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.

From the Big Apple to Indy, How PR differs in the Markets

By Elizabeth Friendland

Throughout my decade of experience in advertising and public relations, I’ve worked in both New York (literally on Madison Avenue, a la Don Draper) and Indianapolis. The former always seems to impress clients and bosses, and is usually followed by a wide-eyes stare and a “So what’s it like?

Honestly? Working in the media capital of the world is a lot like working in good ‘ol Indy.

Clients are demanding. Deadlines are tight. The workday creeps into the nights and weekends. Account management and creative continue to disagree. Budgets run over. RFPs are both full of dread and excitement.

That’s not say there weren’t a few differences – but they might not all be what you’d expect.

1. Media relations didn’t get any easier.

Often, clients (and sometimes bosses) assume that by virtue of living in New York City, a PR professional is better equipped to know the right journalists (and therefore produce great placements). I’ve landed clients in the biggest outlets you can name, from The New York Times to Vogue to the Today Show — and it wasn’t because I had a 212 area code.

Rather, I got these placements through traditional research; I zeroed in on a contact (producer, reporter, booker) that I thought would be receptive, I contacted them with a super-targeted and personalized pitch regarding a truly compelling story, and I followed up.  Sure, occasionally I’d grab drinks or lunch with a writer, but that usually happened long after we solidified a working relationship through phone and email contact. I can assure you no one checked my zip code when deciding whether to run a story or not.

2. The industry environment was actually less competitive.

I’ve found that smaller markets, such as Indy, are actually much more competitive and cutthroat than larger markets like New York. In Indianapolis and other similarly sized cities, there are a limited number of clients that can afford the services of agencies; therefore, we’re all trying that much harder to vie for a smallish pool of business. For professionals, finding a job can be extremely tough – there are very few positions to go around, so agencies can be hyper-selective.

In New York, it seems nearly everyone works in or around the advertising industry, and jobs are plentiful. While it’s easier to get a foot in the door and obtain a job offer, the stakes are higher; there’s a seemingly endless supply of New York transplants waiting behind you to take the job you won’t (or can’t) do. While agencies in New York do have egos, it doesn’t feel as cutthroat as a small town; there’s plenty of business to pass around.

3. Clients took more risks.

Yes, it’s a cliché that Midwestern owned or based businesses are more conservative, but I’ve experienced this to be true. While few clients, regardless of geography, are flexible enough to totally run with any crazy idea an agency pitches its way, my New York clients seemed to have a larger capacity for risk. Perhaps this reflected a more liberal culture, or perhaps it was solely a business decision – to compete in a larger market, you sometimes have to be over-the-top to attract attention.

4. Salaries were inflated (but it didn’t help).

I remember sitting in the president’s office when she gave me graduate for my first big girl job offer. She asked what I wanted to be paid, and I told her a number nearly ten thousand more than I was making in Indianapolis as a receptionist/PR assistant. As I steadied myself for her shock and horror, she laughed and exclaimed, “Oh, we can do much better than that!” and then threw out a number more than double what I had been making. I had visions of myself living in a penthouse apartment, rolling around in a bathtub filled with dollar bills. I was rich!

That didn’t last long. The reality of New York City rent, utilities and elevated prices on everything from food to toilet paper set in, and within a month I was phoning home for cash infusions. While my salary would have placed me solidly in the upper middle class in Indianapolis, I was struggling to cover the very basics in New York.

5. The pace was unrelenting.

There’s a reason Sinatra sang, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” New York doesn’t hold your hand. I found myself in the office before 6 a.m. and heading home close to midnight. I’m not sure I took an actual lunch hour the entire time I worked there (but man, do I miss deli deliveries!). While my bosses and supervisors were all lovely people and supportive in their own way, there was not the kind of mothering or hand-holding that is truer to the Midwestern spirit. “Figure it out!” was the refrain I heard time and time again.

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.

Hirons Announces Promotions and New Hires

Hirons Announces Promotions and New Hires

Indianapolis – Hirons Advertising and Public Relations is welcoming four new staff members to the team, in addition to promoting four tenured employee owners.

