Publicist Rockstars: “Become an expert on what your clients do” With Dori Busell

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dori Busell, owner of DK Strategic Communications. Dori helps brands, CEOs and entrepreneurs shape and tell their unique brand story, with a focus on media relations and thought leadership positioning. Over the last twenty years, she has worked with companies ranging from technology startups to government organizations to Fortune […]

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Dori Busell, owner of DK Strategic Communications. Dori helps brands, CEOs and entrepreneurs shape and tell their unique brand story, with a focus on media relations and thought leadership positioning. Over the last twenty years, she has worked with companies ranging from technology startups to government organizations to Fortune 50 companies.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

You could say I was born into PR. Both my parents worked at Burson Marsteller in the 70’s where they met and then eventually married. My father was transferred to Brazil to open the Sao Paulo office and a year later, I was born — a true ‘Burson baby’. At the University of Florida, I majored in public relations and loved being able to combine my passion of writing and reporting with business and crafting stories. After a few summer internships, I landed an entry-level job at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide back in the heyday of technology and dot coms. While just 21 years old, I found myself working alongside super smart, creative professionals that helped shape my career and become mentors. After years in the agency world in both New York and San Francisco, I went to work in-house at Visa right before the brand went public. It was such a privilege to work with one of the world’s most well-recognized and sophisticated brands and every day was a hands-on learning experience. Today, I focus on helping executives articulate and communicate their stories to the audiences that matter most to them — generating big headlines that drive business goals.

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?

One of my most mortifying gaffes came in my first year working in PR. I had successfully pitched my European-based client to a reporter at a Boston media outlet, and had arranged an in-person interview for when my client was in town. The meeting was booked for the CEO to go to the reporter’s office and since it was located outside the city, we needed to hire a car service with driver to get there. I had sent my client a full report of the interview, what was expected, background details on the reporter and prep for any tough questions. What I hadn’t double-checked was the address of the office. When my client showed up on time for the meeting, the address I provided was an empty construction site on a desolate street. The building had been knocked down and the office had moved a few months earlier. I had sent him the office address from a media database instead of confirming with the reporter and they ended up missing the meeting, wasting both my clients and the reporter’s time and losing their trust. Moral of the story — always double check details and confirm beforehand.

How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.

One of the best things about working in PR is that it can be a flexible long-term career. With two kids under ten, I have the flexibility to work from home and be there for all of my mom duties while also being able to deliver results for my clients while the kids are at school. Sure, sometimes there are early mornings to respond to clients in Europe or late nights to get a jump start on the next day’s deliverables, but I’ve been able to juggle my career and home life pretty well. PR also allows you the ability to ramp up or scale back based on your needs and time commitments. For months when I know I’ll be busy with family, I try to focus more on writing assignments and thought leadership projects that can be accomplished outside of regular business hours.

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

There are so many exciting developments in the world of AI right now — as it relates to advertising, creative industries, sports and beyond. I’ve been helping my clients understand their place in the industry and identify new storylines that they can be experts in. There has also been so much consolidation and change in the advertising world. It’s been a fun challenge to help marketing and ad brands stand out from the clutter and create awareness of the cool and unique things they are doing.

Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?

It sounds cliché but don’t be afraid to fail. Everyone starting off in PR, especially in the agency world, has a horror story of being hung up on or yelled at by a reporter. It’s these cringe-worthy situations that make you better understand what reporters want and need, which will ultimately help you build real relationships. Working in agencies also provides a great opportunity for young people to learn about what they like — pitching media, writing, working directly with clients, scouting new business. Take every opportunity given so you can learn what you like best.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

At the end of the day, good PR comes back to relationships, especially with media. Take the time to build relationships with the reporters that cover your clients. Follow them on Twitter, read what they are writing and offer help or story ideas so that you add value. Once reporters see you as someone that can help them, they’ll turn to you when they need commentary on deadline.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

I love to read and spend as much time reading fiction for fun as possible. But in terms of helping my career, my advice is to read the outlets where you hope to get placements. The best way to pitch a reporter is to understand the way they write and the stories that grab their attention. But reading outside a specific area is helpful too. Seeing how a competitor is covered can give you new ideas on pitching your own clients to the press. I start each workday by scanning the headlines of at least 10 newsletters. I love The Skimm for a quick overview of what’s happening in the world and I’ve also been enjoying the Axios newsletter, which highlights politics and DC headlines, as well as Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources.

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 am a proud graduate of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Since the shooting earlier this year, I have been working closely with Mobilizing MSD Alumni to help support the students, faculty and community as they grieve and help them return to a new sense of normalcy. I fully support the student’s efforts to increase voter registration and the push for common sense gun safety laws, especially to protect our schools from gun violence.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

1. Starting out usually means starting from the bottom. Everyone needs to pay their dues and that often means doing the less desirable entry-level work. If you do your job well, this stage passes quickly and soon you are managing others.

2. There will be late nights. And sometimes weekends. But these are also the times to bond with your co-workers and build lasting relationships.

3. Become an expert on what your clients do. No one starts off being an expert on bitcoin or financial markets or virtual reality. Read and digest as much as you can on what your clients do and it will help you identify the stories that your clients can shape and own.

4. Ask questions. As in many industries, PR folk tend to use a lot of jargon. If you don’t understand something, ask. It will save everyone time in the long run.

5. Find what you love to do and focus on that. The beauty of PR is that there is something for everyone. Accept every opportunity to learn so you can figure out what you like best.

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