3 Character Traits To Grow A Successful Career In PR with Filomena Fanelli

PR Strategy Series with Kage Spatz, Founder of Spacetwin.com

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If a company has achieved much-desired media coverage, first go on and celebrate, but then immediately move into action.

Welcome to another installment of our PR Strategy Series, where you can learn directly from top industry experts on how you can leverage media attention to grow your business.

Today we are talking about how you can grow your PR career by highlighting parts of a conversation I had over at Authority Magazine with Filomena Fanelli.

Filomena Fanelli is the CEO and founder of Impact PR & Communications. Fanelli is a 22-year industry veteran and sought-after expert. She has presented for New York State Senator Sue Serino, Dutchess Tourism, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and the 92nd Street Y, among other venues, and is a frequent guest lecturer at Marist College, where she taught public relations writing as an adjunct professor. Her agency has earned more than a dozen awards for client campaigns and was recognized as a “Top Women-Run Workplace of the Year” by the Stevie® Awards, an international honor.

Thank you so much for joining us! Before we dive in, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and how you got started?

I never imagined I’d have a career in PR. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who worked in public relations, so I had no idea it was an actual profession — and back then there weren’t television shows about publicists like you see today.

My original plan was to be a teacher, but midway through getting my degree, something just didn’t feel right on a gut level. I felt a longing to start some sort of career in communications, even though I had no “on paper” credentials and, for whatever crazy reason, I listened to that.

Before long, I wound up in the office of an astute New York City headhunter who was wise enough to ask me about what I liked most, what I gravitated toward growing up, and where my strengths lie. I’ll never forget his eyes lighting up as he looked at me and proclaimed that I’d be perfect for public relations. He then asked me if I knew what PR was and I told him the truth; I didn’t. He handed me a news article about the late PR great Howard Rubenstein, sent me on an interview for the most entry-level administrative position at his firm, and the rest, as they say, is history. Less than a year later, I was promoted (even though I was told it was a non-growth position) and spent nearly the entire rest of my 20s rising through the ranks of Rubenstein Associates, ending my time there as a vice president.

As I entered my 30s, I shifted gears, combining my career aspirations with motherhood. After a short break in the action, I freelanced for another PR professional and agency owner I admire, while at the same time growing my own book of business. By 2014, the repeat business and regular invoices, plus a lack of specialized public relations agencies in my market, led to an epiphany — I had the makings of an agency on my hands.

I launched Impact PR & Communications and grew it over the years from just me, to me and some freelancers, to me and a few employees and freelancers, to the boutique, award-winning agency and certified Women’s Business Enterprise it is today. While the firm was born in New York’s Hudson Valley region, we have a footprint in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey and campaigns that are local, as well as national.

As a successful business leader, which 3 character traits do you think were most instrumental in getting you to where you are today?

I’d have to say curiosity, tenacity, and optimism are the character traits that have helped me the most on my career journey to date.

If I hadn’t been insatiably curious when I first entered the field as an administrative assistant, I might have stuck to only the duties in my job description: answer the phone, file and send the faxes. Instead, I asked lots of questions, sought out mentors, challenged myself to learn how to write news releases and long-form copy, studied books on public relations, and offered to try my hand at all the things that were “above my pay grade.” Paths opened up to me because I genuinely wanted to master skills for the sheer joy of it and without a reward. I still embrace this mindset to this day. Even as an agency owner, I am always learning more about our clients’ businesses, the latest technology, and the newest ways to build a brand.

Second, being tenacious has served me well. I believe all things worth doing are worth doing with passion and persistence. There have been many times, whether as an employee or as an agency owner, that things have not gone smoothly. In the early years of Impact PR & Communications, for instance, our agency had a large client and landing that business was a huge score — and also a third of our revenue. A change in management and internal priorities for that client led to us no longer being on retainer as an agency of record. Doggedly developing new business and investing in the clients we had on our roster led to a swift rebound and profitable year. We not only replaced that revenue we lost but surpassed it and diversified our agency’s focus in the process.

Last, but not least, optimism has been critical to my success. I’m always looking forward and thinking forward; I have a sign to remind me of this goal right above my desk. As a PR agency owner, the ability to believe in what isn’t… yet… has allowed me to expand the skill sets of team members, to tap into what’s next for our clients, and imagine where our agency can be if we focus on opportunities rather than setbacks.

For instance, when the COVID-19 pandemic changed so much for everyone overnight, I kept reminding myself that a pendulum swings both ways and that brighter days were ahead. Courageously accepting the reality of what was, while not losing my deep faith in our team, our worth, and the promises we make to our clients, helped us navigate through 2020 in good shape and with our team intact.

Thank you for sharing those stories. What 3 media strategies are most effective in generating more business for a national brand?

This may be a laughingly obvious suggestion, but national brands frequently benefit from relationships with public relations agencies to generate more media in a way that will best set them up for business growth. Working with others who know how to align business goals with strategies and tactics that tie to them, and have a more wide-reaching perspective and connections, will typically garner greater and more rapid results. Most companies are far too myopic in their approach.

Becoming the authority in your space is another way to generate more business as a national brand. By this, I mean thought leadership activities such as identifying key trends, making predictions for the future, rounding up best practices, and speaking on the topic you are an expert in. These activities lead to more news coverage, but also consistent messaging and saturation that lead to being top-of-mind among current and future customers.

Third, be willing to think beyond your own brand in order to generate business. Teaming up with a like-minded company for a creative brand partnership or aligning with a non-profit for cause-related marketing can reap results and expand the audiences you will reach.

Super helpful! One more before we go: If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would love to start a movement to maintain truth in media and to build up news outlets so that journalists can do this incredibly important work. Back when I started in the PR business, there was a separation of church and state between editorial and advertising departments. Things have changed over the years and paid and influencer content has grown.

Disclosure is key, as is adherence to ethical practices so that media consumers can be given the facts they need to come to their own conclusions based on the information, and without outside influences, manipulation and bias. In general, respect for free press is something I feel strongly about, and without valuing the work of professional journalists that cannot happen.

Thank you for sharing so many insights with us!

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