Publicist Rockstars: “PR isn’t a 9–5 job”, with Megan Custodio

I had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Custodio, vice president and partner of Dittoe Public Relations, a national public relations firm based in Indianapolis. Megan started at Dittoe PR as an intern over 12 years ago, quickly rising through the ranks. At just 26 years old, Megan became vice president and partner at Dittoe PR, […]

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Custodio, vice president and partner of Dittoe Public Relations, a national public relations firm based in Indianapolis.

Megan started at Dittoe PR as an intern over 12 years ago, quickly rising through the ranks. At just 26 years old, Megan became vice president and partner at Dittoe PR, making her the youngest leader in the history of the company. In her day-to-day role, Megan manages client strategy and success, but as vice president, she is also tasked with cultivating a thriving company culture that attracts new talent and retains existing employees.

Megan’s successes are many and she has the results and longevity in client relationships to prove it. Over the years, she’s worked with clients spanning numerous industries, including the BMW Championship, Lucas Oil Stadium, Stericycle Environmental Solutions, Western Golf Association, Jiffy Lube, Giant Eagle, TCC Verizon Authorized Retailer, Canvas and more.

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

I didn’t always know I wanted to pursue a career in public relations. I started off studying broadcast journalism at Indiana University, but quickly realized I wasn’t an on-air person and, instead, enjoyed working behind-the-scenes.

Through the Indiana University School of Journalism, I took some entry-level courses in public relations. I fell in love with the industry and really enjoyed the campaigns courses that allowed me to work directly with community organizations that needed PR support. The ability to get real-world experience and collaborate with organizational leaders on meaningful public relations initiatives solidified my interest in pursuing a career in PR.

My internship at Dittoe Public Relations started on accident, you could say. During my senior year of college, I took a career course designed to help seniors through every step of the career development process. It was the spring semester of my final year at Indiana University, and my career course professor assigned a project to create a resume and cover letter tailored for a specific internship or job opening each student was interested in. A typical senior suffering from senioritis, I woke up in the middle of the night the morning before the assignment was due in a panic, realizing I completely forgot to complete it. I sprung out of bed, started browsing the internet and stumbled upon an internship posting for Dittoe PR. Fortunately, it was a position I was genuinely interested in, so I wrote a resume and cover letter for it. The final piece of the project was to officially apply for the internship. I completed the assignment, and fast forward 12 years, I’m still sitting at a desk in the Dittoe PR office.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

One of my favorite stories happened during the 2012 BMW Championship, the penultimate event of the PGA TOUR FedExCup Playoffs. The 2012 BMW Championship was the biggest men’s golf tournament to be played in the Indianapolis area since the 1991 PGA Championship. Our team put in work around-the-clock, pouring energy into our media relations and community engagement initiatives for the tournament.

Throughout our efforts, we collaborated often with the communications team at the PGA TOUR. They were incredible to work with and learn from.

The week of the tournament arrived, and while energy was high, it was an exhausting week due to inclement weather that caused a lot of communications challenges. One day, the vice president of communications for the PGA TOUR asked me and my colleague to follow him out of the media center — where we spent the majority of our time — and down to the course. As we approached the course, he lifted up a rope, ushered us underneath, and the next thing we knew, we were standing just feet away from Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as they teed off on the first hole of the tournament. We then got to walk inside the ropes, near two of the greatest to ever play the game, while they finished the hole.

It was an overwhelmingly amazing experience that was made possible because our contact at the PGA TOUR recognized our hard work and tremendous results. It was an experience I’ll never forget and will always be appreciative for. In the end, Dittoe PR garnered more than 1,000 pieces of media coverage and more than 1 billion media impressions for the BMW Championship and it was named the 2012 Tournament of the Year.

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?

As a young PR professional, I was pitching a national media outlet for an important client. One of the reporters emailed me back with a straightforward, “No, not interested.” I mistakenly responded to his email chain on accident (I meant to respond to a different email thread with a colleague) and said, “BOOYA.” I instantly realized I sent that email to the reporter and was mortified. I wanted to crawl into a hole. Thankfully, the reporter had a great sense of humor about it, and we got to into some casual back-and-forth banter via email that led to him writing a story about my client! It was a mistake I’ll never make again, but I was thankful for how it turned out!

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

Our entire firm is fortunate to work with so many amazing clients. To name just a few, I’m currently working with the 2019 BMW Championship, the Evans Scholars Foundation, Giant Eagle, TCC, Jiffy Lube, Canvas and others.

