6 Pieces of Advice for Aspiring PR Pros

By Kendall Bybee, Account Manager

I was recently approached by an old college peer of mine to answer some questions for one of her PR classes at my alma mater, Indiana University (GO IU!). The questions she asked were thought-provoking and ones that I often mulled over myself when I was in college (oh the good old days). As a fairly new PR pro trying to hack it in the business, I wanted to share my responses with those who are on the brink of graduation and might be looking for some answers and clarity about the industry.

So let’s dive right in…

1. What competencies are needed for a successful career in public relations?

First and foremost, you need to be a great writer. I honestly don’t think there is a more valuable skill to have in PR than being an above average writer – be able to write well, often and fast. Organization is another quality that I believe all employers look for. Especially at the agency level where you’re constantly juggling multiple different clients at a time and usually have to quickly jump from one account to the next throughout the day. Thinking strategically and knowing how to properly conduct research are also key competencies. Lastly, I think being a people person and a good communicator is vital – that is, of course, if you ever wanted to be trusted to be put in front of a client.

2. What criteria do you use to assess the abilities of a potential employee in public relations?

A potential PR employee must be well-rounded with a broad understanding of all aspects of communications. The world of PR is ever-changing and employers are constantly demanding new skills from their employees. Therefore, you must be flexible and able to adapt and grow with the needs of your clients. Also, potential employees should be passionate and curious with a strong desire to learn. You must be bold and creative, quick on your feet, and have a genuine interest in people and building relationships.

3. What PR competencies and skills do you typically miss when you encounter recent college graduates?

Generally speaking, I think the skills that college graduates usually lack are in the areas of strategic thinking and research. It’s honestly the foundation of everything we do and two skills that often get overlooked in college. You use these skills to solve problems, write communications plans, to develop successful campaigns and to monitor and measure those campaigns. Strategic as well as creative thinking is an absolute must when you’re trying to maximize your resources and implement the best possible campaigns and plans for your clients.

I also think media relations gets wildly overlooked in college. I believe it’s a huge part of PR and needs to be built into every college curriculum for majors including journalism, public relations, strategic communications, etc.

4. What should a college students focus on in their PR studies?

Focus on the above. And then focus on your weaknesses. There’s nothing better than a well-rounded graduate who is capable in all areas. Hirons is a full-service agency, meaning we offer services in all areas including public relations, advertising, marketing, media relations, media planning and buying, design and production. I didn’t solely focus on PR in college (although is was my specialty), I also took classes in graphic design, advertising, research, intensive writing and marketing. These additional skills not only helped me build a comprehensive and versatile portfolio but they also set me apart from other candidates gunning for the same position.

5. What should college students know about public relations before they graduate?

I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before, but you’ll never fully understand it until you step into your first PR job out of the college – this is a fast-paced industry we work in. There is no such thing as a “slow day” or “down time,” or at least rarely. For me, this is the kind of environment I thrive in and that’s why I chose to begin my career at an independent agency. I love having my hands on multiple different projects and being able to work with and learn from our media, creative and production teams in the agency. It’s a busy, hectic, stressful, crazy job – but it’s also extremely rewarding and SO much fun.

6. Do you have any other advice for PR students?

Start small and finish big. What I mean by that is choosing to work at an independent agency like Hirons verses a larger global firm in a bigger city was the best decision I could’ve made for myself. Not everyone will agree with me on this, but there is true value in starting out in a more intimate setting where you’re able to really learn the ins and the outs of the industry, where you’re trusted with more responsibility and really able to show people what you can do. Downside to working at an independent agency that has a lot of big clients? Long hours, late nights and early mornings. I’ve worked from 7am to 9pm before prepping for a big press conference that was expected to last a total of 20 minutes. Were the long hours worth it in the end? Absolutely. The skills I’m acquiring at Hirons right now is arming me for my future.

