Don’t let your degree limit you — As I stated previously, I don’t have a degree in PR, and didn’t even really know what it was until after college. This is pretty common in the PR profession. I’ve found that most of the skills I had were learned through on-the-job experience. And yes, you’ll have to find someone to take a chance on you if you don’t have formal training, internships, etc., in PR, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. Don’t silo yourself to only doing something directly related to your degree, and don’t be scared to break away from your degree path to pursue something that really intrigues you. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize what they really love until after college, so don’t be scared to pursue those things when you realize what they are.
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 Allyson Johnson, account manager at BLASTmedia. Allyson Johnson, APR, is an accredited public relations professional with more than eight years of experience in PR and media. Currently an account manager at BLASTmedia, a national B2B SaaS media relations agency, she leads a team that’s focused on SaaS startups. Allyson manages strategy for more than 15 accounts and helps them tell their story in a way that mains media coverage from trade, regional, and national business publications. In addition to her experience within the tech industry, she also has experience working in tourism, healthcare, education, banking, entertainment, and more. Allyson is a native of Arkansas and now lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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?
Ihave a pretty unique story of how I ended up in PR. I actually had no formal training of PR in college. Honestly, I didn’t even really know what it was. I was a journalism major with an emphasis in broadcasting. I had my sights set on working in television news. So, after my junior year of college, I landed a job as an associate producer for the top-rated TV station in my state (Arkansas). I worked there for nearly two years and was able to meet a lot of local and regional PR reps for companies that we would have on our shows as guests. I always thought “that looks like a really cool job.” I was attracted to it because they still had the element of dealing with media, which I loved, but they were able to work in a more advanced way with their clients, versus the TV news life that was drastically different every day. I formed a great relationship with the owner of a local PR agency, Angela Rogers, and asked her for a job. A few months later, I started my very first career in PR. I’ve since worked at three other PR agencies and have done PR for just about every industry you can imagine. I decided to pursue my APR (accreditation in public relations) in 2017 so that I could get that formalized training of PR that I missed out on in college.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
One of the most fun parts of my job is that in my role I work specifically with startup tech companies and that often means that I’m dealing with the CEO more than the marketing director. Most CEOs would agree that they don’t really know what PR means, so I’ve had to do a lot of explaining and educating through the process — what we should do, why we should do it, and why it’s important. And the question every PR pro loves the most: why is this valuable to my company? But one of the things I love about dealing directly with CEOs is that they have so much passion for their company. They really do eat, sleep, and breath everything about their brand. It’s refreshing to see someone with so much passion and dedication, and it’s exciting when you’re able to do something really cool for their company. For example, I had a healthcare tech client that got their very first piece of overage in a medial trade magazine. Nothing crazy huge, but they were elated. They even had a party! That made me feel good and feel like I was doing something really important for them.
As far as the craziest thing that’s happened, it’s probably CES. I had a client debuting a new consumer tech product at CES (the largest tradeshow ever). It was wild. There were so many people there, so many reporters, it was just crazy. It was everything that Silicon Valley (HBO) made it out to be. Unfortunately, the product that we worked so hard to debut at CES ended up getting canceled a few months later before it went to market, so that was quite an experience.
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?
At my first job in PR I worked on a project where I had to book lots of chefs and restaurants for segments on local morning shows, which was easy for me and I loved it because I previously was a producer of these morning shows. So, I knew what the producers wanted and I knew how to make it visual, informative and fun! One morning I had a chef come on to promote an event happening in town and he was supposed to bring a variety of food. Well, he did, but none of it was what the general public would call “appealing.” I didn’t know this until we arrived at the TV station. The anchors were good sports, and two of them tried the dish on air. The third anchor said she couldn’t do it, but she worked up the nerve to do it after the segment was over and they went to a commercial break. She immediately gagged and had to run out of the studio to throw up (I think), and her microphone was still on when they came back from break, and you could hear here coughing and gagging. It was so embarrassing for her, for the chef, and by default, for me. They made fun of me for quite a while for bringing a guest with the worst food ever.
I learned that I have to inform all of the guests exactly what’s expected from them on-air, and have as many details as possible ahead of time. Being transparent on the front-end will lead to not having embarrassing experiences like this on live television.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The one that stands out most to me right now is a newer company called Anvl. They’re a workforce-first safety solution. It’s pretty easy to understand: everyone who works in front-line service jobs (like construction, oil and gas, manufacturing, etc.) has typically had to fill out paper forms for every job they do, which isn’t very effective. It also isn’t very safe. If there are red flags or triggers about a job that someone is about to do, whether it be a situation where they aren’t qualified to do the job, or the job is in an extremely dangerous area, oftentimes the workers don’t realize this. Anvl brings an app directly to their hands where they fill out those forms digitally, and it alerts them, and their manager and/or appropriate people, of what’s going on. It’s all in an effort to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to safety. Sometimes it can be hard to find something unique in technology. While most of it solves a great issue, I don’t get the chance to work with a lot of it that can truly save lives.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Get out of your comfort zone — You don’t grow by staying inside your bubble. Try things that are hard, and things you think you may never actually need to know how to do. This allows you to grow your skillset and show that you’re a hard worker and go-getter. For example, I have an extensive background in media relations, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn more about things like crisis communications or internal communications. You never know when your career path may pivot and you don’t want to be pigeon-holed into having one skillset.
