5 Pillars of Managing Corporate and Agency Public Relations

In our last post, I talked about the process of gaining professional accreditation in public relations (APR). It’s key to developing senior management skills in public relations, and adds to the value you bring to your organization.

But once you’ve got your APR, then what?

I’d like to begin by sharing some of my experience of nearly 23 years of being accredited, the last 16 at o2ideas, where we have served great global, national and regional brands for five decades.

Having spent 12 years in the corporate world before coming to o2 in 2001, I can tell you there’s a difference between managing public relations for a corporation versus a traditional advertising agency.

In corporate PR, you’re really concerned with one client. That’s your employer. Everything you wake up thinking about and spend every working day doing relates pretty much to the success of your company, nonprofit or institution.

In agencies, it’s different purely because we serve not one client but many. Each one of our clients has a distinct brand identity, a different viewpoint on what PR means to them, and a different need for PR in general.

Some clients really need our help with media relations — like in getting news coverage and generating newsworthy stories and content, and using social media platforms to extend their media reach.

Other clients need us more for internal communications, like with digital employee publications, videos, informational and morale campaigns, and special events.

Regardless, I’ve found through nearly three decades of experience that there are five pillars for building a successful PR function, and they apply whether you’re managing PR for a corporation, nonprofit, educational institution or agency.

Ethics. There is no sustainable PR function if it is unethical, period. Ethics is to PR what safety is to an automotive plant. In a car factory, if it is an unsafe workplace, producing cars becomes impossible. Same with PR and ethics. A good PR organization can’t stand on shaky ethics. For more, here’s a link to the PRSA Code of Ethics.

Service. There’s a saying that nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. All the strategy in the world can’t fix lackadaisical client service or corporate staff indifference to what your stakeholders need from your team. Make it your point every day to watch the service your team provides to your employer or clients, including the service you personally provide.

Strategy. Get to the “why?” of what you or your team is asked to do, before you develop the strategy required to get a job, campaign or program done. That is as much an internal question for you as it is for anybody on the outside. Drafts of strategic documents need to be vetted by as many viewpoints as possible, and you can’t be sensitive over feedback. A lot rides on strategy. Make it right the first time.

Execution. Put simply, this is doing what you said you would do. At the end of the day, nobody is accountable for your shop except you. If you develop a strategy that you don’t have the resources to execute, then either partner with the right people to get it done or don’t commit at all.

Education. Fiercely force yourself to keep improving. I scan as many different articles from as many different viewpoints as possible. Our team signs up for seminars and workshops even if we don’t have a pressing client need for it at the moment. Under your APR designation, you’re required to do continuing education, but things change so quickly every day in our industry, you’ve got to be fast and intentional about it.

Whether you manage a big PR staff or a small one, whether you work for a church, school, company or agency, and whether your firm has a big PR budget or not, keeping these five pillars in focus will help keep you on the right track as a senior manager in PR.


Accreditation: Learning the PR Playbook

A funny thing happened midway through my first true PR job in Montgomery, Alabama. My boss, who had been professionally accredited for years by the Public Relations Society of America, wanted me to do the same thing — become accredited in PR.

First of all, what was accreditation, and why did it matter? And why was he so strongly insistent about it?

I had already gotten involved with the Public Relations Council of Alabama (PRCA), during my first year in Montgomery. PRCA had great professional development opportunities like local, state and regional workshops with the Southern Public Relations Federation (SPRF). The SPRF is made up of similar associations from Louisiana, Mississippi and Northwest Florida as well as Alabama.

I had heard about accreditation — how it was for PR people who had several years of experience in the field. Accreditation meant you were serious about PR, that you could demonstrate advanced strategic thinking, and that you had dedicated yourself to the industry through study, practice and continuous improvement.

It also required you to go through a curriculum of study about as rigorous as getting a master’s degree.


I had already taken a crack at graduate work in Montgomery. I had to stop after a year because it was just too much to handle with a young family and a full-time job at BellSouth.

Yet, my boss must have realized that without making PR accreditation a part of my performance commitments, I would probably never make it a priority. He was right.

After more than a year of study, I earned my APR (Accredited in Public Relations) accreditation.

APR preparation taught me the other side of PR blocking and tackling — to the actual playbook mindset needed to guide brands, companies and clients in developing PR strategy.

Getting the APR was a key step in one day becoming president of o2ideas. It taught me the analytical mindset needed to help some of the world’s greatest brands through some of their greatest challenges and victories. We’ll talk about that in the next post.

Meantime, I encourage all PR practitioners to pursue your APR as soon as you can. Don’t leave it up to someone else to make that decision for you.