Expect the unexpected. Cliché, I know, but it also could not be more true. There is never a “normal” day at the office, which is one of the reasons why I love my job. I don’t thrive in a routine-kind-of environment – I love chaos and I love solving problems. If you’re looking for a job where you can walk through the door each day and know exactly what’s going to happen, PR is not for you. Have I received 11pm emails from clients who needed a press release by 6am the next day? Yes. One thing I didn’t realize when I came into this industry was that we are on the clock 24/7. We don’t live in an 8am-5pm world. Be prepared for that.

Love what you do. If you don’t love your work, there’s no way for you to ever fully reach your potential. Since starting at Hirons 8 months ago, I cannot tell you how far I’ve come as a young professional. I feel more confident, more experienced and more able then I ever have before and more sure that I’ve chosen the right career path.

Word Power: Yes, it Still Exists

Word Power: Yes, it still exists

Let’s be frank. Today, writing well still counts in many ways. But, sadly, there’s a lack of sophistication and purpose to much of what we read. Why? It may be that we’re living in a world of 140 characters, Facebook likes and Snap Chat. Short was always good, but clarity and meaning used to matter more.

At Hirons, we place a great deal of emphasis on good writing. We churn out a lot of copy: radio and television spots, news releases, website copy, brochures and fliers. Luckily, we have developed a strong, diverse team of communicators who provide solid, effective copy to clients. Our goal is that, as this material hits the printed page, Web or airwaves, people will respond to it. Our business depends on this skill. If we don’t write well, we don’t get a second chance.

Read more of COO Jim Parham’s blog here: PR Chronicle

Follow the PR Chronicle for real world advice from Jim Parham, who has 30 years of experience in the world of public relations.

 

 

Hirons Welcomes Six New Hires: Agency’s digital and Creative Departments Continue to Grow

Hirons welcomes six new hires
Agency’s digital and creative departments continue to grow

Indianapolis — Hirons Advertising and Public Relations has made six strategic hires in multiple departments to bolster an already talented staff.

John Molloy, Carrie Marsteller and Luke Woody-Fehribach join Hirons’ creative department.

Molloy joins Hirons as executive creative director and brings a wealth of experience on regional, national and international brands along with numerous local and regional ADDY awards. His work has been showcased in such prestigious annuals as Communication Arts Advertising and Design, LogoLounge and Graphics.

Marsteller makes her return to Hirons as an associate art director. A graduate of the Herron School of Art and Design, she spent her senior year interning at Hirons before relocating to New York City. There, she worked for many well-known clients including Bayer Diabetes and Diageo, a global leader in beverage alcohol with brands such as Smirnoff, Ciroc and Crown Royal.

New associate art director Woody-Fehribach comes to Hirons as a recent graduate of Ball State University, where he majored in advertising and creative development. Woody-Fehribach interned with Barn-Find Productions (where he won a creative Emmy for his photography work), Redwall LIVE and Cardinal Communications.

Hirons also welcomes Jake Miller as a senior producer, Meghan Hamm as digital media strategist, and Chloe Lyzun as management coordinator.

As a senior public relations consultant and producer, Miller brings his award-winning talents as a former TV news anchor and reporter to Hirons. As a journalist, Miller has covered stories from natural and man-made disasters to the Super Bowl. A native Hoosier, Miller studied telecommunications, marketing and anthropology at Indiana University.

Hamm will serve Hirons as digital media strategist — a new position on the Hirons roster. She will be focusing on digital strategy in marketing campaigns. Prior to joining Hirons, Hamm managed online marketing at an ecommerce company. Hamm is a graduate of Butler University, where she received a double bachelor’s degree in public relations and marketing/international business.

Lyzun has been promoted from intern to management coordinator. A graduate of Butler University with a degree in public relations and advertising, she previously interned with Live Nation, MOKB Presents and Do317 prior to joining Hirons.

“We are thrilled to add outstanding talent to the Hirons team as our year comes to a close,” said Tom Hirons, president and CEO of Hirons. “2015 will undoubtedly bring bold work as a result of our brilliant and enthusiastic staff.”

