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Confessions of a PR Intern: How To Spend Your Summer as a SHIFTer

By Lexie Bowser



For the past three months I have interned at SHIFT Communications in Boston, MA. If I were to describe my first day, or month, of work in one word it would be: intimidating. Seeing as this was both my first internship and first experience in PR, I was not sure what to expect. I was frequently dodging terms, such as b-doc, clipping, media list and other various jargon words, while trying to maintain my composure.

However, after learning from my remarkably patient team and the mistakes that I can’t pretend I didn’t make, I started to get the hang of things. I worked on a team whose clients were mainly tech and social tech. Three months ago, I would’ve had no idea what that meant. Even after conducting my own researching and scheduling a briefing session with my team, I wasn’t remotely close to being comfortable with what the clients do. If I had never immersed myself into this internship, I never would have known what phenomenon’s like BYOD and cloud computing were.

Most college students would be fine with never knowing what these tech-y terms mean and I have to admit that I was one of them! But instead of staying in my comfort zone and dealing with concepts and situations that I was familiar with, I was determined to master an entirely new set of skills, which is a critical take away for any intern experience. Whether it’s technology, finance or bio-chemistry, learning about a new space, and becoming comfortable with it, is an imperative life skill.

Before I knew it, I was monitoring for coverage and drafting clients’ tweets like it was second nature. I created and managed media lists, found potential events for clients and performed various administrative tasks. When I was asked to do research on a prospective client, I had the confidence to jump right in. SHIFT fostered an environment for me where I wasn’t scared to ask for help, but I was also assured that I had the ability to do the tasks asked of me.

As the summer comes to a close and I begin gearing up for school, I am realizing the impact this experience has had on me. Instead of being terrified of what the “real” working world has in store for me after graduation, I am excited for the options I can explore. I am so thankful for the opportunity that SHIFT gave me to learn the ins and outs of Public Relations and I can’t stress how much this real-world experience has helped me learn. I will miss being at SHIFT, but I would not have wanted to spend my summer any other way!

Pitching in a Summer of “Big News:” Cutting Through the Noise When Other Stories Seem More Important

It’s not even August and we’ve had enough headline news this summer to last several months. It all started with the Facebook IPO in May, which was followed by events such as SCOTUS’ healthcare ruling, the Diamond Jubilee, buzz around the Olympics, and the Marissa Mayer news. Oh yeah, we’re also in an election year.

News junkies might rejoice at this continual cycle of “big news,” but I don’t think I’m the only PR person who’s felt like they need a giant, “woe is me” cocktail. After all, when reporters are totally focused on the latest major story, and that story doesn’t involve your client, how can you cut through the noise to get the media’s attention?

I asked my colleagues to share the pitching tips and tricks that have helped them get through this summer. So stop drowning your sorrows and read on for some great insight on meeting coverage metrics and keeping your clients happy when it seems that reporters just don’t want to talk to you.

  • Make the big news YOUR news. Is there a way to tie your client to the big story that everyone’s writing about? Can one of your executives provide relevant commentary, or make projections about the larger industry outlook? Things like healthcare, the election, and even the Olympics are ongoing stories that will be covered again and again, and reporters are going to want new people to talk to and new story angles. So be creative. That said, do pay attention to what reporters are saying on Twitter, Facebook, and their blogs. You don’t want to be “that person” who offers expert commentary just after a reporter tweets that he doesn’t want any insight on the individual mandate.
  • Make new friends, but keep the old. If you aren’t making headway with your media friendlies, now is the perfect time to expand your contact list. Spend some time researching new contacts at your key outlets—is there a rookie reporter who seems to be getting the “leftover” (i.e. non-big news) assignments? Contributors or bloggers who have the flexibility to write about whatever they want? Also, don’t limit your research to just new contacts—be on the lookout for new outlets, too, whether it’s print pubs, newsletters, or blogs. Once you give yourself some time to see what else (and who else) is out there, you won’t feel like you’re beating a dead horse when your go-to contacts aren’t picking up the phone.
  • Don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. One of the teams in our NY office had a client launch that essentially coincided with the Facebook IPO. They originally planned to do an NYC media tour with one of the executives, but the only CEO on anyone’s radar was Mark Zuckerberg. What to do? Accept that this strategy simply wasn’t going to work. Rather than push against an unmovable wall, the team focused on tactics that would create momentum, such as pitching relevant targets for launch coverage that weren’t preoccupied with Facebook. The team ultimately secured more than 22 million impressions in just 3 weeks, resulting from coverage in regional print/broadcast media, local search, and business outlets.

