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The end of an era… (ok, the end of an internship)

I understand this is far overdue, but I believe a final post from The Witty Intern is in order.

The end of my summer in Nashville, and the end of my internship for that matter, crept up on me quite quickly. First thing I knew, I was being pried from the little niche I’d made for myself over the past couple months.

Where did the summer go? I’m not ready to say goodbye. I’m not ready to leave. (Besides, I probably won’t have an office this nice ever again) #SpoiledIntern

I suppose that all good things must come to an end.

From the beginning, the purpose of this blog was to be a place for reflection. I stated that I’d be sharing my summer internship experience at a PR agency with the hopes of gaining a little wisdom along the way. It’s amusing to read my first few posts and laugh at my frantic confusion and fatigue. Then again, it’s amusing to read my last couple posts and laugh at my confusion and fatigue. Those things seem to be a constant in this industry (and 6 a.m. in the morning will always be 6 a.m. in the morning).

And although this summer was filled with a lot of hard work, it has turned out to be an invaluable experience. I can excitingly say that I know what I want to do with the rest of my life. Anybody jealous?

I learned that the field of PR, namely the agency environment, is one in which I could thrive. I loved the collaborative aspect and the variety of accounts, projects and interactions. Using a combination of strategic planning and creativity to provide real solutions gave a sense of purpose and fulfillment in the work that I did. I learned what it meant to be given true responsibilities and to work as a valued member of a team. At the same time, I learned the technical aspects of the job: press releases, case studies and pitches…phones, filing and copiers. I may have even gleaned a few things about office culture and etiquette.

I came to find I was very fortunate to be interning at an agency that held such confidence in my abilities and allowed me the opportunities that they did. And to KVB, I’m very grateful.

I wrote a farewell post for the agency blog, which can be read here: The Value of an Intern(ship)

I’m already back at school (Roll Tide), and I’ve already started classes and a new internship at the Mayor’s Office. Due to complete lack of free time, maintaining The Witty Intern would be impossible, and it is with a heavy heart I must announce that the end of its editorial existence. Besides, I’d like to think that any return to the blogosphere would be under a new name — perhaps something like… The Young (Employed) PR Professional!

I’d like to thank anyone who took the time to follow my blog, whether it was loyally, periodically or by an accidental slip of the mouse (I mean, hey… that still counts as a click in my blog statistics). I received over 1,000 blog views in just a short two and a half months. And as far as my goals for this blog, I believe I’ve met them all: I learned what I set out to learn and so much more.

To all the employers out there, I urge you to select your interns thoughtfully, and then have faith in the value they can bring to your company. And likewise, to the interns, I urge you to never underestimate the value you can provide.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Using social media to pitch the press

Any PR seminar that includes Social Media in the title will be guaranteed sell-out. Of course then, you better know what the heck you’re talking about.

Social networking sites such as Twitter ad Facebook have become an integral part of PR, but only as of very recently. And the speed at which social media has transformed the industry has set PR practitioners into a bit of a frenzy. How do we get involved with social media? How do we use it to our benefit? How do we keep from falling behind?

As a PR intern, I have the same concerns. I may be queen bee of the tags and retweets, but my experience with social media thus far has been purely personal.

Lucky for me, my office recently participated in a webinar that shed some light on how to utilize social media in my professional efforts as well. The topic was Using Social Media to Pitch to the Press.

The webinar was based on recent findings from the Pew Research Center: For the first time ever, more people are getting their news from the web, rather than the newspaper. Wow!

A journalist’s roles are changing, and more than ever, they’re in need of content. By way of social media, many of them are actually engaging with readers and PR professionals in order to gain ideas or insight on stories they’re working on.

Our first reaction is that we can help with that! Let’s give it straight to them! However, the seminar highlighted one important step that PR professionals often disregard when pitching via social media.

Lesson Learned: Just as with traditional media pitches, building journalist relationships are key. That aspect doesn’t change with social media. What changes is HOW you build those relationships:

(Step One)Start following the appropriate journalists and opinion leaders. Your first step is to define the audience your client is trying to reach; then determine the key influencers, journalists and bloggers for that audience. Read their articles, tweets and blogs. Become familiar with their work and areas of coverage. This gives you an idea of the type of info and stories they’d find relevant.