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About Hirons

Hirons Advertising and Public Relations, established in 1978 by Tom Hirons, is headquartered in Indianapolis and is ranked as both a top 100 advertising and top 100 PR firm in the U.S. Hirons is a digital leader in advertising, public relations, public affairs and media buying. Hirons’ clients include leading private, public and nonprofit sector organizations locally and nationally. Hirons is an employee-owned company. For more information, find Hirons on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Hirons provides a collegial work environment fueled by innovation and passion. Peer mentoring and collaboration inform everything we do, from conceptualizing to presenting award-winning solutions to our clients. Hirons employees are more than just worker bees; they’re actual owners of the company. In 2013, Hirons transferred ownership of the company to a trust on behalf of its employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. By giving our employees the keys to the agency (literally and figuratively), our team is uniquely motivated to produce the very best work possible — after all, we own the place.

To learn more about potential employment opportunities, visit http://hirons.wpengine.com/contact/career-opportunities/.

Intern Spotlight: Emma Miller

Intern Spotlight: Emma Miller

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Name: Emma Miller
School: Indiana University, Fairbanks School of Public Health
Major: MS in Biostatistics, MPH in Epidemiology
Internship title: Communications Management Assistant
Hobbies: Hanging out with friends, traveling, watching mindless television shows and playing soccer

Duties at Hirons:

  • Facilitate communications for public relations and advertising initiatives to ensure timely response to clients, task coverage, data management, quality control, and intra-company cooperation
  • Draft scopes of work, project timelines, meeting agendas, communications plans, press releases, messaging, and collateral copy for client accounts
  • Track media coverage and follow up with media contacts to ensure placement of client pieces
  • Worked as a member of the branding team for Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management to develop a presentation, talking points, social media strategy, and messaging for the new STEM focus

Favorite part about interning at Hirons:

A small company like Hirons facilitates teamwork and nurtures friendships among co-workers. I have had the pleasure of working with a number of talented individuals, all of whom bring a unique perspective to Hirons and the creative process. This has enabled me to see how the same task can be approached from a variety of different ways. The people here seem to really care about identifying your talents and integrating them into the work that you do. At the end of the day, we support each other at work and in our personal lives. You never feel alone here!

Also, we are a dog friendly office (and this girl loves dogs). There are usually two to three dogs roaming the office at any given time, which really helps the office mood during high-stress times of trying to get a project out the door. Our furry friends remind us to take a break every now and again.

What have you learned during your time at Hirons? How does this opportunity relate to your career goals?

The skills I have cultivated at Hirons are highly transferable to the public health field. Being able to effectively convey your thoughts through written and verbal communication means that you will be successful in the business world regardless of your role. Most importantly, I have learned that you should treat yourself as your number one client to ensure that your actions are conducive to your end goals.

Most difficult aspect of the job:

Omitting the Oxford comma.

A Diverse City

By Matthew Neylon, Associate Copywriter

My great-grandfather was a tannery union organizer back in the early twentieth century here in Indianapolis.

Unfortunately, if you told someone who wasn’t from Indianapolis that leathering and tanneries were still a thriving business in this city, they would probably believe you.

To those outside of Indianapolis and Indiana at large, they don’t fully understand that our city is reinventing itself.

Let’s take a look at Indianapolis’ changing landscape.

Craft breweries are booming in this town – our consumer has an evolving change in taste, and that’s what’s causing a 50% increase in these breweries in the last year.

Indianapolis has always been a top sports city, but we also boast about being a top city for emerging industries in the life sciences, information technology, advanced manufacturing, logistics, motor-sports and clean technology.

So Indy has some pretty forward-thinking and savvy industries coming onto the scene. But what about the more creative industries? How’s our beloved advertising industry faring?

Looking at the big picture, advertising agencies have floated in a pretty stable industry. Economically speaking, advertising remains stagnant relative to the rest of the economy’s growth. The landscape hasn’t changed much for ad agencies, especially concerning diversity.