It’s A Small World After All – 6 Tips For Making Lasting Relationships

By Kelly Kane, @kellykane

When I think about working in PR one thing comes to mind… relationships. Whether it’s relationships with your colleagues, the PR community (it really IS a small world!), mentors, clients or journalists, it all matters. Below are a few tips for those starting out in the industry and looking to make lasting connections – especially with the media.

  1. Ask What They Want – It may sound simple, but asking a journalist flat out what they’re interested in or what they are working on or how you could make a pitch better could save a lot of back and forth – and actually help them get what they need to accomplish their job. After all, they have a life too! They don’t want to run around for story ideas and chase sources all day long.
  2. Get Connected – In this social world, most journalists can be found on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and more. Connect with them! Many journalists have Facebook pages dedicated to posting their articles. Find yourself on Facebook 24/7? Follow ‘em, you might learn something.
  3. Be A Resource – One of the benefits of working at an agency – you have a bunch of clients across the office. You might not necessarily work on each of the various client accounts; however, you can serve as a resource and provide an introduction for the reporter into other clients. Offer to become a go-to-resource to press – especially to those generalists – you might make a lasting relationship!
  4. Meet Face To Face – Just like getting your clients in front of the media helps, if possible, meet the press that you work with in person. You’ll learn quickly that they’re just like you and me and putting a face with a name/voice helps to strengthen the relationship.
  5. Reference Past Interactions – Who doesn’t like having people remember things about themselves? Has a reporter just mentioned they just bought a new house? Are they going on vacation? Remember those things and ASK about them next time you speak! They’ll appreciate the effort.
  6. Remember, They’re People – [Most] journalists aren’t the boogey man. They’re regular people. Don’t be scared! Your outreach, if done right, can help make their jobs easier!

Have any other suggestions for folks starting out in PR? Leave a comment!

The Space Between: Digital and Traditional PR Look Really Similar These Days

By Dave Levy, @levydr

I have at least one or two media contacts with whom I rarely, if ever, email. It’s not that I’m not doing my job; it’s that whenever I have a pitch or want to soft-sound a story idea, I have to shrink the thought into way-less than 160 characters so I can direct message them on Twitter.

It will not surprise you to learn that most of these “Tweet First” contacts are bloggers. A few years ago, blogger engagement was a separate category from traditional media activities. In fact, during the growth of digital PR back six or seven years ago, we had two distinct teams with their own tasks related to either traditional pitching or blogger engagement. I was working in the latter camp, and by way of talking to people who blog, and who were some of the first on Twitter, it was kind of a natural progression to stop emailing each other and then just tweet.

Blogging looks a lot more like mainstream news these days (or mainstream news looks more like blogging, that’s a chicken or egg post for another day). Along with that, the space between what I’ve been doing in my career around online news sources and what colleagues who have filled more traditional media roles has gotten really, really small. Sure, my leading example here talked about how bloggers and I talked through Twitter direct messaging. But it isn’t only bloggers who rely on Twitter for everything from news to getting leads from sources. There are even reporters who have grown in their careers to join traditional outlets by way of being active online bloggers (and, again, plenty of writers who once wrote for large organizations have jumped to independent, online outlets).

When I got into this business, it felt different to be talking to a blogger, but maybe it shouldn’t have. I don’t know if I’m ruining some big secret, but there really isn’t that much that’s different in terms of what we do when we reach out to an online-only reporter. Journalists and bloggers alike are writing stories, and sometimes we as PR professionals have – or think we have – a tip that will help them create content. Ultimately, we have to take the time to get to know the writer, what they consider relevant and the best ways to reach them. That process doesn’t change on the basis of reaching out to either a blogger or a traditional journalist.

