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What is PR? A little of this, a little of that…

This is a guest post by PR Columnist, Alison Kenney.

Many folks smarter than me have struggled to answer the question, “What is PR?” (Heck, I can’t even explain it to my mom.) Last year, PRSA attempted to define public relations once and for all. Since it’s a new year, I propose a new attempt at solving this dilemma and respectfully suggest that the reason we can’t see ourselves to a clear definition of this profession is because the lines around it are so blurry.

Take the buzz around ‘content marketing.’ To me, much of what content marketing purports to do sounds a lot like PR. Creating content – whether it’s a white paper, a book, a video, shareable research or a forum for customers – has been a staple in the PR pantry for years. Only now, marketers are using technology to assign analytics to these efforts so they can be linked more directly to lead generation, further blurring the line between PR and other members of the sales team.

Sometimes, there’s so much content already out there that we PR folks are tasked with side jobs like editing and curating. We comb through this content, select the best pieces for our needs and incorporate it in our pitches and social media efforts.

When it comes to the ‘relations’ part of our name, we know we can’t afford to focus solely on the media. As most of us know, there are many ‘publics’ that we need to be concerned with. What’s new is a practice of communicating directly with customers, which means the line between public relations and customer service can get blurry.

Some will argue that PR is best suited to managing an organization’s social media efforts (whatever that means!), but that isn’t likely to end up being the last word. Since the sales, customer service, HR, etc. roles also invested in social media efforts, PR’s involvement in managing the process could end up blurring the lines between PR and those various functions.

Along with this, many PR pros are becoming more involved as an advisor and managing conversations and interactions between brands and customers. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I wonder if this ‘trusted counselor’ role could mean that the line between PR and legal teams is getting fuzzier? Will we see an increase in PR firms hiring staff with legal expertise?

There have always been people who have confused PR with advertising and new terms for different forms of advertising aren’t helping the matter. Gini Deitrich recently blogged about a new form of advertising, native advertising, that is subtle and blends with other content in this post about how native advertising will affect public relations (read the comments, too). Gini’s description of native advertising sounds like the ‘branded content’ campaigns that Ad Age covered in this article 7 Branded Content Campaigns that Got it Right in 2012. And they all sound like ideas that a PR team could have worked on.

What other roles have you seen morph with PR’s responsibilities lately?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


How to Get Great PR Even When You’re in Stealth Mode

This is a guest post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

Stealth-mode PR. It sounds like an oxymoron, but I bet you know what I’m talking about.

You know — a company hires PR talent to raise its profile, but doesn’t want to put itself too far out there. For instance, a small private startup might want to convince investors and potential employees that it’s the next best thing, but doesn’t want to tip off competitors by revealing too many numbers (e.g. revenue, customer data, etc).

This can put the PR function in a bit of a bind.

It’s tough to get top media outlets to profile your company if you can’t show why you’re relevant to their readers by mentioning customers with recognizable names or spotlighting your meteoric growth and attractiveness as a potential investment.

However, if you find yourself in this situation – working with a client who doesn’t want to reveal too many ‘secrets’ or even just one who is less aggressive when it comes to PR – here are a few suggestions:

Take the focus off the company and its product and build awareness of its ‘thought leadership.’ The term ‘thought leadership’ has been around for awhile and is the label for establishing an individual as an authority or forward-thinker on a topic or in a particular field. The work can involve strategizing about messaging, brainstorming new language terms and making ideas come to life through examples and application. Tactics can include writing white papers and bylined articles; speaking/delivering presentations before live or web audiences; authoring a book; conducting surveys and sharing the results; and establishing and sponsoring an awards program.

Or, focus on the personalities behind the business. Concentrate your efforts on the firm’s leaders and managers, perhaps even without mentioning by name the business they’re working with currently, by promoting them as speakers, award nominees and online authorities.

Build an online presence. Invest time in developing a web site (perhaps you don’t publish all of the content at once if it’s deemed sensitive) and social media channels. You can also monitor and respond to industry- or topic-specific online communities. Building a following online will come in useful when you are able to share news. It can also result in better SEO and search results that may be important to other company initiatives.

Plan ahead and prepare for the moment when you hear “go.” Brief influencers, such as industry analysts and significant customers, so that they can serve as references when you’re ready to tell your story. In the same way (using NDAs if necessary) prepare the media by offering bloggers and key beat reporters a background briefing and general outline of your future plans.