Eight years ago last week, the New York City Commission on Human Rights held hearings on how the advertising industry hires, retains and promotes minority employees.

I’m not going to get into the politics of the hearings, the outcomes or the status of the retention of minority employees (because honestly, if you need to turn in report cards to the government on how you’re hiring a brown person, there’s something systemically wrong). Instead, I’m going to comment on why diversity is important and why it’s exciting to be working in advertising in Indianapolis at a time like this.

White males have traditionally dominated the advertising workplace. It’s the old boys’ club. We usually liken it to Mad Men.

Let’s look at the numbers:

In 2013, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that of the 51,000 advertising and promotions managers in the US, 93.3% were white employees, 0.1% were black, 3.5% were Asian, 16.1% were Hispanic or Latino and 67.8% were women.

Of the 907,000 marketing and sales managers, 88.5% were white, 5% were black, 4.7% were Asian, 6.6% were Hispanic or Latino and 43.1% were women.

There’s not a lot of racial diversity going on here. But what is diversity beyond race and gender?

To me diversity is an inclusion and collaboration of different minds and walks of life.

Now what’s a minority? I believe this definition is malleable and subjective. When we see a lack of this so-called diversity, we can then easily identify a minority as the person that is missing from the picture. And when the so-called minority is in the picture, they’re the response for “which does not belong?”

In Indianapolis, if you look at me, I would be considered a minority. Don’t call me a professional on the matter; just consider me more cognizant than my Indy peers.

But why is diversity important?

Evolution is not possible without a little moving and shaking, a little change. We only see forward progress when someone asks “why?”

When someone asks the right questions, it leads to more creative ideas, perspectives, insights and experiences. In advertising, we are the creators of thought. We are the change agents. But we can only influence change when we’re familiar with it.

Plus, doing the same thing gets old. If I only had the option of eating vanilla ice cream, I’d get bored. I would want some variety to maintain my sanity. Albert Einstein famously said that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Regardless of the numbers, we need more diversity in advertising. After all, if we’re trying to speak to and influence the public, we should represent and know to whom we’re talking. That’s just common sense.

Our demographic makeup in this city isn’t the same as when my great-grandfather was organizing unions in the early 1900s. Yet for some reason, the advertising industry still looks as if it hasn’t changed since then.

Despite the lack of what I’ve been commenting, I’m just excited to be working in the job I love. I wouldn’t want to be working in any other industry right now. And although it isn’t reinventing itself as much the rest of the city, I’m glad to be at the forefront of the change. The only direction to move from here is forward. I’m also glad I work at an agency that embraces diversity.

I can’t wait for the day when we view diversity in advertising as an antiquated topic, like how my grandmother tells me stories of my great-grandfather tanning leather with immigrant workers. Imagine the day when we can say, “Back in my day, diversity was this new-fangled notion sweeping the industry.”

A Way with Words

By Madeline Morgan, Senior Editor/Writer

First, a caveat:

I’m a bit of a throwback. I cook dinner just about every night, bought my first smartphone earlier this year and have no clue when women stopped wearing pantyhose.

But as lead editor here at Hirons, I see a lot. And one thing I see is a bright future for good writers.

Granted, I want to see a bright future, not only for me but also for my youngest son, who is majoring in journalism at IU. Nevertheless, I see in him and in several of the young people I work with an appreciation for this very old form of expression —  the drive to find the right word, to say what you mean,  to say it in a way that is not only true but fresh.

It’s a love of language, and it is as much an art form as painting and music. Writers, like other artists, want to explore the unexplored, to show their audiences a new way of looking at the world. And, despite what you may hear, it is not a lost art.

Naysayers point to the dwindling ranks of newspapers and magazines as evidence that writing isn’t prized anymore. And they charge that email and texting are making nouns, verbs and entire sentences obsolete.

Well, businesses, governments and social institutions expect you to use all of those fine words and more when it comes to pleading their cases and telling their stories. They want words that are descriptive, persuasive and riveting. They want punctuation that is correct, unobtrusive and helpful.