As a final bit of homework, I’ll challenge you to think about what pitching a story in a direct message is like. It’s really, really good practice to take your pitch and try and get all the important parts into less than a sentence. If you can do that, you’ll have a better sense of your story and what you are trying to say – no matter who you are reaching out to.


Landing a Kick A$$ PR Internship

Internships can be some of the toughest jobs for which to interview – your experience is limited; you’re new at interviewing; and let’s face it…you’re trying to land a job in one of the most challenging job markets out there.

I’ve been managing the intern program here at SHIFT NYC, and let me tell you…I’ve seen A LOT of resumes – some good, some bad, but very few make me think, “Damn. I want this person working for me!” I’m now here to help you…so keep reading and I hope this post will teach you a thing or two about interviewing for a PR internship!

Making Your Resume Stand Out: Your cover letter and resume are the first things I see – why should I email you to set up an interview and not the other 500 people? I’m going to assume the obvious (proper proofing, formatting, etc…) goes without saying, so here are a couple things to think about when pulling the ‘ol resume together:

  • Include things from your past experience that can be applied to this new internship. I’d rather see that you helped manage a Twitter handle for your school’s athletic department than read about the waitress job you had three years ago. If it takes an extra bullet or two, I say “bring it on!”
  • Highlight positive accolades, promotions, surpassed goals. If someone else thinks you are great too, I want to know!
  • What makes you different? PR is all about creativity and well, in the words of our fearless leader, Todd Defren, being a little ballsy. Have you climbed a mountain? Won a spelling bee? Played a competitive sport? We don’t expect your list of professional accomplishments to rival Bill Gates’ – we just want to know who you are as a person. What makes you tick?

Congrats! You’ve been called in for an interview. You should be thinking, “OK, this is my chance to sell myself – time to show them why they should pick me!” PR is sales…if you can’t sell yourself, how can you sell your clients?

  • RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH! I cannot emphasize this enough. I want to hear that you know who SHIFT is. Heck, we’re the DIGITAL/SOCIAL MEDIA AGENCY OF THE YEAR! And we sure don’t make that fact hard to find. Read our website, read Todd’s blog and tell me what you make of it all!
  • Be on time. It still amazes me that in this competitive job market, people can still be 5 minutes late. Leave yourself an extra HOUR if you need to and park yourself in a coffee shop near the office to ensure you’re not late.

“Hi, I’m Talia!” (hand reaches out to shake yours). Firm handshakes people – we’re professionals! A floppy hand lacks confidence and PR is all about being confident.

The Interview:

  • Use your resume as a guide, not a script. I can read – I don’t need you to read me your resume bullet by bullet. Focus on your accomplishments and most importantly, what they taught you and how you plan to apply those experiences to your role at SHIFT.
  • Showcase your research. You took the time to get to know SHIFT, so tell me what you think. A question I always ask is, “Why SHIFT? How did you decide you want to work here?” I will tell you right now…telling me you just Googled PR firms in NYC will get your resume a ticket to the bottom of my trash can.
  • Ask me questions. Yes, you are the one being interviewed… but you should also want to know about the agency – the things you don’t find on the Internet. Find out what the job entails; ask about the office culture; heck, ask why I decided on SHIFT! The questions show you have a vested interest in both your internship and your professional career.

Wow. Great interview – I want you to come work with me. Please, I’m begging you…send a thank you note…it can be an email, written note, whatever suits your fancy, but please acknowledge that I, and most likely some of my colleagues, took time out of our busy days to meet with you. Even a couple quick sentences go a long way.

Hope all you eager intern candidates out there found this helpful! And please, if any readers have other helpful tips please feel free to share. Look forward to seeing some kick a$$ resumes and meeting some ballsy future SHIFTERS!


10 Things We Didn’t Know About PR

By: Rachel Huxley-Cohen

Entering the real world is scary. Something that’s even scarier is when you’re bombarded with weird, office jargon that leaves you feeling incompetent on day #1. We spend four years in college, preparing for the “real world” and learning the ins and outs of our chosen fields, but sometimes (okay, MOST times) that just isn’t enough. And you quickly learn that nothing beats real world experience.