Kendall Bybee, Candice Ingram and Blair Tilson all join Hirons as Account Coordinators in the Communications Management department. All three will be supporting Hirons public relations and advertising clients and senior staff.

Bybee graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Journalism, and has interned with the International Art Project and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. In addition, she served on committees for both the Spirit & Place Festival and the Beth Wood Chapter of PRSSA at Indiana University.

Ingram is a 2012 graduate of The University of Alabama, where she holds both a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Telecommunications and Film. She has interned at WVUA-TV in Tuscaloosa, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Indiana Pacers and the Cleveland Browns.

Tilson is a recent graduate of Taylor University, with a degree in Public Relations. While in school, Tilson served as the Co Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper, The Echo. She has interned with Taylor University, and served as the Vice President of the Taylor University PRSSA.

Deb Nowak has been hired as Executive Assistant. Nowak is accomplished in her field, with past experiences at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in addition to serving various leadership roles on committees for the Town of Speedway.

Chloe Lyzun has joined the agency as an Account/Traffic Coordinator. Lyzun is a graduate of Butler University with a degree in Public Relations and Advertising. She has interned with Live Nation, MOKB Presents and Do317 prior to joining Hirons.

Four current staff members have been promoted to new roles within the agency.

Kayla Carmichael has been promoted from Executive Assistant to Account Manager. Carmichael will use her knowledge gained throughout her seven years with the agency to lead clients including the Speedway Redevelopment Corporation, Eskenazi Health, and Stratice Healthcare.

After 14 years with Hirons, Jill Dodge has expanded her duties; in addition to serving as Print Designer, Jill is now lead Web Designer. Jill has worked on various major web projects, including the recent relaunch of IndianapolisZoo.com.

Erin Kimbowa has been promoted from Account Manager to Senior Account Manager. Kimbowa, who has been with the agency for six years, provides strategic leadership to accounts including Country Mark, the Indiana State Museum, Compass Rose Academy and Kelley Direct.

Karissa Tepe has been promoted from Account Coordinator to Account Manager. In her new role, Karissa provides leadership to accounts including the Indiana Secretary of State, Indianapolis Airport Authority, Eli Lilly Federal Credit Union, St. Elmo Steakhouse and Harry & Izzy’s Steakhouse.

“This is an incredible time of growth and evolution,” said Tom Hirons, CEO. “For 36 years, we’ve been providing our clients with bold ideas. Welcoming a new ‘class’ of employee owners and watching another group continue to advance in their careers with us is both humbling and thrilling.”

Hirons provides a collegial work environment fueled by innovative and passionate practitioners. 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 bee; they’re the 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 (ESOP). 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, they own the place.

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

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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.

Intern Spotlight: Aly Weigel

Intern Spotlight

 Aly10

Name: Aly Weigel
School: Indiana University
Graduation Year: 2016
Major: Journalism/Public Relations
Internship title: Communications Management Assistant
Hobbies: Drinking coffee, going to concerts, traveling, blogging, and finding a balance between working out and loving food

Duties at Hirons:

Hirons has allowed me to do a little bit of everything. Some of the things I have done during my time here are: research and organize information on current clients, write the first drafts of press releases, assist with projects and events, organize social media timelines and content, write blog posts, deliver samples and documents, create lists of local media outlets and contacts, and write and send pitches for news stories to local media.

Favorite part about interning at Hirons:

There are a couple of things I’ve really enjoyed about interning at Hirons. First of all, the staff here is absolutely wonderful. They are always so willing to help out whenever needed, and I never have to hesitate to ask questions when I don’t understand something. It’s apparent that the people who work here truly love their jobs, which has made me enjoy my time here that much more. Secondly, sometimes when you think “internship,” you think of mindless tasks and busy work, but that’s certainly not the case here. I’ve had the opportunity to work on important projects that have given me real hands-on experience in the fields of public relations and advertising. I feel like my time here is truly valued and utilized to the fullest, which keeps me motivated to work hard.

Most difficult aspect of the job:

Being a young college student who’s still trying to figure it all out, you could definitely say I have successfully mastered the art of procrastination. In a professional environment though, procrastination could potentially lead to a loss in business. The biggest challenge I have faced during my time at Hirons is learning how to manage my time wisely. Getting things completed efficiently, but also paying attention to detail is very important, especially in the world of public relations and advertising.

