4 Essential Lessons for PR Professionals from Sara Piccola

Posted by Jessica Miller on 10 Oct 2014 / 0 Comment

Anyone who works in public relations these days, especially in-house, knows that doing the job well requires a variety of skills: writing/communication (of course), social media marketing, data analysis, flexibility and the ability to work really, really fast.

Just a few years ago, most public relations efforts were still focused on writing the kinds of pitches that would get traditional media outlets to assign a reporter to tell a brand’s story. “But today, what even constitutes as ‘media’ is very different, mostly because every company has the opportunity to be a publisher, and to tell its own stories,” says Sara Piccola, ShortStack’s PR manager.

Securing traditional media coverage is still an essential piece of the PR puzzle, but blogging, publishing how-to guides, writing articles that feature expert insight — from a company’s CEO, for example — are just a few ways a modern PR professional can use her seasoned communication skills to give the brands she represents a voice that’s not dependent on anyone else.

Another must-have skill is knowing how to use social media to get those messages out.

“A few years ago, social media wasn’t categorized as PR even though it was primarily used to promote brand awareness,” says Piccola. “It was passed off to the marketing people but we were always trying to convince the higher-ups to give it to us.”

Piccola did a two-year stint at a big agency before coming to ShortStack three years ago but here are four important lessons she’s learned since taking over as Mistress of Propaganda (yes, that is her official title) at a fast-moving tech startup.

#1: Creating quality content on a consistent basis is a priority

Content marketing is all the buzz these days, and at ShortStack, most of the company’s content either starts on the company blog, or ends up there after having been published somewhere else. “Every business should have a blog,” says Piccola. “Having a business blog provides your company and employees with a platform to share their knowledge and expertise on your industry.” This is the kind of content that builds credibility for a brand, she says, and helps drive traffic to your site and social channels.

“Mark Schaefer, the social media author, has said ‘The dirty secret of content marketing is you don’t have to be the best, you just have to be first and overwhelming’,” says Piccola, “and I see firsthand what he’s talking about.”

ShortStack’s blog, Socially Stacked, has won numerous accolades, she says, and has grown from a small blog focused on the company’s software to one whose social media and marketing content attracts hundreds of thousands of readers, and has been picked up by renowned outlets all over the world.

In the last 18 months the content team at ShortStack, which includes Piccola, has written nearly 500 blog posts, published six eBooks and 25 PDFs (including infographics), written 28 press releases and picked up more than 2,300 media mentions.

The only things on this list that constitute PR by its traditional definition are those press releases.

#2  You’d be smart to position yourself (or your client) as an expert

Whatever industry you’re in, it’d be a smart PR move to position yourself as an expert in it.

“Guest-posting on another blog is a very powerful way to gain exposure through sharing your expertise,” says Piccola. For example, if you’re a financial advisor, you could write articles about how to choose stocks, how to diversify investments, or how to plan for an early retirement. If you own a restaurant, maybe you’d want to share some recipes, or some must-know kitchen techniques like how to properly sharpen knives. If you own a photography studio, try sharing tips about lighting or photo composition, and so on.

Today’s media landscape is a mix of reporters and “experts” so don’t be shy to take what you know and love and start advising others on how to do it better, says Piccola.

#3  Building relationships with traditional media people is still important

Social Media isn’t just about gaining exposure for a brand, it can also be used as leverage to help you build relationships with the media.

If you read an informational column that you think your customers would appreciate, share it on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and so on. Let the reporter know the article caught your eye with a genuine compliment. Follow the reporter work on cultivating a relationship. “Then, when you contact them and pitch a story, it won’t just be a cold call,” says Piccola.

Of course pitches should always be well thought out, and valuable for the journalist. “You have to position pitches in such a way that the journalist sees the value in the story for his or her readers,” says Piccola.

#4 Keeping an eye on internal PR, and knowing what your business’s users want, is important

Social media has become a powerful tool for PR professionals because it allows them to reach their audiences directly. But in order for your audience to listen, you have to give them what they want, at least some of the time!

“Sixty-six percent of our Facebook fans are male,” says Piccola. “So, we take that into consideration for all of our posts, including clickable images.”

With the overwhelming amount of content in the web world, social media is crucial to drawing people to your brand. Don’t just strive to be visible amongst the content clutter, use your well-honed PR skills and  these four strategies to really stand out.