So writers: Take heart. If your goal is to work for a newspaper, you might need to be open to other media. But most companies and nonprofits employ writers in communications, marketing and development departments, and ad agencies employ them to fulfill the communications needs of their clients. The subject matter may not be of your choosing, but the process is the same: innovation, clarity and precision in language.

I’ve written all my life, and I believe some of my best stuff – the most fun stuff – has been on subjects not of my choosing – the Baby Boom generation, parade floats, septic systems. But therein lies the challenge: How can I make this interesting to the reader, and to myself? How can I make the words sing?

It never gets old.

Ad Agency Success: What Being Creative Really Means

By Jim Parham, Chief Operating Officer

At Hirons, a successful Midwestern advertising and public relations shop, we have a department officially designated as the Creative Department. This has been a standard practice in the ad biz long before “Mad Men” made us famous, or infamous.

I contend that just about everyone in the communications business, whether media buying types, public relations teams or advertising experts, are, by their very nature, creative.

Carolyn Gregoire, a features editor at the Huffington Post, recently wrote an article on what makes people, well, creative. In her article, 18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/04/creativity-habits_n_4859769.html), she suggests that creative people fail up. Meaning, of course, they are not fearful of failing and are not detoured by roadblocks.

Here’s an excerpt from her article:

“Doing creative work is often described as a process of failing repeatedly until you find something that sticks, and creatives — at least the successful ones — learn not to take failure so personally.”

She cites Forbes contributor Steven Kotler, writing about Albert Einstein: “Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often.”

While for most businesses, failure is not an option, creative people in the communications business spend a lot of time thinking, rethinking, then testing and redoing a lot of work. Why?  Re-examination and retooling make a better final product.  And, creative communications people are not at all adverse to critical input and smart suggestions to make the work better. Just ask any reporter about how important an editor was to the final product.

While exceptional creative work may not take a village, it requires at least several pairs of eyes to think about the work as the client and final recipient will view it.  Hence, many agencies test the creative work (display ads, television spots or key messaging) on targeted publics before it goes final.

We’ve all heard the statements about right brain versus left brain and who is truly a creative type. Overall, while brain science is important and cannot be discounted, almost anyone can be successful developing a creative solution to a pressing problem. Just ask Rube Goldberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, inventor, engineer and sculptor.

Dropping Knowledge: 5 Steps for Transforming Your Boring Workspace

By Luke Woody, Associate Art Director 

I am now three weeks into my internship here at Hirons, and it’s safe to say this place is the bees’ knees. (You know, if bees had knees.) And since I am new, this is my first blog for Hirons. Most novice bloggers would write about how they feel at their internship or tell some story about something somewhat interesting, but not this guy. I’m going to provide you with a step-by-step break down of how to get comfortable at your desk.

I live in the creative department here, so I like to make my workstation feel more like a break room when I need to take a mental break. It probably ramps up productivity to take a break at your desk, but I’m no scientist. However, I do feel like I have mastered the science of being comfortable. So listen up!

Step 1: Evaluate your surroundings. Look at other co-workers’ desks to see how they decorate their areas. Sometimes they have some pretty cool stuff, but nobody wants to be a copycat, except for a copycat I guess. Also, be sure to look at your own desk and get an idea of how much room you have to work with. Obviously.

Step 2: Make a list of awesome things you enjoy. Here’s my list:

  • Toy monster truck (for paperweight purposes)
  • (Knock-off) Nerf guns
  • Mustache coffee mug
  • Small foam basketball with hoop
  • Juice boxes (because I’m still a 5-year-old)
  • Remote-control helicopter

Step 3: Bring all that cool stuff to work. Make sure the “feng shui” is just right. Also, be sure not to do this during billable hours. There are people that get paid to do that, like movers and interior designers, but not interns who live in the creative department.