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

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked through the doors at Hirons on my first day, but I was definitely ready to soak it all in. Getting real life experience in the field that I hope to one day have a career in and developing my skill-set has been so exciting! In terms of what I’ve learned though, I think the real question is: what haven’t I learned? Having the opportunity to help with media plans, pitch to media outlets, communicate with clients, and even work in a professional environment are all things I had not previously experienced. These are skills that you just can’t learn while sitting in a classroom. I’m so thankful that I was able to have the opportunity to be a part of a thriving agency like Hirons and use my short time here to its’ full advantage.

Fun facts about Aly:

  • I’ll eat anything that involves peanut butter
  • I have lived on both coasts (California and North Carolina).
  • I also work at Scotty’s Brewhouse in downtown Indy, so if you’re ever in the area, stop by and say hi!

Blog Your Way to Effective PR

By Jim Parham, Chief Operating Officer

Long gone are the mimeograph machine and soon-to-be shelved fax machine. (Did you know that fax is short for facsimile?) Email is now the gold standard, and the U.S. Postal Service has become more of a direct marketing company than a carrier of love letters. Twitter handles a large amount of the amorous outreach, and it takes only 140 characters … thankfully.

Now comes the rise in blogs, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. And most companies have a website, correct?  If the institution doesn’t have a Web presence, then something is usually very wrong at the firm. After all, we’re now getting a majority of our information from the Internet. Remember the Yellow Pages? Well, maybe you use the online version, but where are those bulky big yellow books?

How do blogs leave a footprint in our public relations turf? Good question. Here are two interesting facts from the blogging site PR Connection: Nearly 40 percent of U.S. companies use blogs for marketing purposes, and there are 152,000,000 blogs on the Internet.  Well, that was yesterday’s number. I’m sure it’s 155,000,000 by now.

Blog Friendly PR, which maintains a high-visibility website, says blogs are a new and fresh way to market product and services in an affordable and effective way.  Blog Friendly PR, after all, was created to bridge the gap between brands and bloggers. So, in others words, blogs are a cheap and direct way to reach your customers. Let’s not forget, too, that thousands of journalists scan blogs looking for scoops, trends, rumors and innuendo.

I attended a public relations seminar where the speaker stated, “Either be part of the conversation or let the conversation be one-sided, and that might not be a good thing for your business.”  He was referring to digging into social media and countering the unabashed, unfiltered content on the Web. Blogs are an ideal way to start a conversation, comment on other happenings, or respond to negative comments and erroneous online postings about you or your company.

Speaking of unfiltered, a great advantage to social media and blogging in particular is providing content to highly engaged stakeholders (and possibly tangential ones) without the media filter. You can go “direct” to your customers, influencers and decision-makers without having a mainstream media editor determine if it’s worthy of reprinting or re-broadcasting. Now that’s convenient.

A major disadvantage of blogs, however, is their ineffectiveness if no one reads them. That’s where savvy marketing comes in. You must be visible among the throngs of postings and rise above the daily buzz and clamor. To do this, it’s best to turn to a social media marketing guru. Now, almost every public relations agency has a social media expert who knows how to navigate much of the uncharted waters of the blogosphere.

So, put down the traditional, hard-copy collateral material (that few people read anyway) and start blogging your way to improved company awareness and success. Online is where most of the customers spend a majority of their time. Don’t believe me? Just ask Amazon.

— Jim Parham, Vice President, Chief Operating Officer 

Thinking in Concentric Circles

By Tom Hirons, President & CEO

“Rhondalyn Cornett, president of the Indianapolis Education Association, said she was surprised to hear about the program for the first time Tuesday night. …”

Indianapolis Star reporter Eric Weddle covered the announcement of an Indianapolis Public Schools/ Mind Trust proposal to fix failing schools. His inclusion of Rhondalyn Cornett’s surprise illustrates the principle of thinking in concentric circles.