Develop non-news content. Content is king and even pitchable these days. Create and build a bank of quality content by interviewing other people (experts, customers, etc.) about your industry or issues; record summaries of industry events (e.g. highlights from tradeshows); develop case studies (and make them anonymous if necessary); or hire a comic who can create original art for you.

Align with the company’s current goals. If publicity isn’t a priority, understand what goals are most important to the company’s success right now and how PR can support those goals. Is it developing channels for customer communications, e.g. emails, newsletters, online chats, online portal sites? Helping the sales team with support materials? Organizing events to facilitate networking? Participating in industry groups to gain credibility and meet partners?

Have you ever been in this position? What did you do?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at www.kprcommunications.comLearn more about Alison Kenney.




Are You Discreet Enough to Work in PR?

This is a guest post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

I found this post by Arik Hanson on whether PR folks should share their political viewpoints on Facebook fascinating for two reasons.  First, Arik questions whether a lack of discretion, i.e. not keeping your political views to yourself, could be bad for business. Secondly, he makes the question specific to the PR profession.

To Arik’s first point, about whether a lack of discretion can hurt business, some folks will say, “if people don’t like who I am or what I believe in, then they don’t have to work with me” and stress the importance of being true to yourself. They have a point. And it can be fun to work with people who have strong identities. You certainly always know where things stand.

As for those of us who have opinions but try not to come across as overly opinionated, though, I also agree with Arik’s point that if he “doesn’t do it face-to-face (i.e. argue about politics), then why would I do it on social media.” In other words, being professional and showing discretion about discussing controversial topics are important qualities at all times, perhaps even more so when our personal and professional lives intersect on social media like Facebook.

In Arik’s blog post, he makes the case specific to working in PR because of the service nature of the business. Whether you work as an independent consultant, part of an agency team or in a corporate department, you serve a client who is entrusting their reputation and brand to your professional expertise.

As Arik says, “I think working in a service-based industry has everything to do with it. Especially for me, as a solo. When people work with me, I think they’re buying “me” as much as they’re buying my skills/abilities. So, if I were to share my political views online (and they could see that), that might factor in. Sure, that information might help, in some cases, but I tend to think it would hurt me more than it would help. And, generally, I don’t want to give people more reasons NOT to hire me–I want to give them more reasons TO hire me. So, maybe I’m in a unique position–could be–but that’s my stance.”

I’d go even further and say that the nature of working in PR requires discretion.

Our work is all about selecting which stories to tell and which notes to hit with precisely which audiences. We filter through confidential information and groom spokespeople. We study viewer habits and Google Analytics to understand our audience’s preferences so we can give them what they want.

Think about the celebrity publicists who balance their clients’ desire for exposure with their need to control the image that’s being promoted. Sometimes the challenge in balancing this work becomes apparent once the publicist’s discretion slips and they reveal unflattering information about their former clients.

To get back to Arik Hanson’s point, social media gaffes can crack the discussion wide open by demonstrating what happens when PR professionals forgets their allegiances online.

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at www.kprcommunications.comLearn more about Alison Kenney.



Lessons in ‘Truthiness’

This is a guest post by Alison Kenney.

Lately fact checkers have been making news, not just editing it. Between journalistic mistakes and plagiaries and politicians’ false claims, it’s been a busy season for editorial staff and professional fact checking organizations.

So what can we learn from the cries of “foul” in the name of truthiness?

First of all, did you know that fact-checking is controversial? As Andrew Beaujon writes for Poynter Online, conservative critics call news organizations’ fact-checking efforts a cover for expressing their liberal biases. And Neil Newhouse, who heads the Romney campaign, was quoted as saying, “Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”

It’s hard to resist the chance to spread your message, (even if you know it’s false). As this article in The Week points out, “After George H.W. Bush tarred Walter Mondale’s campaign with a damaging but made-up quote in a 1984 debate, Bush’s press secretary was blunt: “You can say anything you want during a debate, and 80 million people hear it”; when newspapers point out the lies, “So what?” he said. “Maybe 200 people read it, or 2,000, or 20,000.”

However, social media is changing the notion that corrections won’t be seen and heard by many. As Gerard Bush writes in this Huffington Post article, social media channels lit up with comments poking at the truth and intent behind recent political statements. And, as Matthew Ingram points out on GigaOM, while social media channels may be good for spreading rumors, they’ve also become reliable spots for crowd-sourced fact checking.

