Alysha Duff, account supervisor at Crenshaw Communications, talks with Isis Simpson-Mersha and Sarah Joyce from Ragan and D S Simon Media about how communicators can develop critical public relations skills. She also shares how communicators can build strong relationships with journalists. Duff also highlights her positive outlook when she faces rejection.
SARAH: We are going to have a great conversation. Thank you so much for being here, Alysha.
ALYSHA: Thanks, Sarah. I’m happy to be here.
ISIS: What do you believe are the most critical skills or like the top skills needed to be successful in PR and share a little bit about how you develop those?
ALYSHA: I think the most important skill set in PR is being a strong writer and understanding a good news hook. I mean, 85% of what we do as PR professionals is writing. It’s similar to journalism in that regard. It’s just that we are behind the scenes where journalists are on the front end of what consumers are reading. And writing a pitch will make or break your opportunity to be recognized in a crowded inbox for a reporter. So, you know, you have about 150 words to really sell a reporter on your story in their overflowing email inbox. So, you have to be punchy and creative and really make it work. I think the second thing that’s most critical about this field is being a strategic thinker. So, needing to think outside the box in terms of manufacturing news angles for your clients or crafting a thought leadership position or, you know, crisis communications, which is a big one for that. It’s like thinking quickly on your feet and being able to help your clients salvage their reputation, if you will, or for clients who you’re trying to help maintain an ongoing media presence, you have to get creative with news hooks that keep them relevant to the media even when they don’t have like something big to announce. So, thinking strategically is always something that’s top of mind for us. And then I think lastly, it’s being deadline oriented. So much of what we do is either operating on a client’s deadline or a reporter’s deadline, and they can be tight deadlines or longer deadlines, but placing that value on meeting that and prioritizing that as a professional is really important. For example, oftentimes a reporter will come to me and they’ll say, hey, I am working on a story that is due in a couple of hours. Do you have anyone who can speak to it? And so then, you know, we have to think about how we can rearrange our current workload to work with our clients, keeping in mind their workload, and work together to get something to this reporter in such a tight time frame. And this doesn’t always come to fruition, but it’s being able to work quickly and understand the importance of getting that news coverage opportunity for your client. So yeah, I think those are the most important things. And of course, practice makes perfect. I’ve built this skill set over years of dedication, and mentorship, and just practice. So, I think that as long as you’re passionate about the PR industry, it’s going to come naturally to you over time.
SARAH: Alysha, as someone who’s new to PR myself and just starting out in a sales role, I know that building relationships are something that I’ve found to be so important. What strategies do you use to build and maintain relationships with media outlets and journalists?
ALYSHA: So, the most valuable way, in my opinion, to build a relationship with the media is to really read a journalist’s work and understand what they’re writing about to ensure that they’re a fit for your outreach. They tend to get so many emails, both pitches and exterior things that are just irrelevant to their personal beat. And a, that doesn’t really help our reputation as PR professionals because we want to seem like an asset to them and not an annoyance. And b, it shows that you actually are invested in their work and you care. So, I think definitely doing the research is key and then also giving them kudos for their stories every now and then it goes to show that you’re not just using them for your own benefit, your client’s benefit. You’re actually interested in what they have to say on a regular basis, and you’re keeping up with them and you enjoy their hard work. Those are two practices that have always worked really well for me. And then lastly is showing them, they’re appreciated. So of course, saying, you know, hey, I read your story, this is great, is valuable and beneficial. But to take it a step further and like send them a little gift card every now and then in the past, I’ve sent like a holiday gift card. I’ve sent just a gift card for appreciation, you know, a little $5 Starbucks gift card saying, hey, take a work break, grab a coffee on me, because sometimes I feel like journaling comes across as, like, a thankless job. And it’s not. In reality, it’s so important and so critical to our everyday life as consumers that I think that as people who are working with them on the back end, we have an opportunity to really pay it forward with them. And all of this together builds rapport with your media friendlies or people that you are aspiring to be friendly with.
ISIS: I’m a journalist and thank you. That is very thoughtful. Sounds like you put in a lot of work behind the scenes and just trying to make sure the things that you are pitching, like you said, make sense and is relevant to their beat. And I’m sure that cuts down a lot of time with the back and forth. Are you trying to, you know, just get in touch with someone? So, even though you do all the important work ahead of time, No. Sometimes you still, no matter what you do, will face rejection. So, like, how do you navigate that when you are pitching a story to reporters?
ALYSHA: I typically use the analogy that is like sales. And I think in that regard, both PR professionals and sales professionals, you naturally have to be really resilient because you’re going to face rejection more often than not. Mean there’s going to be a million people who don’t respond to you at all, a million no’s. And then, if you’re lucky, a handful of yeses. And that comes with a territory. So, you just can’t get discouraged. And you have to understand that if a reporter is rejecting your story or not responding to you, it’s because it genuinely is not a good fit for them at this time. In my experience, when it is a good fit, they respond, you know, even though they are flooded with emails, I would say that they’re still skimming through their inbox. And if you have that good news hook, like I said, that catchy subject line, they’re going to notice it. And if they’re interested, they’re going to get back to you. So, just understand that the right fit will happen.
ISIS: Thank you so much for your insight, your perspective, and for sharing it here with us today. You’ve been a pleasure to have.
SARAH: Thank you, Alysha. It was so great hearing your insights today and it was so great speaking with you.
ALYSHA: Thanks for having me. And I hope that all of the communications professionals that are watching this will have some good takeaways from it.