I’m still learning, but some things never change.
I graduated with a political science degree from the University of Oklahoma determined to influence public dialogue and inform people about key issues that affect them now and in the future. Little did I know—or predict—that I would be working with the public in a different way. Public relations is my profession and one I have loved since I graduated college and started my first, grass-roots public relations position in 1993. For the past 20 years of that career, I’ve run a boutique public relations agency. Hands down, my favorite part of my profession is and always has been working with clients to find new audiences, connect with people in more meaningful and effective ways and help business leaders figure out the right thing to say at the right time.
The public relations field continues to fascinate me. It has many facets and specialties; inside our firm, we have specialties in crisis communications, media relations, social media, writing, research and strategic planning. In one business day, I wrote a news release, developed messaging for a large public project, reviewed website analytics to see how many people are visiting and where they are coming from, prepped to speak at a cyber security conference and reviewed direction and content for social media. None of those were for the same client – the diversity is staggering.
Public relations is constantly changing with new media and new technology. When I started the firm in 1999, I distributed news releases via fax and hand delivered media kits to reporters. I remember sitting next to the fax machine and typing in media fax numbers, while hand feeding sheets of paper. Smart phones weren’t even around until 2007, so texting, camera phones and apps were not an option. During that time, we also grew from dozens to hundreds of cable channels and more recently, added Hulu, Netflix, Sling, Apple TV, YouTube and many more to the mix. Social media is the same way; we don’t get rid of communication channels, we just continue to add and get more focused and niche with every new option. Each of these are communication avenues that public relations professionals must know how to use and understand its impact on and consumption by the many unique users. We need to know the mediums to know the right ones to reach different audiences. The learning never stops.
I have seen some mistakes and a lot of successes over the years that have naturally influenced my own company. Here are a few of those truths that I know help with business longevity. And coincidentally, they are all in the area of public relations.
1. Make friends. I’m friends with clients, former co-workers, business partners and many of the people who own or work in a public relations or marketing firm. I’m still friends with Sean and Cathy Cummings, some of my first clients, 20 years after they opened their first restaurant in Oklahoma City. I help my friends in the business, I partner with them and I cheer when they succeed. When we all do well, we improve our profession. Brenda Jones is fantastic at this. Some may call her a competitor, but I call her a friend. When I win a job, she is the first to call and congratulate me. During a period of frustration, I called her for advice. She was so kind, helpful and sympathetic – she’s been through it, too.
2. Help startups. Entrepreneurs have to wear a few dozen hats and survival is tough, so why not help others who are pursuing a big idea? The SBA says the business failure rate after 20 years is about 21% and it’s much higher for those in the first two years. In our state, the Thunder LaunchPad, StarSpace46, 36 Degrees North, The Forge and others are working to help those courageous visionaries, and they are all good places to volunteer and meet entrepreneurs and business owners. Chances are, you’ve learned something worth passing along. I’ve helped the Thunder LaunchPad, spending time with founders and entrepreneurs to help them devise and refine their marketing plans. I made new friends, was amazed and inspired by the innovative ideas and learned so much from Erika Lucas about what investors look for in a startup and how startups can be best organized for success down the road. Wish I’d met her in January 1999 when I was starting Anglin PR. How many great businesses and new ideas have failed in our state because they couldn’t find the expertise, resources, relationships or funding needed?
3. Keep in touch with your customers. Their businesses and needs are constantly changing, and they are looking to you to help them navigate the future. This means showing up, talking to your customers in real time, asking smart questions and listening. Yet I work with businesses that are so busy doing the work, they don’t stop to ask the customer how the business is most valuable to them, what they want more of or if there are ever frustrations doing business with your company. I’ve done it. I lost a client because I didn’t stay in close enough contact. All our communication flowed through a single employee who was new (and unproven) to our firm. By the time I caught up with the client, they were mad. Rightfully so – I would be too. It’s humbling, and it’s taught me that nothing is more important than human relationships. Nothing is more important than the hour you spend on the phone with your customer.
Tom Phillips of Phillips Investments is amazing at this. He calls regularly and remembers (or documents?) the details of your life so he can ask about the kids, the trips, mutual friends and the business. Don’t forget your own in-person interactions and one-on-one time with customers – they value that time with you and will tell you things they won’t tell someone else in your business. Conduct focus groups and polls – even informal and do-it-yourself research is helpful. Share the results (over and over) with everyone in your organization and get feedback from employees on what the customers say. Don’t completely rely on someone else or a department in your organization to tell you what the customers think, feel and do. Growth and opportunity will become much clearer.
4. Get personal and professional feedback. I’ve worked with many CEOs over the years that get an abundance of positive feedback – internally. You might have noticed that their livelihood is dependent on you, so you can’t exactly count them as objective. If you don’t have organizations or groups that give you the opportunity to gather new ideas and gain external, objective feedback, you need to find a couple of trusted peers. Consider joining the chamber of commerce, a peer advisory group such as the Posse or Tribe, Rotary or a professional association. You’ll learn about new opportunities, find potential partners and find expertise that will help your business grow and stay healthy.
I joined the Posse a decade ago because of Gene Hopper, one of the smartest people I know. What the group has given me is a handful of people who will give me unfiltered, unbiased feedback on my business processes, growth plans and my own marketing efforts. They understand my strengths and weaknesses as a leader. What I’ve learned is that not every idea that pops in my head is worth pursuing, but they do help me refine the better ideas and opportunities to be really great. They help me think through questions I didn’t have. It’s also a group that wants me to succeed and always has my back.
5. Work with the best. My business has been successful because my clients trust me with their PR and marketing needs. I get a lot of credit for our successes because my name is on the door, but the true strength and greatest asset at Anglin PR is the team. Where two or more smart minds gather, you get a better product.
A number of years ago, I determined to hire mostly seasoned professionals. These are folks who have worked with many businesses before, understand the bottom line and know the field of public relations and marketing and how to make an impact. They also have their own ideas and areas of expertise. I’ve grown to depend on that and now I don’t manage anyone but myself at Anglin PR. I don’t send anything out the door without one of my colleagues critiquing it – and it is always better because of it.
Someone who has worked at Anglin PR will tell you the hiring process is rigorous. That’s because everyone on our team works with everyone else – we grow to depend on the ideas, execution and work ethic of every member. We don’t have weird, inappropriate, petty or selfish behavior here – our culture takes care of that. Adding a new person, and getting an exceptional person, is of high concern to everyone here.
So, what do the next 20 years hold? For the profession, I can’t imagine what new technology awaits… hologram press conferences, glasses that act as personal broadcast stations, maybe we’ll go old school with hand-written notes of congratulations and appreciation. I am certain that the tenants of public relations – relationships trump transactions, constantly communicate with your publics, do the right and reasonable thing for your customers – will remain. Those are some of the reasons I love public relations, and what I plan to continue to practice for the next 20 years.