Have a crisis plan for every client, no matter how harmless their business seems. Catastrophes happen. Even if your client is selling the equivalent of sunshine and rainbows, you should still have a plan for when a crisis arises. Your plan should include who needs to be contacted and in what order (Police first, publicist second!) and what to do when the media calls requesting comment.
As a part of my series about the things you need to know to excel in the modern PR industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christina Caldwell.
Christina Caldwell is the public relations account supervisor at The James Agency, a woman-owned, fully integrated agency located in Scottsdale, Arizona. Christina is a skilled media and PR professional with a breadth of knowledge in handling national, regional and local PR accounts. With a background in reporting and editing, Christina has insider knowledge about what makes a journalist bite on a story. She graduated from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in print and online reporting.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
If you would have asked teachers and classmates what I would do for a living when I grew up, “publicist” would likely be at the bottom of the list. I was a painfully shy kid and voted “most talkative” in high school… ironically.
Because I was shy, I turned to writing as a means of communication. I learned how to effectively convey my thoughts through the written word, which got me thinking about writing as a career path. I began in high school journalism classes and immediately took a shining to it, learning the trade and brushing up on my people skills by forcing myself to conduct interviews. My passion for writing and reporting led me to a career in journalism, during which I wrote and edited for several notable local and national publications.
I always thought public relations was the “dark side” of the journalism industry, where news stories met spin. As person who seeks the truth in all aspects of her life, I never saw myself getting into PR. Looking back, I can honestly say that some of those preconceived notions were warranted, but for the most part, PR pros are a legitimate source for news that people value.
While I was teaching newswriting at Arizona State University, a friend who recently left the journalism for a PR job told me how much she loved her new position and how she used her writing and reporting skills to be a great publicist. With her vouching for the trade, I decided to make the leap to PR and never looked back.
I truly love what I do. It has allowed me to transform from a shy little girl into a confident professional.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Public relations professionals are always stretched thin and doing a million things at once. That means mistakes sometimes fall through the cracks. I will never forget pitching a TV reporter to come out to a local home and garden expo and enticing him with a great, visual segment idea for “artificial turd installation.” Eh ehm, that was meant to be “artificial turf installation.” Fortunately the reporter didn’t mention anything about it and did the story, but I learned to stop, breathe and proofread diligently before moving onto my next task. I also started putting a delay on my sent emails just in case I realize my mistake after it’s already in a reporter or client’s inbox.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
While many of the details are still under wraps, we will be launching a soon-to-be-classic restaurant at an iconic local resort. That might sound simple given my vague description, but the fact that the client is open to my weird, left-field ideas is incredibly exciting. Passionate, innovative clients ignite my desire to carry out truly stellar PR plans.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- ABP — Always be pitching. Don’t overlook an opportunity to get your client’s story into the right hands. Avoid being pestering or annoying, but if you’re talking to a producer, editor or reporter for one story, don’t be shy about pitching another story while you have them on the line.
- Make their jobs easy. In a 24-hour news cycle, if you can make a reporter’s job easy, they will consistently come to you for their next piece. That means providing the right materials for the story at the start, quickly executing interviews and being hyper responsive.
- Go above and beyond, even if it doesn’t benefit you in the moment. If you can go out of your way to help a reporter, even if it doesn’t relate to an active client, do it! That goodwill will translate to future coverage — or at least ensure the reporter will open your emails.
- Have a crisis plan for every client, no matter how harmless their business seems. Catastrophes happen. Even if your client is selling the equivalent of sunshine and rainbows, you should still have a plan for when a crisis arises. Your plan should include who needs to be contacted and in what order (Police first, publicist second!) and what to do when the media calls requesting comment.
- Not all clients are created equal. If you’re just starting out, you may be tempted to take on any client work that comes your way. But ultimately, bad clients lead to bad pitches, when harms your reputation with the media. Be discerning about the clients you take on. You don’t need a Fortune 500 company on your roster to pitch a good piece, but they should be a quality business with a real story to tell.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Outside of the PR industry, some people have the perception of publicists being disingenuous and smarmy, begging journalists to cover their client’s story — even when that story isn’t relevant to the outlet’s scope of coverage.
I strive to do the very opposite. My biggest advice would be to form (but not force) real friendships with the reporters you work with on a regular basis. Follow them on social media, ask them out to lunch and get to know their real life likes and interests. Get to know them as people first. In addition to making a new friend, you’ll have the automatic instinct to think of that reporter when the perfect client story relating to their interests comes your way.
Don’t lose touch with reporters when they move onto new opportunities — even if they move to the other side of the globe. Journalism is a high turnover industry and you never known when that reporter will be hired for an opportunity locally again.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
There is a domino effect at play. In general, business owners know other business owners. Talk to everyone and tell them what you do. The magic of PR is that you don’t need to force the “sell.” The allure of publicity is enough to attract the attention of potential new clients. A simple elevator pitch and a proven track record of securing strong media hits is often all you need.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
It’s not PR-specific, but TED Radio Hour podcast is always a source of inspiration for pushing the boundaries of personal and career development. Hearing some of the smartest, most creative and emotionally intelligent people in the world share their insights for thinking outside the box is an inspiration to push the envelope in my own life. It encourages me to think boldly, embrace the “weird” and understand that my most impactful work comes from being my most authentic self.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would encourage people to become reporters in their own lives. Talk to your parents about their history and write it down. Listen to a stranger’s story. Take a real interest in getting to know someone — their quirks, their likes, what makes them tick. Investigate your own psyche and report your feelings on paper. So much of our inner strife and cultural turmoil comes from a desire to be heard. Listen to others and don’t forget to listen to yourself.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.