(Step Two)Get on their radar. You do this by engaging with journalists and opinion leaders online. Retweet when they produce a helpful blog post, and respond to an inquiry they pose. Comment on articles thoughtfully by adding a new perspective. Make sure each engagement is in good judgement, and avoid the hopeless flattery we’ve all seen: OMG @crazykooljournalist, I love-love-loved your article on the panda bears! #awesome. I mean, personally, I’d be flattered, but let’s go with the professional opinion that thoughtful and creative commentary is what builds one’s credibility.

(Step Three)Provide relevant information. Now that you’ve built relationships, you’re in a position to provide relevant information when needed. Choose your opportunities carefully. If a journalist is looking for a source within your client’s line of business, offer to put them in touch. If a tech blogger is in search of the coolest new gadgets, then link him to your client’s latest product development. In each instance, they will be more willing to receive that information once you have built a relationship and established credibility.

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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26.2 miles to seasoned pitching

One of the most difficult skills for a PR intern to learn is pitching to the media. Thus, some professionals believe that we should not be permitted to do so.

Joan Stewart of the Publicity Hound recently published a blog titled 5 reasons why PR interns shouldn’t be pitching the media. And in the first sentence, she warns: don’t fall into the trap of letting them learn on the client’s nickel.
Uh-oh, she’s on to us interns and our trickery…

Below, verbatim, are her five reasons why interns shouldn’t be pitching to the media:

1. Pitching is difficult enough for PR people who have been doing it for many years. It’s the one skill that takes most professionals several years to learn, and several more to hone.

2. Most interns, who don’t know the client’s company intimately, are ill-equipped to answer a reporter’s question about the client. An intern who’s caught off-guard might not know how to respond, particularly if the question deals with a bad-news situation on a topic that’s a lot juicier than the topic of the pitch.

3. Put yourself in the client’s place. What would you think if you knew that an amateur college student was representing you and your brand in front of the media and bloggers?

4. Guarding and protecting the client’s reputation is a lot more important than letting an intern stumble and fall and “learn from the experience.”

5. Pitching is all about building relationships with the media. Interns typically arrive in May or June and they’re gone by September. Work on building the relationships between the media and YOU.

When I read that list, I agree that her concerns are valid when it comes to guarding and protecting a client’s reputation. I agree that her concerns warrant caution going forward, but I don’t agree that they are reason enough to stifle the education/development of up-and-coming professionals. Our inquiring young minds are ravenous for know-how!

Teaching an intern to pitch neither has to be a trap, nor at the expense at the client’s nickel.
How do I know this? Because I’m well into the learning process and my agency has yet to go up in flames.

To me, her blog post only seems to be considering two extremes: either we let our clueless interns loose on the media OR we ban them from pitching altogether. Why is there no middle ground to consider? Where is the option to provide your intern with a little training/supervision and start them off small?

[Warning: cheesy metaphor ahead]
To me, it’s comparable to running a marathon. Before you start training, there’s a lot of learning involved. You may begin by talking to friends who have trained for one and listen to their experiences. You would need to learn the fundamentals of proper training and nutrition before you could begin and then develop a suitable training program. And when it’s time for your first day of training, you won’t start off by running 26.2 miles, but rather just four or five. And then the next day you may run six or seven. You’ll get to a full-marathon distance one day, but you’ll have to work your way up.

Similarly, I started small. I sat in on a few of my co-workers pitches and received direction from them. My first assignments were asking a journalist if they’d be interested in running a photo from a client’s charity event, or alerting a university publication of alumni achievements. I never pitched on a topic I wasn’t actively involved in at the agency. And when a “bad-news situation” transpired, the first thought was not: Hey I know, this would be a great pitch for the intern! Because that wouldn’t have made sense. And yes, in that situation, I would have most likely been ill-equipped to answer reporters’ questions.

