When she was 12 years old, her mother took her to a bring-your-child-to-work-day at Novartis, a giant pharmaceutical company. Her mother introduced her PR manager who talked to her about relationship building and the thrill of getting a big story for her company.
The attraction was instant, she says, and at that young age, it was a deciding moment in her determination to pursue a career in either PR or journalism. Today, she works for ALM Media, a publisher which grew its roots in trade publications for the legal community, but now owns titles beyond just legal including financial services, insurance, and consulting.
In her words, it’s the “best of both worlds – experience in PR and exposure to what is happening on the journalists’ front.” Indeed, working in PR for a publisher sounds like interesting work, and so I invited her to this Q&A series.
She is Rachael Wolensky and she’s my guest on this edition of the Off Script series.
1) What are the top challenges in PR currently from your perspective?
RW: Proving ROI is tough for PR professionals because we work with ‘potential’ figures – reach and advertising value equivalency (AVE) are just examples. I can’t say to a C-Suite executive that ‘you got X dollars in sales that you can use towards your P&L from this external article mention.’
I can share great numbers and show potential clicks from our press release page, traffic and articles we are mentioned in. However, I can’t show how many people really read the article I secured in an external publication and how many readers actually traveled back to our site from a link in the article to actually prove a purchase.
It’s a complicated system, but I would say anyone struggling with this needs to show value by presenting articles and opportunities and then showcasing this success to your executives on a weekly or monthly basis.
It’s not part of reputation management for the business but for you. This is something that takes time, but will help in the long run, both for your business and your value.
2) I imagine a being a PR pro for a publisher is a wildly interesting role, but what are some of the challenges that are unique because of the role and how do you solve them?
RW: There are a lot of business units in ALM with different perspectives on PR and a variety of needs. The hardest challenge is finding a way to balance all of the different products, announcements, reports, speaking engagements or events that matter across the business.
It’s a challenge to get all the press releases out for each of these units while still being able to find time to secure interviews for our 25+ spokespeople. It was also a challenge finding a unique way for the external media to be comfortable talk with media sources (our editors).
We met this challenge by having our publications editors and our intelligence analysts jointly doing interviews, which appealed to those external journalists in a way that hadn’t been done before.
Not everything we have at ALM is necessarily PR worthy so it’s determining what will matter to them most and getting the media to buy-in to the topic while still securing interviews accordingly. I’m thrilled to say we get regular mentions now, whether secured or on its own, both for ALM but several of our divisions, spokespeople and brands.
3) How about the flip side: What are some of the advantages?
RW: The advantage is I have learned a lot. I understand more about a media company’s ins and outs and the structure and challenges they face. I’ve learned what our journalist’s lives are like so that has helped me with understanding how I pitch external journalists. I set expectations up front and make sure to have everything they need so they aren’t hunting for it – and being as responsive as I can when a query comes through.
All journalists appreciate that rather than being bombarded with information they don’t need or want – some editors can get over 300 emails an hour. It blew my mind to watch it come through with one person! The experiences I have learned have helped me grow as a PR professional. I balance a lot of hats internally and externally but it’s a challenge and I enjoy learning each day.
4) How does the vertical market that you are in, legal, impact your role in PR?
RW: Legal is ALM’s bread and butter but we are so much more than that! We have publications, events and products in the financial services, property & casualty insurance, benefits, consulting and real estate industries, all of which have their different PR objectives and information that I can pitch.
Our roots are in legal and there are interesting angles with how diversity, M&A, and the Am Law 100 and 200 impact the market. I tend to look more at the newsworthy trends and how they make a difference for the industry as a whole and use that in my external efforts.
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The Changing Face of PR in Government; Off Script #30: Merritt Allen of Vox Optima
Marketing has Gotten Better as a Profession; Off Script #29: Tom Pick of Webbiquity
5) What value does PR bring that you think generally goes under recognized?
RW: How many hats we really do wear.
We are expected to know what’s happening in the media market, network internally and externally, still educate ourselves but then we need to know the direction of the business, all the products and services we offer and that’s before even getting into marketing tactics, video, podcasting, website management and a social media strategy and I’m probably missing a few too.
That’s why it’s great being as organized as you can and setting reminders and notes all the time!
There are a lot of things being thrown our way as PR professionals both reactive and proactive activities, and we have to find a way to know it all. At the same time, you don’t want to be perceived as the ‘know it all’, so it’s finding the happy middle ground where you can make the biggest impact with coaching your internal client and how and when to present to media.
6) How can PR prove its value to the business?
RW: Show your accomplishments. If you secure an opportunity, make sure to share with appropriate people internally and share on both the company and your personal social channels (encourage your internal team to share on to their networks!).
The more exposure you give the business, the more opportunities you will have later. It’s one of the reasons why when we had the option to redesign our website, I made it a must to not only have a press page but a news section to showcase our mentions.
Not only is it great for SEO, but it helps with potential investors, employees and clients that see we are active in the news ourselves.
7) How has your nonprofit experience helped you professionally?
RW: I work with Family & Community Somerset County (FCSSC) and it has opened my eyes to the need for care in our community. Not only is it a small, local organization in NJ, but I’ve realized how important supporting those with mental health and addictions really can be. I haven’t been able to donate as much money as I have my time, but it has given me a different perspective on how I want to help my community.
I’m part of an internal committee at ALM and one of the things we do is focus on mental health. I don’t think I would have had as much appreciation for it if it hadn’t been for working with FCSSC. If you or someone you know needs help, look into resources – you need to take care of yourself just as much as your job.
8) Just for fun: in just a word or a phrase, fill in the blank:
- One company you with marketing you admire is…Good Morning America.
- Your favorite social media site is…Twitter for research and LinkedIn for building connections.
- If you weren’t doing what you do now you’d be a…philanthropist.
* * *
You can connected with Rachael on LinkedIn or Twitter. She has self-published a book on Amazon: Painting My Life and also has some contributions online:
- FCSSC: Donate Time Not Just Your Money
- LinkedIn: How will 280 characters on Twitter impact our message?
- LinkedIn: Your Resume is Your Brand
Want to be interviewed for the Off Script series?
We are always looking for smart people working in
PR, marketing, sales and journalism. Contact us here.
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Photo credit: Flickr, New York City’s Setting Sun, Anthony Quintano (CC BY 2.0)