We have all had that experience of hearing or reading about something and being surprised that we didn’t already know it. And, we know the satisfaction of reading something in the morning paper or hearing something at a public meeting, having already been briefed on it. Quite simply, people want to feel that they are informed; they want to know something before they hear about it. Knowledge is power. Empower your stakeholders by making sure they are always the first to know.

There is an art to doing this. Think in terms of concentric circles. At the core are your most key stakeholders. These may be your board of directors and senior officers. Your next circle out may be senior staff because they would most certainly want to hear something before they are asked about it by a co-worker. And, employees always are somewhere in one of the inner circles. They, like it or not and in spite of your public relations policy, are voices of your organization. Nonprofit organizations will have large donors in an inner circle and smaller donors possibly a circle or two further out from the center. Often overlooked, customers and clients are stakeholders. Communicating directly and engaging them is powerful in building relationships.

Be inclusive. Build your list of stakeholders from every perspective, every angle and every audience. Tailor your messages to each of these audiences and determine for each audience and each individual the most appropriate means of communicating. Some require a personal visit. Others, a phone call. Most, an email. All deserve something personal. And, just as there is a hierarchy, there is an order and direction in which this information should flow.

In our connected world, news travels fast. Often a matter of moments makes the difference between being in the know and being taken by surprise. Rhondalyn Cornett probably didn’t like being surprised.

Common Communication Mistakes in a Crisis

By Jim Parham, Vice President, Chief Operating Officer 

In a large number of crises, there are as many mistakes made by management as Heinz has pickles.

To boil down the possible mistakes for a blog is a bit challenging. How about a posting about the size of “War and Peace” to cover all possible off-the-rails scenarios?  But, alas, I don’t have the writing skill to pen a tome the size of the Bible. However, there are some very obvious and often repeated mistakes that can be discussed in short order.

Here are a few:

  1. Going into the public communication phase of a crisis without all the facts. This happens regularly and can blow your credibility with the media and public in a split-fire second. You must first seek out a lot of data, but beware that much of it may be contradictory or downright wrong. Sort, analyze, confirm and ferret out the truth before you take to the airwaves.
  2. Waiting, and then waiting some more. Truth is, a crisis really never sits around like your teenage son, waiting for something to happen. Time is of the essence (heard that term before?)
  3. Not sticking to key messages. Please make sure everyone on the team, and in the organization, knows these simple but powerful story lines. Nothing like the boss going “off script” at the worst time. Have just three overarching messages to keep everyone on the same page.
  4. Avoiding the media. You should work with the media at the very first possible moment. You can be sure that someone has notified them of your situation, and it’s just a matter of time until they contact you. Better to be proactive than to be accused of dodging or hiding from the story.
  5. Forgetting about the social media and its never-ending and pervasive presence. Today, we have citizen journalists and camera phones, tweets, posts and blogs to ensure almost everything gets covered. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter, you still have to deal with it, so get your message out fast.
  6. Finally, not working with your “internal stakeholders” to ensure a single point of entry for the media and public can be deadly. Remember, leaks do happen, and rogue employees may have access to a ton of insider information. Try to restrict all possible access points to information. You need a single conduit to the public and press.

Again, crises are going to happen. But coming out smelling like that red rose takes forethought, planning and lightning speed responses.

He Said, She Said: Word-of-Mouth Marketing

By Deana Haworth, Senior Vice President, Director of Account Services

It’s no secret that the most trusted form of advertising is word-of-mouth. Consumers tend to trust friends and family over an advertisement because of course an advertisement says their product is best, that’s what it’s there to do. In fact, word-of-mouth accounts for 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions (McKinsey Quarterly).

So how do we, as advertisers, make advertisements count while also providing word-of-mouth results? It today’s economy, it’s easy for business to hear that word-of-mouth sells and simply assume that advertising and public relations are an unnecessary expense, when in reality advertising and word-of-mouth can — and should — work hand-in-hand.

Public Relations Redefined

By Jim Parham, Vice President, Chief Operating Officer 

In March 2012, Gerard Corbett posted an article titled, “A Modern Definition of Public Relations” for the Public Relations Society of America. In this exciting piece, Corbett announced the winning “new” definition of public relations. About time. We were working off a definition from the early 1980s.

And here it is: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”