Public Relations Face-Off

Public Relations Face-Off

By: Jocelyne Leszczynski & Sarah Allin
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Sarah: It was the job I was told I was lucky to get: the PR Intern at Grey Vancouver, and I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t the first time I had applied for it. Yet when it came to my first day, I was absolutely terrified. I had no idea what I was doing, I had no prior public relations experience, and I had no clue as to what to expect from the job. Much to my relief, I easily transitioned into the position, and have come to love my job for both the people there, and the opportunities that it has provided me. Through these first few months I have come to realize that I had no need to worry. In fact, my job training occurred before I was even hired, as my work in public relations is much like the job application process itself.

When it comes to traditional public relations, the goal is to secure positive media coverage for your client. From the stories that are published, we can calculate how many people they reached and the value, or how much it would have cost to buy equivalent advertising.

Reading job descriptions and finding the ones you want to apply for is like building a media list. It’s your job to find people who you think would like to hear your story (or read your resume), be relatively interested in it, want to learn more from you, and will eventually cover the story.

Writing a cover letter is much the same as introducing your media advisory or press release. Along with summarizing what they will later read, it is your chance to prove to your potential employer (or media hit) that not only are you interested in getting their attention, but that they should be interested in you. It’s convincing them that if they write about your client it will make for an excellent piece that their audience will be interested in.

The press release is the resume you had; standard information that everyone receives. Better make sure that it’s succinct, well formatted, and to the point, as very few people will actually read the thing from start to finish. If they’re really interested, your contact information is provided so they can learn more about you or your story. “ work in public relations is much like the job application process itself.” When it comes to the telephone follow-up, you need to prepare for it like you would prepare for an interview. Having a good phone manner is the same as picking out the right phone outfit; “umm” and “what?” are the equivalent of a big mustard stain on your shirt. Most importantly, you have to be on time, and by that I mean being able to catch a reporter when they are actually at their desk, a feat that is harder than it sounds.

Perhaps I should consider myself lucky that I didn’t get this position the first time I applied for it. If my cover letter and resume didn’t stack up to the 30 or so others that Grey received that semester, it’s highly unlikely that my press releases would reach the attention of the reporters and news desks that receive hundreds of e-mails a day.

As for media coverage, it may not happen as often as you like, and just like your job hunt, you learn to deal with disappointment. But after all that hard work, seeing the story you pitched in the paper or on television is just as rewarding as getting the job.

Jocelyne: Fleishman Hillard is a public relations firm with over 80 offices world- wide, specializing in both local and international campaigns. Vancouver is one of five Canadian offices, and operates with anywhere from 10 to 16 people at any given time. But don’t let our size fool you! Fleishman Vancouver clientele include Bombardier, VISA, The Boathouse, Tourism Australia, Frito-Lay and Mars, just to name a few.

My first half of my day at Fleishman is to monitor the media on behalf of about 20 clients. By the end of an eight-hour day, I will have scanned all the major Canadian newspapers and magazines as well as local community newsletters, business publications, independent press publications, blogs, social media sites and a host of other industry-specific publications. I’ll clip and record all media pick-up of interest and send them to my client with daily summaries on tone and audience reach. When Parliament is in session, I also monitor all Question Periods as well as scan transcripts from public Ministry meetings.

The second half of my day is a mish-mash of everything. Over the last three months, I’ve helped to organize events, format government PowerPoint presentations, contribute writing to new-client proposals, and call media to alert them to stories about our clients. Administrative work is also thrown into the mix, and I’ll often be called upon to arrange courier services, scan and format articles, update a client webpage or print and bind a presentation for a government meeting.

Highlights at Fleishman include pitching stories to press that have gotten published in major newspapers, organizing high profile events attended by government officials and media, and writing major sections of client proposals and presentations (which look great in my portfolio!). Most recently, I helped organize an event at Cultus Lake for Encorp Pacific (the recycling people), where I was lucky enough to spend a day at the beach and meet the Minister of the Environment.

Lowlights include having ‘promotional’ material strewn about the office (Sunchips/Dorito/M&M’s), which means I expect to gain approximately a hundred pounds by December. But despite that, I’ve already gained (pun intended!) huge insight into the world of public relations and I look forward to taking on bigger and bigger projects as my co-op term progresses.

Posted on September 20, 2010