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Confessions of a Self-Hating PR Man

Mickey Mandelbaum  Follow

I’m not afraid to admit that there are times when I question if I’ve made the right career choice. I mean, what do I do? What do I make?

Don’t get me wrong, my days are filled with tons of interesting and varied work—from counseling clients through crisis situations to drafting thought pieces and media strategy. However, at the end of the day, the most frequent and visible products we as PR practitioners “produce”—articles in news outlets—are not even made by us! Those are penned by reporters and, for the most part, completely out of my control, save to the extent that I prod, cajole, influence and, at times, argue with reporters.

That work, while undeniably necessary, important and more art than science is, unfortunately, invisible.

One day, as I was talking to the CEO of one of my biggest clients, he remarked, “I’m not sure how you PR guys do it. You live on coffee and Advil.”

I thought about my desk back at the office and wondered if he’d somehow actually seen it.

Another moment of introspection came during career day at my son’s school. I sat alone at one of many tables with a framed picture of an article I had successfully placed. When I explained to a 5th grader that it was because of me that this article happened, a confused look came over his face and he quickly made a beeline to the veterinarian’s table. That guy had a puppy. And was killing it that day.

There are, however, times, many times in fact, when the clouds part and the sunlight comes through, that I am reminded that there are aspects to this business that are unbeatable.

It usually takes a client who is new entrant to the PR game to bring back that feeling. This just happened.

A very low-profile client with no public visibility wanted to put out an announcement about a senior hire. They’d be satisfied if the announcement just ran on BusinessWire.

I thought to myself, is that all we can do for these guys? Getting an article placed is just step number one. I want to get an article, have the company market it to its own constituents and then take that article and continue to amplify it through numerous digital channels in order to maximize every drop of marketing power I can muster beyond just a print piece of coverage.

I also thought to myself, nobody has ever heard of these guys, how am I even going to get out of the starting gate? I prayed for a miracle.

Well, after discussing it with my colleagues on the account team and leveraging their unbeatable relationships, it turned out that Bloomberg News agreed to take the announcement on an exclusive basis and wanted an interview. Once we told the client, you would have thought 60 Minutes was calling by the volume of emails and number of prep calls we had with them to prepare for a story that would ultimately total three to five short paragraphs – if we were lucky.

In the hours leading up to the story actually coming out, the volume of emails increased – “Do you think they’ll actually write a piece?” “When will it come out?” “Do you think it will be positive or negative?”

I thought to myself, “We’ve done our prodding, cajoling, influencing…” you know the drill.

In truth, I found their enthusiasm contagious and we walked them through the process, discussed all we’d done to position the news correctly and all we’d done to prepare for the interview.

This business is a bit like Christmas. The anticipation of an article, big or small, coming out is like the time you wait for your parents to wake up so you can rip open some presents.

Sometimes you get the yellow Schwinn bike with the banana seat and the high handle bars, sometimes you get a lump of coal and many times you get something in between. It’s kind of like Russian roulette.

Not sure that’s exactly like Christmas and…wait, why do I like doing this again?

Oh yes, back to the client and their announcement.

The Bloomberg story ran as scheduled and was as straightforward, positive and accurate as I could have hoped for. I could now continue to market this piece and push for as much business impact as possible.

My spirits soared, and I knew the client would be thrilled. The combination of our invisible efforts—the teamwork on our side, the extensive preparation and advice we gave the client about how the interview would go, and our work with the reporter—all paid off big.

I was reminded that this was not a gift to me, but actually a gift to them.

And that feeling never gets old. 

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