THINKPIECE: Agencies need to get tough on training their juniors in ’block-and-tackle’public relations

My first boss in PR was a former Marine Corps drill instructor and radio newswriter. He made me rewrite press releases over and over, as many as 25 times, until I got it right.

My first boss in PR was a former Marine Corps drill instructor and radio newswriter. He made me rewrite press releases over and over, as many as 25 times, until I got it right.

My first boss in PR was a former Marine Corps drill instructor and

radio newswriter. He made me rewrite press releases over and over, as

many as 25 times, until I got it right.



’Right’ was making a discount store opening in the ’burbs so riveting

that my release would sail past an editor’s puff filter. Or else.



It was the same with my second boss at a big insurance company, an

ex-prison warden, failed Broadway playwright and PRSA heavy. We all

trembled when our boss called a staff meeting. We had to map out and

sell him on every move we planned to make over the next five days,

including contingency plans.



These jobs were boot camps on the battlefield. But how many agencies

really train juniors and even midlevel staffers in the basic skills and

marketing savvy it takes to master this craft? Not many, I suspect.



Dispatching them to a day-long ’meet the editors’ conference doesn’t cut

it. I’ve run them and I know that 90% of the attendees, even the

seasoned pros, never ask a question.



As a freelance writer, I hear from too many ’dial and smiles’ phone

pitching the same client to a laundry list of reporters. Or following

up. Personally, I like follow-ups, but only if the PR person can flesh

out his/her original query. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case.



Last week, I got a call from an account person asking me if I got her

fax on Geek Cruises. She explained it’s a cruise where you learn

computer skills taught by geeks. When I asked how many geeks, how many

passengers and how big the ship was, she stammered.



I’m sure the client, paying a fat monthly fee to the agency, would be

thrilled to know the person representing his company doesn’t have a clue

about the product. But I don’t blame the junior; I blame her boss who

obviously never ensured she understood what she was pitching.



Agency chiefs, between their lust for new accounts and servicing what’s

in the shop, should carve out time for weekly training sessions - no

matter how busy they are.



Bring in a retired newspaper or magazine editor to teach writing. Find a

former TV assignment editor to brief juniors on the realities of

broadcast news. Hire an online specialist to explain how to approach

’content’ editors.



And invite the juniors in client PR departments to sit in on your

training sessions.



Above all, seniors and account directors should schedule regular

one-on-ones with their team members and pass along hard won wisdom.

Role-play, rehearse, coach. Make them rewrite and rewrite until it’s

right.



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