There’s fact-checking and then there’s interpreting. In her interview with Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Soledad O’Brien challenges the notion that President Obama led an “apology tour.” O’Brien points to transcripts of Obama’s foreign speeches and King acknowledges at the end of the interview that Obama’s actions were interpreted as apologizing for past foreign policies despite his never actually apologizing.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Speakers may take more risks with their statements in audio and video speeches than they would in written editorials. Not only is the format looser and faster, but what is said is not the only thing the audience is capturing. How the speech is delivered and how the speaker looks while speaking also contribute to the audience’s impression.

Consider your spokesperson. Many viewers agree that Bill Clinton hit a home run with his speech at the DNC, but consider if the same talk had been given by someone else. Who else could have delivered a point-by-policy-point rebuttal speech, talked for half an hour longer than planned and sounded credible and authoritative throughout?

It’s important to back up your statements, especially if you’re introducing a new concept. Just take a look at some of the most commonly used phrases in press releases: “industry leading,” “unique,” “innovative,” and even “new.” They’re so common and so widely used that we may not stop to think about whether they are legitimate.

Your story is bigger than you are. So you’ve presented your story and checked it for accuracy, but have you thought about what’s not in your story? Chances are your audience will. Skepticism reigns and audiences crave context. Alternative views allow them to see your message within the bigger picture.

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


50 Tips for Pitching A Story to the Media

50... no more... no less.jpg

This is a guest post by Alison Kenney.

  1. Ask any reporter for tips on pitching them and 9 times out of 10 they’ll say, “read my writing.” Here’s how that can help:
  2. If they repeatedly cover the same topic you can offer a resource in that area.
  3. Look at your pitch target’s headlines to get a sense of their preferred tone, format and style of writing.
  4. Understand what they’ve already covered and don’t re-pitch old stories.
  5. Reporters don’t like to be pitched stories that have already been written…if you bring up a past story, do it to offer a completely different angle or side.
  6. Check the AP Planner (@AP_Planner on Twitter) calendar for ideas that are timely – anniversaries of major events, etc.
  7. Link to, or reference, a story that has lots of stats.
  8. Think seasonal – what are the major trends and how can you tie your pitch to them?
  9. How does your story relate to major world events – e.g. the Olympics, presidential elections.
  10. Talk to your sales team – how do they pitch the product?
  11. Visualize your pitch as it would appear – with a headline, hook, quotes from different sources, etc.
  12. Think like a freelance writer and pitch story ideas to your editor that you can then plan to write yourself.
  13. Turn your story idea into a “top 10 tips” piece.
  14. Read different, “competing” media outlets – how are they covering a topic differently?
  15. Pitch a “resource” rather than a story – offer your client as an expert/authority and spell out the areas of expertise.
  16. Better yet, offer multiple resources for a story.
  17. Better still, offer a customer or someone “in the field” for perspective.
  18. Take a look at the competition – what articles have they been in? Don’t copy, but use them for inspiration.
  19. When you look at how the media covers your industry, what story aren’t they covering?
  20. Pitch your spokespeople as profile subjects.
  21. What do your clients, customers and prospects care about? Frame your story around that.
  22. Google your story idea.
  23. Read good writing.
  24. Can your story be pitched as a video interview?
  25. Can your spokespeople speculate about the outcome of an upcoming event?
  26. Do you have a sample product the media can preview?
  27. Anticipate requests for artwork like high resolution photos.
  28. If you’re pitching a trend, how do you prove it’s a trend? i.e. do you have multiple witnesses/spokespeople/examples?
  29. Consider the other side(s) to your pitch (since the editor will), what’s missing, what else will they ask about?
  30. Include helpful hyperlinks in your pitch to sites like the company’s homepage, the spokesperson’s bio, books they’ve written, authoritative industry sites, etc.
  31. Suggest meeting for coffee.
  32. Get to know your spokespeople – what are their hobbies, life histories, interests, unique accomplishments?
  33. Do you have video examples of your spokespeople in action to share with a new broadcast pitch target?
  34. Do you have a story about something that didn’t work or a problem that you faced that you can share?
  35. Brainstorm.
  36. For inspiration, consume media that is completely different from your targets (e.g. morning talk shows if you regularly pitch high tech trade media)
  37. Ask the writer how they prefer to receive pitches and what they’re currently working on
  38. Read letters to the editor and comments on blog posts for new approaches and to consider the “other side of the story”
  39. Before you pitch, read the writer’s blog, Twitter stream, LinkedIn profile, Facebook page (if it’s public)
  40. Note the outlet’s production cycle and deadlines so you understand the best times to make contact.
  41. Localize a national story.
  42. Nationalize a local story.
  43. Summarize your story idea and say it out loud; if a stranger was listening would they find it interesting?
  44. Explain to your kids what you do and what story you’re trying to tell and then ask them to explain it back to you.
  45. Remember “if it bleeds, it leads” – how does your story angle play into readers’ deepest concerns?
  46. A pitch is different from other marketing communications – it’s your opportunity to tailor it and deviate from the approved company messaging statements.
  47. Think about what would make your spokesperson a desirable resource to THIS writer you’re pitching; is it because of what the spokesperson does? Is it because of their past achievements? Or their current goal/job? Their past or current affiliations? Does their gender or other socio-cultural status make them appealing?
  48. If you’re struggling with the right angle, try writing your pitch in more than one way. Focus on a different angle for each new pitch.
  49. Read HARO or other pitch query services to get a sense of what topics are trending.
  50. Think like a reporter and ask yourself where they get their story ideas – scanning news wires, industry blogs, anticipating upcoming IPOs, new product launches, etc.?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.