My PR Blocking and Tackling Lessons

When I was in college, I had no idea what “public relations” meant. “PR” was a fuzzy term floating inside the massive building where most of my broadcast journalism classes took place. I vaguely knew it was part of the Advertising and PR curriculum. I also knew there were some extremely attractive coeds who majored in those two fields. But that was it.

PR was never on my career radar. My life’s goal was to be a reporter on a major TV network. If you can recall the NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, that’s who I wanted to be. If you had told me one day I’d be at o2ideas working with some of the world’s greatest brands in PR, I couldn’t have believed it.

To not throw total shade on those days, there were early successes. A paid summer internship led to a full-time job at a major TV station after college.

But years went by and life brought changes. Soon it was about marriage, a house and a baby. TV reporters’ wages didn’t really cover the costs of a marriage, a house and a baby.

Desperately, I looked for another career. Just something. But what? I had no idea.

Brokaw was broken.

Then the term “public relations” floated back into my life, straight from the domed ceiling of Reese Phifer Hall at my alma mater. My former boss in TV news had found a job in PR with BellSouth (now AT&T). After a couple of years of preparing, praying and pleading, that triggered the jump from TV news to BellSouth Public Relations.

First, there was an intro job where they mercifully let me anchor an internal video magazine. But that got cut from the budget. Even more mercifully, they transferred me to Montgomery, Alabama, to learn PR from a true master.

My Montgomery boss had played football for University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, and he sported a 1965 National Championship ring as a silent badge of honor. But my boss took the time and effort to teach me PR much like he had learned blocking and tackling from the Bear himself.

He taught me incredible things about engaging a community, persuading public opinion, organizing events, and setting stories straight. I learned how to write news releases, backgrounders and speeches through his countless red slashes on my copy. I learned patience, discipline, follow-through and accountability. I learned how to make crowds laugh, and yet how to inform them with convincing tone and messaging.

All of those early years of teaching came before social media and the internet of things.

But the Montgomery years taught me some basic PR fundamentals. Like working with real people on real issues, through thoughtful communications and honest relationships.

The platforms and tools of PR will always keep changing. But these fundamentals won’t.

5 Signs You Need Another Ad Agency

You have an ad agency. Things are going fine. Or maybe they aren’t. Your agency’s client service may be great, the creative so-so. Your creative may be awesome, but client service is more order-taking than proactive with help and ideas.

In today’s blisteringly fast pace of change in media, technology, and service delivery, no one agency can give you 100% of what you need 100% of the time. Increasingly, companies are partnering with a number of agencies based on the agencies’ main strengths.

Here are 5 signs you’re ready to expand your agency roster.

  1. No diversity of thought.

Today’s customers are getting more diverse and savvy every day. Your advertising must also become more diverse and savvy – especially if you’ve approached your marketing the same way for years. Plus, there’s more competition for your customers’ attention and loyalty than ever before. Even if you like your current agency, consider expanding your agency mix to bring diversity to your marketing – and more customers to your business.

  1. Your agency simply takes orders.

When was the last time your agency presented you with a fresh idea? Something that could bring in new customers or create an additional revenue stream? The best agencies don’t deliver only what you ask for. They give you what your business needs.

  1. The competition out-hustles you.

Right now, your competition is doing everything in its power to take away your customers. Your company and its agency partners need to use every creative idea you can to stay one step ahead of the competition.

  1. Your agency is a navel-gazer.

Your agency is more concerned about promoting itself than promoting you. You’ll know if it’s true.

  1. You’re always waiting on your agency.

For decades, agencies have touted the mantra “Good. Fast. Cheap. You can pick two.” With the speed of commerce today, your company doesn’t have the luxury to allow your agency to live by this axiom. You can have it all – you just need the right partners.

Make Happy Happen

A couple of weeks ago, o2 launched our new website with a new tagline, “Make Happy Happen.” In a day and age when clients want “solutions” and “ROI,” why are we focusing on happiness?

The answer is simple.

At o2, our focus has always been our clients. Naturally, we provide solutions and ROI, but that’s just the beginning. We also go above and beyond to deliver the best client service and creative work possible. This makes our clients happy. We’ve always done it; we just never articulated it. We make happy happen.

Make Happy Happen goes beyond what we bring to our clients. It also gives us, as an agency, a higher purpose. It’s the mantra that guides our actions and informs our decisions. When we march into battle, Make Happy Happen is our rallying cry.

How exactly do we make happy happen?

That answer comes from the Dalai Lama who, to paraphrase, said, “I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. And we become happy the more we care for the happiness of others.”

So that’s what we’re going to continue doing. We’re going to focus on the happiness of our clients and each other to make happy happen for everyone who works at and with o2.