I’d argue that an intern can come to know a company intimately enough, within the span of a summer, to pitch to the media on their behalf. I’ve been involved in certain client projects from their commencement, and I’d argue that I’m qualified to tell a reporter why those projects are significant to the community. Eventually I began helping my co-workers pitch and follow-up for more-newsworthy events. And the next day, when a publication had featured our client, what a learning experience it was to know that I was part of that process.

Nearly every endeavor in life involves a little training and hard work. Just because you can’t run 26.2 miles right now, doesn’t mean that you can never run a marathon. And especially if you know that it’s something you’re going to accomplish one day, why would you put it off? (I mean, hey… you’re not gettin’ any younger.)

So if we must carry on this metaphor to the point of figurative affliction, I’m going to ask all you seasoned PR professionals to slow down your pace for a second and glance behind you. Those little dots on the horizon road are your interns. Granted, we’re still at about mile marker #2, but we’ve laced up our Nikes and we’re on our way! Thanks for believing we could do it. You just may find that the more confidence you have in our abilities, the stronger our desire to meet your expectations.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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The fabulous world of entertainment PR

So you think working in the entertainment industry is all glitz and glamour?
Sure it is. That’s how they show it in movies, and since when has Hollywood ever distorted reality.

Last week, I attended a PRSA panel on entertainment PR, which was led by a number of professionals in the industry. The panel consisted of PR representatives for Tiger Woods, Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen; topics included crisis communication in the wake of social suicide and strategies for crafting an entire marketing campaigns around the word: Tigerblood.

Ok, I might be lying.

The actual panel consisted of a number of Nasvhille-area professionals who shared a little bit about the nature of entertainment PR. I was also especially intrigued to hear how social media has affected the industry in the past few years.

Lesson Learned: Entertainment PR is a business of expectation management.

There’s probably not another area of public relations where you’re working to balance so many parties who all feel so… entitled. Media relations and clients of this industry are often high-profile and hold high expectations. Attempting to balance those expectations amid a myriad of individual PR campaigns, endorsement contracts, and legal stipulations… well, good luck.

Lisa Chader, SVP of communications for Country Music Television (CMT), painted a picture of launching a hypothetical television series: Imagine the mechanics of producing a television show, the pressure from the network, and the amount of viewers and national publicity needed to even survive the first couple weeks. Shooting for the series might begin at 9 a.m.; you have journalists wanting celebrity interviews at 7 a.m.; and you have a super-star celebrity who won’t stroll on set until 8:55 a.m (and when they do, they will most likely be in a sub-par mental state for delivering the high-quality interview you were hoping for…). Sounds stressful.

I don’t understand, I thought you people sipped mai-tais all day and mingled with Pierce Brosnan and the like? Huh. Maybe you don’t.

Yet despite demanding daily work, the constant rush of the entertainment industry sounded equally exciting. Overall, the panelists spoke fondly about years of publicity efforts for A-list celebrities, country music stars and network television shows such as The Biggest Loser and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. As Chader talked about her work on South Park and VH1 celeb reality, she also joked about the failures she’s had over the course of her career. Yet amid her sarcastic self-criticism, I detected a true enjoyment in what she does. I concluded that the most important trait to possess is “tough skin,” and that launching and marketing a successful book/celebrity/television series requires a combination of luck, grit, insanity and desperate attempts at creating viral web content.

It was also interesting to hear how social media has affected the industry. For one thing, avenues such as Twitter allow fans to feel directly in touch with celebrity’s interests, whereabouts and lives. When Justin Bieber sends a good morning tweet to his 10.9 million followers and attaches a picture of the view from his Las Vegas hotel room, it’s a more personal and immediate connection than those same followers get from a gossip magazine.

Because of that, many entertainment star’s have gained quite a loyal following, not to mention incredible clout in their own personal marketing efforts. Carrie Simons, another panelist, owns Triple 7 Public Relations (with office locations in Nashville, New York and Los Angeles) and represents workout guru Jillian Michaels. Simons talked about Jillian Michael’s ability to tweet about a new workout dvd and have it achieve number one in sales by the end of the week. With traditional PR and advertising aside, imagine the power of influence. Suddenly, there’s a way to reach a following without the use of the media — a way that’s powerful, personal and immediate.

