By: Margaret Werren
The 2022 PRSSA ICON session, “What Aspiring Pros Should Know About PR” showcased how public relations really works. Hosted by Melissa Vela-Williamson, who has over 20 years of experience across different public relations sectors, topics showcased included getting started in PR, making positive first impressions, email rules, and media relations.
Williamson is an accredited, internationally-recognized public relations expert, national columnist and podcast host. Williamson has nearly two decades of multicultural and integrated communications experience; she serves as a consultant, trainer and account director at her boutique firm, MVW Communications.
Some of her clients include Kampgrounds of America, H-E-B, Alamo Colleges District, Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas and Texas State University. Williamson is a certified diversity professional where she leverages her PR and DEI expertise to create social good.
Smart Talk: Public Relations Essentials All Pros Should Know
Published in 2022, Williamson’s book, “Smart Talk: Public Relations Essentials All Pros Should Know” is a guide to navigating the evolving PR industry and forging your own path toward an impactful and successful career.
Williamson wanted to showcase how to develop beneficial relationships, creating integrated communication strategies, planning targeted campaigns and advising clients in their diversity and inclusion efforts. Some chapter titles in the book highlight what PR actually is, media relations do’s and don'ts, planning like a pro, starting smart with PR etiquette, tailoring to serve multicultural needs, understanding integrated marketing communication and building your PR toolkit.
Getting Started in Public Relations
Williamson’s presentation started with describing all the different sectors of public relations and tips on getting started in the field.
“The top piece of advice I would have for you that is going to make you marketable and what employers are looking for is that they want experience. They want to know that you can jump in and help,” Williamson said. They're not going to spend their days training you. And you need evidence of that experience.”
Another tip Williamson shared for getting started in public relations is building your own personal brand and the importance of building and maintaining two-way relationships.
“Customer service is #1 in public relations. If you work in PR, you are going to be helpful in a million different ways,” Williamson said.”If you are not helpful, that is going to be remembered too.”
Emailing is More Important Than You Think
Williamson stressed the importance of email etiquette in the field of public relations and how it can sometimes make or break relationships with journalists.
“I have a whole chapter about media relations and how the very embarrassing things that happened to me with missteps in emails and follow-ups, it’s a really important part of our job,” Williamson said. “How you handle email is actually super important. It’s going to be your main communication tool. With email, there are actually a lot of unwritten rules that you don’t learn until you embarrass yourself.”
Her top rules when it comes to using email the correct way are watch your tone, take complex topics offline, keep it short and sweet, edit before sending, think before you send, follow the To, CC and BCC rules, watch punctuation and remember what you write is published.
Effective Media Relations
Williamson defined effective media relations as starting with planning and ending with delivering a clear, impactful message that benefits your organization.
“Tip #1 is just accept that [media relations] will always be intimidating your whole career. It will be uncomfortable your whole career. Doesn’t mean you can’t be good at it,” Williamson said. “The thing with media relations is to know that it is a game and you have to be proactive, have purpose and be intentional. Such as curating and maintaining relationships with journalists.”
A second important tip Williamson shared was to understand what is newsworthy and how to tailor your pitch to a journalist by making it effective.
“Understanding what is actually newsworthy is really hard. You may have an employer that thinks everything is newsworthy,” Williamson said. “I have a whole chapter where I line out the nine criteria that journalists are trained on to look for
newsworthiness. If you know what they are, you can stack them and make a story excellent when you pitch it.”
Williamson broke down the four-step process of public relations using the acronym RPIE, which stands for research, planning, implementation and evaluation. Below is her breakdown of each letter. She emphasized that you will be the top pro if you understand strategic communication planning.
Research: “Understanding there is something you can gather: information online, secondary research someone has done and what are the numbers and data.”
Planning: “For a lot of clients, it is making the time to sit down and think. If you are in the agency world, you have more time to think than the client’s who are working in house do because they are busy putting out fires day to day.”
Implementation: “When you put that plan into action. Plans are worth nothing if you don’t activate them. While you are doing that plan, figure out what is working and what is not and then make changes along the way. Document that so your next plan is even easier.”
Evaluation: “How can we measure the reaction?”