Media Pitching 101

Pitching to the media is a crucial part of public relations. Every story must be specifically angled to immediately grab the reporter’s attention.

Here are 3 quick and helpful tips on how to better pitch and land your story!

  1. Get. To. The. Point!
    Journalists and reporters receive hundreds of PR and advertising pitches all day. With so many frequent requests, it’s easy for your pitch to get dumped if it’s too long. When you get straight to the point and cut the fluff, it makes their jobs so much easier. List the “Five W’s” and you’ll be good to go: Who, What, When, Where and Why!
  2. Follow Up With A Call
    You can assume that if you didn’t get a response to your email pitch, it probably wasn’t seen. Follow up with a call to the reporters to trigger their memories about your pitch. Regardless of their decision to cover your story, they’ll remember the personable voice interaction.
  3. Know Your Beat
    Double-check your media lists and know your beat. If you’re pitching a story concerning sports, don’t email the education reporter just because they work at the specific outlet in which you want coverage. Over time, you can build great relationships with the journalists and reporters whom you frequently contact. This can also give you a better chance at scoring coverage as well.

Contact us today about successfully executing your next PR campaign.

From the Desk of the Interns

Many internships are a joke. Maybe sub-par at best. You don’t get taken seriously, you never work on real projects, and no one wants to hang out with you outside of work. At least, that’s what we hear from our friends. But sometimes, when you’re in the right field, you find the right place. For us, the Right Place was o2ideas.

Here’s what we learned:

Emily, Art Director: After my 10 weeks at o2, I now have a better insight on the ins and outs of advertising. It is full of collaboration and improvisation. Along with some cool new Photoshop tricks (that I’ll definitely be showing off to my friends), I have learned how to design on a tight deadline. This skillset isn’t always taught in school. We might have an entire month to polish one project. I’ve learned to go with my instincts, be bold, and get the job done. Ipaddress . I couldn’t have asked for a better experience or co-workers to build me into a stronger art director.

Anna, Copywriter: I learned how to make progress through criticism – how to present my work, accept rejection, and completely start from scratch (to present later that week). I was accustomed to the evenly spaced project load in school. Here I learned time management because, in the real world, tasks come in consistently and almost always overlap. I learned that, although having sole creative control is lovely, it can be way more rewarding to work with a team, especially when it’s the right one. And the most important thing I learned during my life as an intern? Just keep writing.

Mitchell, Client Services: Oftentimes, the first thing people think of when they hear “ad agency” is what they see on an episode of Mad Men. That makes for great television, but that’s not how it works in the 21st century. After my experience as the lone intern in 2014, I had to learn to let other people do what they were hired to do, and for me to focus on my own responsibilities. After this internship, I found that a successful agency means everyone plays their part as well as they can. And, when everyone does that, then the finished work will ultimately benefit.

The past 10 weeks have presented challenges and successes that inspired us to work harder, faster and smarter. However, the most profound part of this internship was how we were embraced by the team members (sometimes literally). We felt valued, respected and competent – and, as interns, that’s a pretty cool feeling.

We’ve loved the time we’ve spent at o2ideas and the people who have guided us. The culture here is unique, nourishing and productive, and we wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.

Thanks, o2!

Five Reasons to Join a Professional Organization

So, you’re a young professional or recent grad who wants to network more. You have big hopes, big dreams and an even bigger passion for your field, but you’re looking for the right way to get keyed in. Whether you’re on the hunt for your dream job or want to become more involved, professional organizations are a great way to expand your horizons as you grow within the industry.

Within the agency world, two organizations are highly frequented by my co-workers and me – The AAF Birmingham and AL PRSA. I’ve been involved with PRSA since college, and still use it as a way to grow within my field today. Whether I was seeking mentors that are now professional friends or meeting Bill Todd and learning about an opening at o2, professional organizations have played an integral role in my growth within the industry and proved their worth in these five ways:

1. Networking
You can never know too many people within your field. It still amazes me how I can call upon an old contact and pick up where we last left off. In PR alone, it’s important to attend these events and make connections within the city where you live and work, because you never know where one handshake could lead.

2. Advice
Truth be told, you aren’t the only newbie in the city, and professionals within the organizations have been in your shoes before. It’s important to make connections and grab coffee or lunch with someone who is seasoned in order to gain the ins and outs of the industry.

3. Leadership
So, you want a chance to share your ideas and bring something new to the table, or simply give back to the community. Organizations allow you to use your talents in a vast array of areas and grow not only in your job role, but in a community-focused role as well.

4. Potential Job Leads
As someone who found out about my last two positions through PRSA, I am a firm believer in using organizations to find out about openings that may not be posted to the public. If you’re in the job market, meetings and networking events give you the chance to meet a potential employer face to face and potentially gain access to the position of your dreams.