However, celebrities are not the only one’s attracting a loyal following. Entertainment organizations, such as CMT (followed by over 88,000 on Twitter), are gaining the similar reach via social media. According to Chadler, a quick Twitter update sometimes replaces the formality of a press release. For all of PR, social media is changing the way we interact with journalist, build support for our clients, receive and use feedback, as well as monitor coverage and opinions.

My overview hardly touches on the amount of information I received that day. The panel discussion allowed me a glimpse into an industry area of which I was completely unfamiliar. Whether entertainment PR is for me, I cannot yet say. Yet if the Biebs comes begging at my doorstep after I gain a little professional clout of my own, I can’t see myself turning the poor kid away. There’d definitely have to be mai-tai’s in the contract, though.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Got dumb ideas? They just might be brilliant.

What a great gift it is to have the privacy of our own thoughts.

Without much thought, I’m sure you can probably think of a co-worker or family member who was born without this gift — those who feel the need to share every though with everyone. But lucky are we who possess it! My thoughts are like a personal journal of sarcastic quips and realizations (which I’ve kindly allowed you to breach) and some of you are sick enough to find it entertaining.

Now I’d hate for any of you to think of me as anything but witty (and brilliant, and beautiful). But there’s a danger that comes with the bounty of wit, and that’s the tendency to be cheesy. I hate to admit this, but not every thought that pops into my head is smart and quirky, and making you believe otherwise requires a bit of filtering. I consider censorship of my own thoughts very important. If I drop a few too many stale puns, and suddenly I’m The Cheesy Intern and down by 400 followers on Twitter. I honestly can’t think of anything worse.

It’s a distinct (but very thin) line that separates the clever Benjamin Franklin from the unbearable Pee-wee Herman, and as an intern, the last thing I want to do is prove myself corny rather than creative. This cautious mindset, however, was nearly my downfall last week.

I’ll take you back a couple of days, as I prepared to participate in my first creative brainstorming session. I joined my co-workers around the conference table to brainstorm theme ideas for one of our client’s big events, and suddenly everyone was shouting out ideas right and left.

My mind began to churn as thoughts started popping into my head, but I was being very careful to censor myself. “That idea’s too cheesy,” I’d say to myself. “No, that one’s dumb.” “I can’t say that out loud. Can I say that out loud?” The result: I really wasn’t saying much of anything.

Finally someone turned to me and asked me if the cat had my tongue.

What was I honestly afraid of? Afraid that I’d fail to contribute ideas that were valuable?
That’s a pretty likely outcome with my mouth glued shut.

So there I began to contribute, resisting the urge to censor and voicing every clever / mediocre / idiotic idea that came to mind. And to my surprise, the feedback was very positive: “Great idea!” “That was a good one!” “How ’bout this too…”

I found that many of the ideas I feared to be cheesy were actually received quite favorably by others. Everyone feeds off each other. And although every idea may not be the brightest, each one can trigger a train of thought within the group that leads to a brilliant concept.

Lesson Learned: Censorship is the downfall of creative brainstorms. When you hold back, you’re limiting both yourself and everyone else.

So when I strolled in the office the following Monday, I learned that the client had actually selected one of my theme ideas for the development of their event—an honor indeed! Granted, the event isn’t exactly a black-dress gala at the White House, but that’s hardly the point. If we had been selecting a theme for the Jones family picnic, I’d be just as thrilled. I’m thrilled just knowing I’ve made a contribution. Everyone in the office was very congratulatory, I felt like an office celebrity. Don’t they know they’re giving me a big head?

So as I sat down in my office and logged onto my computer, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of satisfaction. In all honesty, just knowing that I’d been a contributing part of the process made me smile.

And when I opened the email to see which of my ideas had been selected, I couldn’t help but smile a little bigger.

It was, by far, the cheesiest one.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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