is 99% personal. My Twitter feed is full of PR professionals and my Facebook friends are people I went to high school with. There is rarely overlap. I have a Facebook page, which lingers somewhere in the middle due to the people who Like it, but the content is professional. LinkedIn gets the least of my attention and is totally professional.

Do you make any attempt to differentiate you personal from your professional social media persona? If so, how?

Yes, but I rarely need to. I am always me and I tend to be rather formal so everything is professional to me. I never post about my relationship status or anything like that. I will do cute kid stuff on Facebook, but mostly I’m all work all the time. Or my style of work all the time, I should say.

The best PR / Communications people you’ve ever worked with share what quality?

Clarity.

What is the the last PR / Comms book you’ve read and would you recommend it?

I just read Dial M for Murdoch and yes, it seems like essential reading for communications professionals.

What are your top three industry related blogs / resources?

I am like an old dog…not interested in many new tricks. I pretty much read business news like NYT Media and Advertising and Forbes Media and Entertainment. My all-time favorite blog is PR Squared, although I tend to avoid gurus. I get all of the industry standards and just pick through them when I have time. And I read what my followers tweet.

What advice would you give young professionals just starting out in this industry?

Don’t be so creative.

What is the best professional advice you ever received?

Don’t take things so personally.

People that know you you would describe you as?  

Silly. Competitive. Kind. So many people confess later that they were initially intimidated by me, which I find shocking.

What is your Immediate reaction to the following?:

Twitter: Love
Facebook: Evil nuisance
Google+: Who cares
Klout: Napoleon Complexes
Corporate blogs: Paychecks
LinkedIn: Necessary
Social media: Life
Public relations: Everything

With, it depends or a combination of both not being allowed, the most effective PR program is driven by internal communications leaders or outside agency / consultant?

A strong internal team is the way to go, but it can be a negativity/doldrums graveyard if not tended properly.

In what ways do you think  social media has changed public relations?

Increased transparency is my favorite change, just ahead of increased pressure on professionals to bring it.

And is this good for PR agency /consultants?

Yep, great for both.

Need more of Jules? Check her out on Twitter: @JulesZunichPR, LinkedIn, the ZGroup site or read a guest post she contributed to this very site.

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PR Interview with Frank Strong

November 2, 2012 5 comments

Welcome to episode 001, in a series of Q&A interviews highlighting some of the industry’s most well known, most interesting and most unique characters. Also known as a bunch of nice people that were willing to answer my questions. The first Q&A features a guy I’ve gotten to know  over the last couple of years via social media.

Frank Strong, director of public relations at Vocus, father, PR pro, soldier, scuba diver, skydiver in training. Oh yeah, and highly regarded blogger.

Frank, in addition to an accomplished PR career, you’re also an active member of (reserve components of the) U.S. military with 20 years of service. How has your military experience influenced your PR career?

My military service has been beneficial on so many levels — It’s kept me humble. Uncle Sam has a way of stripping you down to your core. It’s the basis of training: you are all the same; you are all equal. Few people progress in their careers only to find themselves in a spot that tests their limits. Everyone has a threshold. I know mine is far beyond what my body tells me it is.

It’s taught me to solve problems. In a social media age, I come to work every morning to five problems I didn’t anticipate the night before. The military has taught me adaptability. Take a middle class kid and stick him in a different culture, amid a war zone, with some high tech equipment and ask him (or her) to do well by the United States — now that’s a challenge.

It’s made me a better leader. The military attracts people from all walks of life; you learn a lot about what motivates people and what does not. It’s allowed me, from a relatively young age, to study people and how to influence them to accomplish a mission. Usually that mission has challenges unique unto itself.

It’s made me a better person. We all work hard. We all put in long hours — especially PR pros. I go home at night and my work isn’t done. You can’t just show up on a weekend and expect military training to go off like clockwork: someone is planning that training, securing resources and generally getting the job done. Guard and Reservist component military members give a lot, they sacrifice a tremendous amount of time often at great personal expense. Reservists do it because they believe in a cause greater than oneself; and if a few don’t stand up and give…then who will? Fewer and fewer people these days serve, or have the patience to understand what it means beyond a headline. They don’t call it the “long war” for nothing. The people that serve are truly great Americans and that’s one of the things that motivates me to get up early every morning.

Frank, you were very outspoken and active during the PRSA’s recent campaign to redefine public relations. Looking back at the process, backlash and end result, what are your current thoughts? Was this a failure, a good try or is it something the industry should revisit?

