“I’d like to start a movement to prop up the library system around the world” With Author Sandra Stahl

I love the library and have appreciated the worlds my local libraries opened up for me for as long as I can remember. A worthy movement I…

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I love the library and have appreciated the worlds my local libraries opened up for me for as long as I can remember. A worthy movement I would be happy to start would be focused on propping up the library system locally, nationally, and around the world.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sandra Stahl — PR veteran and author of The Art & Craft of PR: Creating the Mindset and Skills to Succeed in Public Relations Today (LID Publishing, 2018). In her agency and corporate positions, and as co-founder of jacobstahl since 2003, Sandra has shaped communications strategies and campaigns for companies of all sizes, from leading multinationals to start-ups, as well as nonprofit organizations and academic institutions. Sandra is on faculty at the Brand + Integrated Communications graduate program at the City College of New York.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

PR is still such a mystery to many people, from business leaders and marketing executives to students and my parents. As a practitioner for over 30 years on the agency and corporate sides, and as an adjunct professor of various PR courses, I continue to experience this sense of misunderstanding about our field. I wanted to write my book, The Art & Craft of PR, to offer some clarity.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I’ve specialized in healthcare communications. As pharma is a regulated industry, there are real limits to the kind of PR approaches one can consider, or that get through company legal departments. Sometimes, though, you can find an opportunity to be creative, and one of my earliest and most interesting was on behalf of a client that marketed a treatment for hepatitis C. Our goal was to encourage people to self-identify as potentially being at risk and get tested. I put together a campaign called “Get Hip to Hepatitis” and partnered the pharma company with the American Liver Foundation and the Blues Heaven Foundation. Willie Dixon, who inspired the Blues Heaven Foundation, was a famous blues man who had hepatitis C when he died. Working with Willie’s family and the Blues Heaven Foundation, we created an album called Red Blooded Blues to which many contemporary blues artists contributed, and had blues music as the centerpiece of many of our activities targeted to consumers, patients, and physicians. This was one of the most successful and fully integrated campaigns I have done, and it demonstrated that music is a universal language, a terrific leveler, and a powerful vehicle for communication. This effort eventually evolved into a national print and outdoor advertising campaign, a first for the PR agency I worked in at the time.

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?

No mistake ever felt funny at the time. Sometimes we laughed about it later; sometimes not.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Here are two:

  1. We were asked to do a comprehensive rebrand of a 95-year old healthcare company that included a new visual, narrative, messaging, and introduction to internal and external stakeholders. A great assignment that was immediately followed by an ask by the same company to develop the brand name and visual identity for a new product. Fantastic opportunity and a lot of fun.
  2. Managing a global issue that is a competitive hot button and is perceived to impact patient safety and clinical decision-making. We’re now into the third year and currently developing an evolved communications approach that reflects the new understanding and needs of the various stakeholders.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

Nikola Tesla: He was out there; a true visionary.

Mother Teresa: My mother-in-law worked closely with her in Kolkata during the 50s and 60s. Her stories and “insider” perspective of Mother Teresa’s commitment and selflessness have been compelling and humbling.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I love all kinds of literature and I don’t have a particular genre I find more inspiring over others. I admire great, fluid writing and a gripping story, whether fiction or nonfiction, historical fiction or science fiction. It’s always a plus if I also learn something new. Misbehaving by Richard Thaler is a favorite of mine. It’s about behavioral economics, a subject I know nothing about, but the book was so well-written, so full of clarity and personality, it was a real page-turner for me. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry was a sweeping novel that drew me in, activated all my emotions throughout the read, and left me thinking. I cannot get over the investment Michael Chabon makes in every single sentence he writes — leaves me breathless. Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing is beautiful and emotional and I watch for every new piece she writes. I love reading Nathan Englander for his irreverence. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Erik Larson, Ann Patchett, Michael Lewis, Hanya Yanagihara, Abraham Verghese… these are writers (among others) whose ability with words and images and style have influenced, inspired, thrilled, and kept me up at night!

How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?

My hope is that it is clear, easy to understand, and a little bit fun to read.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?

I’d give them the direction I was given from a colleague writer that was most effective: Bum in chair.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 love the library and have appreciated the worlds my local libraries opened up for me for as long as I can remember. A worthy movement I would be happy to start would be focused on propping up the library system locally, nationally, and around the world.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1)Perfection is overrated. This is pretty self-explanatory.

2) Be brief, be brilliant, be gone: This taught me the importance of being able to articulate a point view or make a business case simple and effective and know when to stop talking.

3) The role of “creating gentle collisions“ for brand communications: This really drove home for me the whys behind learning everything about a target audience before you create a campaign. Only when you know how your audience spends their day, what they think about, what they worry about, and how they use their time, are you able to find the moments where it’s possible to have your brand or brand messages or brand value intersect with their daily lives.

4) This Mark Twain quote is very powerful for me: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” A reminder of why you go to work every day and do what you do and hope to give it your all.

5) When developing a multi-channel communications campaign, it is critical each element works together, complementing one another. David Finn, the CEO of the first agency I worked in, used to say these elements need to work together like instruments in a symphony; each having an important place but one not overwhelming or clashing with any other. Otherwise, it would be more like a cacophony, or more plainly put, noise.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

As a Queens, NY native, I’ve got a soft spot for people from my favorite borough who really made their marks in their chosen fields. There are so many I’d like to meet: Carole King and Jon Favreau are two from the entertainment world. John McEnroe is another. I would have also loved to meet Alfred Mosher Butts, the out-of-work architect who invented Scrabble in 1931. The game has long been among my favorite ways to encourage vocabulary-building for good writing.

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Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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