Practice pleasant persistence: at some point in the first five years of my career, I discovered the right balance. As professional communicators, we need to be persistent without being pushy. Pleasant persistence is just right. For example, it’s okay to follow up with journalists when sharing story ideas, but if they decline the opportunity, it’s time to politely back off.
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 Kerry Branon. Kerry is an Associate Vice President at French/West/Vaughan where she designs and executes a broad range of marketing campaigns for national clients including public relations, social media, influencer engagement, digital advertising, and content creation. She has spent nearly two decades as a professional communicator and publicist with a proven track record of developing and implementing strategic campaigns and securing top-tier media placements. Previously, Kerry led the headquarters communications team at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and produced the award-winning feature documentary — Huntwatch distributed by Discovery Channel and Lionsgate. In May 2021, Kerry will earn her MBA from Elon University. Her superpower: building authentic relationships.
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?
This brings me back to a photograph when I was about 4-years-old, sporting a plaid dress and fresh bowl cut, but more importantly, I’m holding a rotary phone up to my ear with two hands. I don’t recall the exact nature of my conversation that day, but the look on my face reveals intense listening. It’s my earliest memory of being a communicator — a skill that has held true for my entire career.
But it wasn’t until after pausing my initial undergraduate program in environmental science that I found my path. You may be surprised to learn that I decided to pursue my Communications and Journalism degree based on a radio ad. It went something like this: “Do you like to write? Are you a persuasive communicator?” In hindsight, this sounds like a simple marketing gimmick, but I received the right message at the right time and the rest is history.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
In my first year as a communications professional, we had an ABC producer on-site to make plans to film the rescue of 24 tigers from a backyard in New Jersey. Tiger King anyone? As a freshly appointed Communications Coordinator, I was so focused on churning out press kits that I was not present in the moment and missed the opportunity to fully engage with the journalist standing right in front of me. Big miss.
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Relationships, relationships, relationships…
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I work with fantastic clients ranging from entrepreneurs to product manufacturers to service providers. Each day brings new challenges and with them new opportunities to find creative solutions to meet their goals. Current fun projects include influencer marketing on Instagram, lead generation on LinkedIn, new product launches, and national PR campaigns.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
● Be yourself: Finding common ground helps build and maintain relationships. My best results have often followed casual conversations focused on personal points of connection rather than pushing business agendas.
● Creativity is a superpower: PR professionals are valued for their creative minds. Don’t be afraid to offer new ideas and approaches to find win-win solutions. Your best ideas may emerge when you least expect it — like in the shower or in the middle of the night — not in the boardroom or during the planned strategy session. Keep sticky notes handy just in case.
● Practice pleasant persistence: at some point in the first five years of my career, I discovered the right balance. As professional communicators, we need to be persistent without being pushy. Pleasant persistence is just right. For example, it’s okay to follow up with journalists when sharing story ideas, but if they decline the opportunity, it’s time to politely back off.
● Ask clarifying questions: I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve gone to my keyboard to write a pitch, press release, blog, Op/Ed or proposal and realized I didn’t have all the information I needed. Try to avoid this by asking experts, colleagues and clients questions up-front to ensure that you are aligned before getting started.
● Always on: you’re not on vacation if you receive an email or a phone call : ) I have spent many holidays arranging interviews, capturing and distributing content and working the phones. One of the most memorable times was running field communications when 10 wayward dolphins stranded on a remote beach on New Year’s Day. My plan quickly shifted from family brunch to grabbing my camera, notepad, and winter gear — not returning until nearly midnight once the dolphins were rescued and the media interviews were complete.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Do your best to remember names and always spell them correctly. It makes a huge difference. (I consider myself an expert here as there are about 100 ways to misspell my name : ) When meeting for the first time, I immediately associate my new connection with someone I already know with the same name. This provides a familiar frame of reference that has been invaluable. If they’re adding a new name to my network, I am careful to get the pronunciation correct and usually repeat it back to make sure I’ve got it.
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?
The recipe here is equal parts in-person networking coupled with LinkedIn engagement. Connection and shared experiences are key.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
This probably makes me sound like a grammar geek, but Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style was one of the most influential books as I started my career. It taught me the importance of writing with an active voice and omitting needless words. You can’t be a PR professional without being a writer and you can’t be a good writer if you don’t know how to be effective. I can thank my undergraduate journalism professor James Kershner for insisting on the teachings of that essential read.
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 start a mentorship program to empower foster children with encouragement and resources to dream big, follow their hearts, and become their best selves. The goal would be to instill confidence, remove barriers, and set them up for success on whatever career path they eventually choose.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.