I was, and remain outspoken, because I care deeply about my profession. I’m critical of PRSA because I see the organization missing the mark, when it has so much potential. Indeed, the PR industry desperately needs and advocate for the good, honest work that many PR pros are doing in the trenches. When I posted my criticism of PRSA, I was deployed overseas, and literally lost sleep to comment on the topic. I had braced for a huge backlash, but what I found was most of my peers agreed with me; even CIPR distanced itself from the campaign and I have yet to meet a peer that thought that campaign changed anything. Look around today. What has changed?

PR boils down to three simple words: third-party validation. If you are in events, media relations, content marketing, or any of the number of things PR pros might do, these three words apply. A definition, the very words that define who we are and what we do, is incredibly important. This is not a trivial matter.

You have a very unique position in the PR industry, you are an internal PR person for a company that is used by PR agencies, so (with it depends / a combination of both not allowed as an option) in your opinion, which is more valuable to a PR program, internal or external PR leadership?

Indeed my job is unique and it’s about as central to PR as one can get. It’s given me a glimpse of some of the most renowned professionals in our business that many don’t see — the good, the bad and the ugly. But I don’t kiss and tell. Internal vs. external? I think the two go hand in hand. The best companies tap the army of personas they have in their employees, and inspire them to inspire others.

How did you get into public relations?

I was doing internal communications for the Army and decided to go back for a master’s degree. I pitched an agency on an internship that led to a job — but at a salary cut of about $15,000. That hurt, financially, but I paid my dues and gained valuable experience for which cannot be bartered otherwise.

What does PR look like in 5 years?

Media relations — or pitching — will be deemphasized. PR pros have been catapulted to the front line; the days of pitching a story and putting forth an expert are ending. We have to be the experts. We have to earn attention with brilliant content. I see this more and more: my words are taken for stories or blog posts where my intent was to put forth another expert.

If you were King of Public Relations for one day, what changes would you make?

A class in finance would be prerequisite to a job in PR. It doesn’t matter if you work for the government, a non-profit or business, every organization lives and breaths by a budget. PR pros need to understand basics, like ROI, and beyond, such as how a cash flow statement links the income statement to a balance sheet. It’s not optional anymore and no amount of creative brilliance can make up that gap.

The best PR / Communications people you’ve ever worked with share what quality?

Enthusiasm for whatever they represent. It doesn’t matter if it’s a product, a service or an idea, you can’t fake the funk for long. If you believe in what you do, you’ll go places; if you do not, it’s better to pack up and go home. As a kid growing up, my father used to say, “do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I believe those words are true in my heart of hearts. I love the profession of PR; I love what I do.

What is the the last PR / Comms book you’ve read and would you recommend it?

The latest marketing book I’ve read was Marketing in the Round. I’d absolutely recommend it, have done so on Amazon.com and wrote a post about it on my personal blog.

What are your top three industry related blogs / resources?

At risk of plugging my own company’s products, I’d have to say Help A Reporter Out (HARO) tops the list. Vocus acquires it in 2010, but the basic product and premise remains the same. Every PR pro in the industry should be subscribed. It’s free!

Second and third, I’d have to plug two blogs: Gini Dietrich’s SpinSucks and Todd Defren’s PR Squared.

Gini – What’s not to love about her: she’s personable, she’s smart and she’s genuine. I really admire the way she works to respond to people — everyone. Her blog has great content and she has a history of consistency.

Todd – He’s just a smart guy. He doesn’t post nearly as often as he used to, but it seems to me more often than not I find my head going north and south as I’m reading his words.

What advice would you give young professionals just starting out in this industry?

Blog. If you do nothing else, blog. You’ll learn about audience identification. You’ll learn humility. You’ll learn valuable writing skills. You’ll learn about building a community. It’ll keep you on the edge of technology and you’ll learn just how much hard work it takes to build a successful blog.

Who are your top three ‘people I’ve met via social media that I’d like to have dinner / beer with?’

Melyssa St. Michael: I’ve never met her but I’ve spoken to her on social media and email and she just strikes me as scary smart.

Rebecca Ayer: She’s a huge advocate of troops. She reached out to me a few times while overseas — during times she could have not possibly known were rough — and it just touched my heart. The world would be a better place with more people like her.

Adam Vincenzini: Adam just seems to me a smart PR guy and someone that would be fun to have a beer with.

What is your immediate reaction to the follow?

Twitter: Speed
Facebook: Intimacy
Google+: Search
Corporate blogs: Searching for a voice
LinkedIn: Professional
Social media: OMG
Public relations: Third-party validation

Need more of Frank? Check him out on Twitter @Frank_StrongLinkedInSword and the Script Blog, Google+ and his Spin Sucks FF Profile.