Photo credit: Bernat Casero

View of the Top

This is a guest post by Alison Kenney.

I started thinking about this blog post quite awhile ago, well before Anne Marie Slaughter’s article on Why Women Can’t Have it All appeared in The Atlantic. I think Slaughter’s argument is fascinating (and seemingly never-ending), but I’d like to focus on something she, and many other people recently, have pointed out: that there are fewer women than men at the top rungs of corporate management.

This is fairly obvious in PR – you can literally see the inequity if you were to page through a recent issue of PR Week that features photos of the CEOs of the nation’s top PR firms. But what is striking is that, unlike other industries with a large number of male CEOs, PR is a predominately female profession:  seventy percent of all PR professionals are female.

I don’t have an answer, or really even a speculation about why there are so few female CEOs in an industry that is dominated by female talent.

In addition to Slaughter, several champions of women’s rights have commented on the lack of women leaders:

In his Harvard Business Review blog post on Why Boards Need More Women, Yilmaz Arguden wrote: “While most CEOs recognize the importance of appointing directors of different ages and with different kinds of educational backgrounds and functional expertise, they tend to underestimate the benefits of gender diversity…When Fortune-500 companies were ranked by the number of women directors on their boards, those in the highest quartile in 2009 reported a 42% greater return on sales and a 53% higher return on equity than the rest…Experts believe that companies with women directors deal more effectively with risk. Not only do they better address the concerns of customers, employees, shareholders, and the local community, but also, they tend to focus on long-term priorities. Women directors are likely to be more in tune with women’s needs than men, which helps develop successful products and services. After all, women drive 70% of purchase decisions by consumers in the European Union and 80% of them in the United States.”

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO has said, “Women are not making it to the top. A hundred and ninety heads of state; nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, thirteen per cent are women. In the corporate sector, women at the top – C-level jobs, board seats – tops out at fifteen, sixteen per cent.”

Betsy Myers, a former senior official in the Clinton Administration and authority on leadership, says, “Women are no longer an interest group. Women are 52 percent of the population, a majority in the workforce. Companies that have more women in top positions, and more women on boards, are more profitable…Despite advances for women in the workplace, many of the statistics are discouraging. Only 3.6 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs, and women hold only about 14 percent of senior management positions within those companies. Despite the fact that more women than men are earning college degrees, and that women continue to make the bulk of buying decisions, corporate America has been slow to reflect that in its leadership ranks.”

Myers, and others, are forging some innovative practices for helping women achieve leadership positions:

Bentley president Gloria Larson launched the Center for Women and Business a year ago and has brought Myers on as its CEO. A recent Boston Globe article reported that the Center aims to advance women at all stages, from business-school students to upper management.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton founded the Women in Public Service Institute at her alma mater as Wellesley College. The institute is part of the Women in Public Service Project, founded by Clinton, the U.S. State Department, and the sister schools Wellesley, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke and Smith, with the goal of putting more women into political leadership positions around the world. Clinton says the numbers show a global politics in which the voices of women often go unheard. Women occupy less than 20% of seats in parliaments and legislatures around the world, she said. The goal of the institute is to bring that number up to 50% by 2050.

With these lofty examples in mind, I wonder what we can do in PR to encourage women to lead? Do you know of any leadership programs that encourage women in our industry?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


(E)mailing it In

Email, sucks.

This is a post by PR Columnist by Alison Kenney.

Lately I’ve noticed more and more reporters skipping the interview and “writing” their articles based on email interviews.