5. Industry Insight
In the field of PR and advertising, trends and information mediums are constantly changing, and it’s important not to get left behind. Going to events and listening to key speakers who are trained on these topics will help grow your knowledge of what’s to come, allowing you to take it back to the office and bring something new to the table.

Five Business Lessons from the Monaco Grand Prix

With only 15 laps to go and a 20-second lead, there was no way Lewis Hamilton could lose the Monaco Grand Prix. But something happened on Hamilton’s way to winning the most prestigious Formula 1 race. After a crash on the 63rd lap, Hamilton’s crew felt there was time for a quick pit stop. Problem is, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, the number two and three drivers behind Hamilton, didn’t stop. Neither of their crews felt they had a second to give.

The next scene was dramatic. Hamilton pulled out of his pit stop, only to see Rosberg and Vettel speed past him. With no room and no chance to pass, Hamilton came in third behind Rosberg and Vettel. During that time span, you can hear Hamilton radio his crew, “I’ve lost the race, haven’t I?”

It struck me that this event has lessons for us in business, well away from the Formula 1 world:

1. Don’t let up. Ever.
Your competitors aren’t taking it easy when the game is on the line. Should you? As good as you did today, you can do better.

2. Sometimes opportunities just aren’t.
It’s easy to see that the opportunity Hamilton’s team saw wasn’t an opportunity at all. It was a cul-de-sac that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
3. Work with what you have.
The Hamilton pit stop was a luxury, not a necessity. His tires, fuel and everything else were enough to finish the race without stopping. Rosberg and Vettel knew they couldn’t stop for anything if they had a prayer of winning. What they had was enough to finish, and Rosberg finished first.

4. Mistakes are the best teachers.
f1Nobody has analyzed Hamilton’s slip more than Hamilton and his team. They won’t make the mistake again. The pain of losing will fade. There are lots of F1 races between now and next year’s Monaco GP. The mistake you may make today will sting. But the pain will go and you’ll be the wiser.

5. Grace is most visible under pressure.
Kudos to Hamilton and his team for chalking up the error for what it was. He was gracious in defeat and gave the right public praise for Rosberg. In so doing, Hamilton kept his team together and lives to race another day. Move fast and move on.


Lucy & Ruby’s Brainy Day 2015

One of my client’s annual fundraising events is just one day away. It’s a draining, stressful and overwhelming project, requiring branding, design, interactive, video, PR, event planning and social media. I’m also working with both the easiest and hardest clients – myself. Along with my 8- and 10-year-old daughters.

blog_article_image-1For Lucy & Ruby’s Brainy Day, I am client, mom-of-the-client(s), account executive, account director, producer and publicist, while also doing my job as director of client service for o2ideas. The stress may be high, but the reward is worth it.

As the third annual Lucy & Ruby’s Brainy Day approaches, I’ve been reflecting on three things every project needs to succeed.

A Great Idea

I’m surrounded by great ideas on a daily basis. At o2ideas, it’s what we do and who we are. I’m not typically the idea person, though. I’m the make-it-happen and make-sure-everyone-is-happy person. But Lucy & Ruby’s Brainy Day is different. The idea initially came from my then 6-year-old daughter, Ruby. Her daddy had brain cancer and she wanted to do something to help, so she asked if she and her sister could have a lemonade-and-cookie stand to raise money for his hospital. Ruby didn’t think about where the cookies or lemonade would come from, where the stand would be, how we would advertise it or any other detail. She just had an idea and it was a really great one.

The core idea determines the success or failure of a brand, campaign or project.


After I pointed out some of the logistics involved in creating their lemonade-and-cookie stand, Lucy and Ruby recognized the importance of not just having a great idea, but also following through. They made posters, asked Publix to donate cookies and lemonade (another great idea) and asked me to post about it on Facebook so my friends would come. They took three relatively small steps and raised $3,000 that first year.

A great idea remains just an idea until action is taken to bring it to life.


Now that Lucy & Ruby’s Brainy Day has grown beyond a child’s lemonade stand, it takes a team of people who are a lot better at a lot of different things than I am to make it happen. o2’s culture has always been one of teamwork and selflessness, and I’ve been reminded of how special that is through Brainy Day. A team works together. They care about a project’s success as much as the client. And they challenge each other to make it better. You can count on them day in and day out. And that’s a great thing, especially when your event strives to make life better for people affected by brain tumors.

Teamwork makes it all possible.

So, here’s to great ideas, taking action to execute them and to the best team in the business. Oh, and of course, to great clients, if I do say so myself.

To learn more about Lucy & Ruby’s Brainy Day, visit lucyandruby.com.

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