- Look for opportunities in your role — If you’re a new member at your company, it may be hard to see your path evolving. Will it take you two years to move to the next highest position, then two more to be a manager, etc.? That can sometimes be daunting if you have a go-getter personality that wants to rise to the top quicker than others. Be upfront with your manager and your leadership team and let them know that you have aspirations to grow in your company. There are likely many ways you can get this type of experience that isn’t directly tied to your job title. For example, maybe your company has a social committee and you can offer to join/lead that committee, and if they don’t, suggest that they create one. This will not only show that you have leadership qualities, but it will show the company that you’re a self-starter and you’re able to take on more responsibilities than just your job duties.
- Get involved — Join a professional organization (like PRSA), or volunteer for an organization that you’re passionate about. Whatever path you chose, just make sure you get involved with something other than your day job. This not only builds your network, but it teaches you things you may not learn at your job, and gives you experience and leadership opportunities that will help you as you continue to grow your career.
- Don’t let your degree limit you — As I stated previously, I don’t have a degree in PR, and didn’t even really know what it was until after college. This is pretty common in the PR profession. I’ve found that most of the skills I had were learned through on-the-job experience. And yes, you’ll have to find someone to take a chance on you if you don’t have formal training, internships, etc., in PR, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. Don’t silo yourself to only doing something directly related to your degree, and don’t be scared to break away from your degree path to pursue something that really intrigues you. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize what they really love until after college, so don’t be scared to pursue those things when you realize what they are.
- Don’t limit what industries you want to work with — I have heard a lot of aspiring PR professionals tell me that they want to work in the fashion or entertainment industry, or directly with a celebrity. I’m sure all of those things would be fun, but they are also limited. There aren’t as many publicist or PR jobs in those areas as others, and be mindful that it often requires you to relocate, etc. If that’s truly what you want to do, go for it! I don’t think anyone ever says “I really want to work in PR in the insurance industry.” That’s not “sexy.” In my first job, I worked a lot with the entertainment industry, and it was really fun. Then, my next job was focused on mostly health insurance and banking industries. Definitely a huge adjustment. I was hesitant at first because I didn’t think I would enjoy it. But, I actually enjoyed it more. It was more challenging, and in turn, more rewarding. I never thought I’d be working (and loving) B2B tech/SaaS, but here I am! Don’t turn away industries just because they don’t sound sexy. Try working with as many industries as you can, and you’ll find something that you love.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Most people I know really don’t enjoy networking. But even if you don’t enjoy it, you still need to do it. Go to networking events alone if possible. That may sound a little crazy, but if you go with a friend or coworker, you’re likely to spend the entire event talking with that person because it’s comfortable, and not getting anyone new. You never know when you’ll meet your next boss, client, or mentor. Take advantage of any networking event you can.
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 age-old question that just about every PR professional hates is “does this drive leads?”. Working in the realm of media relations, which is directly not a direct ROI, I hear this question very often. The most important thing we can do is explain how PR will impact ROI/leads/their business before you start working with them. You don’t want them coming in with unrealistic expectations of what PR can do for their company. Then, tell them what those things are. Talk to them about brand awareness, building the reputation of thought leaders in the company, and explain how the quality relationships and conversations they have with media will impact their business not just now, but far into the future.
Of course, we try to measure this as well as we can. We keep a good eye on our clients’ Google Analytics to see which media coverage sends new users to their website, and we monitor the frequency of which new web users turn into new customers. There will likely never be an easy-to-measure direct ROI, but there are lots of metrics that you can use to show value. Just be upfront from the beginning about what PR does, and how it differs from advertising and marketing.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. It really challenged me to think about myself and the team that I manage as more than just a job. People don’t live to work, they work to live, so what are they living for? This book helps you think about and talk to your team about their dreams. Do they have a dream to go on a cruise, start a nonprofit, mentor a child? When you know what they truly care about, you can help them figure out ways to accomplish these dreams and it will make them love their job more, and therefore be better employees.
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?
I would love for companies to take more pride in their people versus their work. I am fortunate that my company, BLASTmedia, values people over the work that we do. Not that the work we do isn’t important, because it is. But if you aren’t happy in your personal life, you won’t work your hardest and you won’t be the best employee. If companies spent more time getting to know their employees and know what drives them (read the Dream Manager!), they would see much more success in the growth of their employees, and in turn their company. It’s all about people.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.