Something I have found either insanely embarrassing or very hysterical are the simple things (buzz words, daily tasks, etc) that I didn’t know about PR before entering my first big kid job at SHIFT. So, in an effort to not feel like a total misfit, I reached out to my colleagues and together we have pulled together a “Top 10 List” of funny, embarrassing and sometimes insightful, things we did NOT know about PR before entering the field.

  1. I never realized how many people don’t understand what PR is. No I am not in advertising, living the life of Samantha Jones or lying on behalf of clients in order to get coverage. Other than that, PR can be just as badass and as fun as you think it would be. – Mallory Cloutier, Account Manager
  2. The PR world is small. Everyone knows everyone. – Katie Boucher, Account Executive
  3. The phrase “off the record” really means nothing. NOTHING is off the record! You can be quoted as a spokesperson for any client, any time. – Ann Marie Gorden, Account Executive
  4. I didn’t know that I would, in addition to various PR skills, become an administrative wizard. Scheduling calls, rescheduling calls, combing calendars for availability, setting up dial-ins, corralling people into conference rooms, and here and there, fighting the good Go-to-Meeting fight. Also, typing an email while looking at your colleague over your desk is like throwing a dart at the target while wearing a blindfold. If I don’t misspell something, I feel awesome. – Amanda Guisbond, Senior Account Executive
  5.  I didn’t know that I could get so many emails in the span of one bathroom break. – Emily Wienberg, Account Coordinator
  6.  I get to sign up for all the social sites I otherwise would be too embarrassed to admit using.  “Me on Pinterest?…ughhh yea, it’s only because I use it for work.” – Scott Baldwin, Account Manager
  7. Databases. Galore. – Denise Bertrand, Account Coordinator
  8. I didn’t know just how much jargon the PR industry has. You start off not knowing what’s in a client’s “wheelhouse” or how to “circle the wagons” and vowing never to use these phrases. And then one day you find yourself referencing “bandwidth” and “get your ducks in a row” in a team meeting…  – Sarah Bergeron, Account Executive
  9. I didn’t know I would require skills in psychology. So much of the work involves counseling, giving advice, and being a good listener.  – Danielle Mancano, Senior Account Manager
  10. My family will never understand what I do day to day. “No, Grandpa Albert. I don’t plan and attend parties every day.” – Ciri Haugh, Senior Account Executive

Why SHIFT Clients Rule: Pizza, Cookies & Praise

By Amanda Guisbond, @agbond

A couple of very important things happened this week at SHIFT’s Offices in Newton:

First, there was an unexpected delivery of baked goods.

Second, there was a just-as-unexpected delivery of Chicago deep-dish pizzas.

Why, you may be asking, were these considered significant events?  No, not because us SHIFT-ers LOVE free food (and we do) but because both were edible “kudos” from different clients wanting to congratulate their SHIFT account teams on a job well done.

First up the Rapid7 PR team delivered some INCREDIBLE media results as part of a rapid response pitching opportunity, resulting in coverage in the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Reuters (just to name a few).  As a “thank you” Rapid7 sent the SHIFT team a basket of cookies and brownies.  Mmmm!

The next day, the HIMSS PR team received a shipment of four individual Chicago deep-dish pizzas from their beloved client contact in – you guessed it – Chicago.  There was no specific reason for the delivery, per se, except that HIMSS wanted to recognize “all the great work” the team had accomplished over the past year and in lieu of being able to take everyone out to lunch in Boston.  Awww…

It’s no surprise – heh – that this kind of recognition makes our day as PR representatives!  When clients go the extra mile to make us pause and reflect on the great work we’re doing together it only inspires us to want to kick even more butt on behalf of our partners-in-crime.

Thank you to Rapid7, HIMSS and all of our clients who appreciate, encourage and support us and our PR efforts – and understand the fastest way to our hearts is through our stomachs!

Thank you Rapid7 for the basket of cookies and brownies!

Thanks to our Chicago HIMSS contact for the Chicago deep-dish pizzas! What a surprise!