Step 4: Personalization is key. I wrote general notes on the darts of the (knock-off) Nerf guns like, “Look @ me” “Question?” and “Message 4 U.” When you personalize your stuff, it not only lets people know that it’s yours, but it lets them know what you’re about. For example, my coffee mug has a mustache on it. That means I like mustaches, right? Correct. Another way to personalize your desk is to change your desktop and screen saver to a picture(s) that describes you or your interests. I like antique cars, therefore my desktop is a photo of a 1936 Cord 812.

Step 5: Go to work. There’s no point in going through all of this trouble if you don’t get any work done. Why? Because if you don’t work, then you get fired and you no longer have a desk during which to take a break. The point of a creative workstation is to be comfortable and keep a jovial attitude while getting more work done in the process. Like I said, I’m no scientist, but I’m sure there’s some correlation there.

So there you have it, step-by-step instructions on how to make your work area more enjoyable; it might even encourage your co-workers to do the same!

Them's Fightin' Words

There’s a shaky truce among advertisers to resist sucker punching the competition. No matter if you’re looking to increase a client’s market share or demonstrate product superiority, the moment names are named, you enter a whole new arena. After all, the communicative risks are much higher when you’re the aggressor. Could you come off as a schoolyard bully? Will your message inform or will it belittle? Is it cheeky and playful, or rude and mean-spirited? Whatever your intent, the moment you “call out” a competitor by name, all eyes are on you. Cuz them’s fightin’ words.

Frankly, from outside the industry, it’s fun to cheer on faceless companies as they duke it out in public. This is America, buddy. The only thing we love more than entertainment is competition. A good old- fashioned scuffle might have been limited to intended audiences a decade or two ago, but now, the entire Internet takes notice. Lucky us!

Most recently, Taco Bell has been taking jabs at its competitive juggernaut, McDonald’s. To highlight a foray into the fast-food breakfast market, Taco Bell released a nationwide ad campaign showing people named Ronald McDonald enjoying the new Taco Bell breakfast. It isn’t a particularly biting ad, but Taco Bell was certainly wearing its intentions on its sleeves.

To retaliate, McDonald’s simply posted this picture on Twitter.

Screen-Shot-2014-03-29-at-1.01.57-PM

 

Have you ever had an encounter with a Chihuahua? They’re not typically the most timid pups. In fact, they’re known for a particularly yippy demeanor, and if you challenge them, they’ll bark and nip at your heals for hours.

That’s exactly how Taco Bell responded. Its next ad used the theme of “Old McDonald Had a Farm” to imply that McDonald’s breakfasts are behind the times. The exchange has now been dubbed “The Breakfast Wars” by online publications, and the Internet waits with bated breath for a McDonald’s retaliation.

As agency insiders, we cringe at the slightest possibility of a mishap when the gloves come off. Take Audi’s “Your Move, BMW” billboard. In launching its message of superiority, the folks at Audi were counting on limited billboard availability and a small, specific audience to minimize the risk of retaliation. Or so they thought. What they didn’t count on was the people at BMW taking notice.

They noticed.

bmwaudiwars1

When you make the first move in an attack ad, you leave yourself open to a riposte. In this case, Audi gave the clever agency behind BMW an opportunity to fire back twice as hard, making Audi look quite foolish in the process.

So how do you walk the fine line between launching an offense while fortifying a defense? That’s where the Joe Fraziers of advertising step in.

Remember Apple’s “I’m a Mac” campaign?

These advertisements brilliantly tight-roped that line by mixing polite positivity, cheerful music and comedy all around the basic differences between Macs and PCs. Apple didn’t pull its punches (until later), but it didn’t back down from its message either. How could Microsoft respond heavy-handedly to light-hearted comedy and deductive intelligence? It couldn’t. Not successfully, anyway.

The campaign ran its course, with each new TV spot guaranteed to elicit a new giggle and a “hmm” from the audience. And that’s what a successful attack ad should do. Even ad wars have casualties, so when the fightin’ words start flying, it’s important to respond with calculated messaging and a side of wit instead of sucker punching.

Unless you have one hell of an uppercut.