Through our work with the Western Golf Association (WGA), we help to promote the Evans Scholars Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides full tuition and housing college scholarships to golf caddies from modest means. It’s a rewarding account because I get to see how many lives are impacted by the incredible program. Since its inception in 1930, more than 10,800 caddies nationwide have graduated as Evans Scholars. Because the Evans Scholars Foundation is supported by the WGA and is the sole beneficiary of the BMW Championship, we’re able to overlap a lot of our efforts to tie everything together in a cohesive way. We’ve worked with the WGA since 2012, and we truly feel like an extension of their team.

Another client I thoroughly enjoy working with is Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, a multi-format retailer that owns Market District and GetGo Cafe + Market. We began working with the organization in 2015 as it prepared to enter the Indiana market for the first time.

For Market District’s grand opening, we secured nearly 150 earned media stories with 4.8 million media impressions from June to October 2015 alone. In 2018, we’ve already garnered over $100 million media impressions and secured more than 240 pieces of media coverage for the Market District and GetGo brands. It’s a fun account because we get to work with some very talented people at the store level as well as celebrity chefs and foodies, including Marc Summers, Michael Symon, Carla Hall, Graham Elliot and more.

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

These days, it often takes an internship to get an internship, which wasn’t always the case when I was on the job/internship hunt over 12 years ago. It’s hard for college students to nab an agency or in-house PR internship without that previous experience. My best advice is to start early.

Beginning your freshman year, start looking into internships and do everything you can to get hands-on experience. Even if those experiences are unpaid, they can turn into paid opportunities down the road. Consider providing a nonprofit or small community-based organization with free PR support. Network and make connections wherever you can. Talk to your professors about who they know. Start building out your resume as early as possible because the job market is getting tougher to compete in.

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

You don’t have to go to every big event in town to be a great networker. Networking comes down to relationship building. I love making introductions and connections for people in my network to those who can help them achieve their goals. It’s not always about having a huge network; it’s about having the right network and making the most of the connections you already have.

I pay attention to the needs of those in my network. If a client is looking to hire a great salesperson, I’ll introduce them to a qualified candidate I know. If a friend is on the job hunt, I’ll send them a list of the companies I think they’d be a great fit for. I recommend vendors and potential partners to my clients all the time. I grab dinner and drinks with my clients and their friends to get to know them better. I take pride in making great introductions for people I know. Just today, a former PGA TOUR contact of mine who is no longer with the organization reached out to grab coffee so he can pick my brain about Indianapolis area digital marketing firms.

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

I recently read “Mindfulness (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series)” by Daniel Goleman, Ellen Langer, Susan David and Christina Congleton. It was recommended to me by a colleague, and I found it to be very insightful and eye-opening. The book offers steps for building a greater sense of presence into your daily routine. It offers ideas, such as how to begin and end meetings to encourage mindfulness for all participants. It helps you think about how to implement mindfulness into your daily routine, including during your commute to and home from work.

The benefits of mindfulness include better performance, heightened creativity, deeper self-awareness, increased charisma and greater peace of mind. I find that as a company leader, PR professional, mom, wife, daughter (the list goes on), I tend to lose focus easily as my mind wanders in multiple directions throughout the day. Mindfulness means I can direct my attention, become aware when my mind is wandering, and then redirect my focus. I’m still a work in progress, but it has helped!

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. 🙂

This is a random thought I’ve often had. I think about the impact that could be made if every business took a chance on hiring someone who didn’t have experience and might even be struggling in life but was willing to work hard. That could open the door to so many opportunities for that person. Sometimes all people need is a chance.

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

1. Clients can be challenging and media can be difficult at times. But it’s important to not let others get to you. Counter the self-defeating voice in your head with truth talk — you are talented, you can achieve your goals and you are always improving.

2. PR isn’t as glamorous as some may think it is. You aren’t always jet-setting, mingling with celebrities or top executives, or working on projects for “sexy” accounts. It’s a tough job that requires a lot of hard work and thick skin.

3. It’s a rollercoaster. In PR, you will have days or weeks where you feel like you are excelling. But you’ll also have times where you’re really struggling and feel defeated. There are even some days that start off great but end on a more challenging note. You have to be prepared for both the good and hard times.

4. Your results are only as good as you position them your client. It’s important to play up every media opportunity you get for a client and invest in cutting-edge media tracking tools to thoroughly report the work you do across all mediums.

5. PR isn’t a 9–5 job. Sometimes, you’ll wake up at 3:30 a.m. to accompany a client to a TV segment, work after hours to craft a last-minute press release, and put in time on weekends to make sure client events go on without a hitch. But you’ll do it because you love the feeling and energy it brings you!

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