For a case in point, take this recent HARO query:

“Emails only, please, no phone calls. And please don’t email to arrange a separate interview, I’m just looking to hear some comments from all y’all. Thanks guys.”

While there have always been reporters willing to run with the verbiage PR pros give them – such as lifting a quote from a press release when covering breaking news – now, however, the practice is being used more often and not just for breaking news stories, but more frequently in feature articles.

A couple of well-regarded blogs have commented on this practice recently, although mostly from the perspective of the media.

American Journalism Review wrote about the practice from the journalists’ and editors’ point of view (which is well worth a read). The post expresses concern that email interviews “promote lazy reporting and the use of unreliable sources…”

PR Daily recently asked, “Is the phone interview dead?” and lamented the lack of color an email interview has in comparison with a phone interview, as well as the lack of natural “back and forth that comes from a conversation. Plus, there’s no personal relationship building, however slight, when everything is done in written form.”

In response to the PR Daily post, Clay Ziegler did his own experiment and called a dozen working journalists to quiz them about their interview method preferences. He concluded that the phone interview lives and why that’s a good thing.

Like most changes wrought by new technology (and social media, in particular), old practices may not go away, but new practices – including using IM, Twitter, Facebook and email to get information and quotes for a story – are becoming more and more accepted.

What can PR pros expect as email interviews become accepted practice?

Get with the program – if you need media coverage to communicate your, or your client’s, story, get used to the new way of doing things and accept that some reporters prefer to work this way.

Be prepared – don’t stop at the point of pitching a story; think it through; have your point of view fully vetted and your quote ready.

Enjoy having more control – the good news about email interviews is that there is less chance of being misquoted or of having a reporter pick up on the one throwaway line in an otherwise stellar phone interview.

Use email interviews to bridge distances – if a client is traveling in another time zone and phone interviews aren’t convenient, email interviews can save the day.

Realize that no one speaks like PR quotes in real life – if you email in a corporate-approved quote, and the reporter fails to use good segues or connectors, the result will be a string of presser quotes that fail to add real perspective.

Keep an eye on which outlets use email interviews judiciously and properly – sloppy use of email interviews, in which its clear the writer used email for speed and convenience above all else, can devalue the quality of the media outlet’s content, thereby decreasing the value of your placement.

What do you think? Have you experienced many email interviews lately?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.



Do I Really Need to Learn HTML?

This is a post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

Twice in the past few weeks I’ve heard other PR professionals talk about the need to learn HTML.

Sarah Skerik wrote this piece on 5 Emerging PR Trends & the New Emerging PR Skill Set for 2012 (& Beyond) for the PR Newswire blog and noted that, “Personally, I swear that one of these days I’m going to learn HTML and CSS.”

Another commenter in the same discussion, Steve Leer, a communications consultant/senior writer at Purdue University Department of Agricultural Communication, detailed the varied requirements demanded of public relations professionals by employers today: “Today’s professional communicator needs to know how to shoot and edit photos and video, be proficient in social media, create graphics, possess at least a basic understanding of Web design and know how to work with outside vendors for printed materials,”

In a recent #soloPR Twitter chat about learning more about SEO, @KristK tweeted, “A2: Know enough HTML to read code, spot problems — and when to hire a pro to help.” (There were lots of other good tips on remembering to incorporate key words, tags, incorporate link building, eliminate jargon; the full transcript available here.)

Heck, even New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is talking about learning to code.

So is HTML really important for PR professionals to know?

Here are some considerations:

HTML is essential for building web sites – HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is a coding language to develop web pages and is still considered essential for knowing how to build a web site. As a PR professional, do you need to know how to build a web site? Well, perhaps you don’t need to know how to write the code for an entire site, but I’ve sure heard lots of colleagues complain about their inability to fix problems on a site or blog, or get them to “look right.”

Knowing HTML will help you navigate SEO efforts– knowing HTML can help you write tags that will make your content more likely to be found and highlighted by search engines. This post explains meta tags and how to use HTML to do them properly. However, if you use one of the major blog publishing tools it’s likely that you can do this simply by typing your tags into the designated spots. For instance, when I post blogs in WordPress, I use the “All in One SEO Pack.”

HTML skills will help you add value to PR efforts –so many PR activities involve web-based media now that it seems silly to split hairs about where the PR role ends. In fact, in some situations there may not be anyone but the PR professional to do the work. For instance, how many times have you worked on the following types of projects?

  • Linking an image to a web site
  • Creating a unique landing page for a Facebook profile
  • Drafting and editing e-newsletters
  • Writing blog posts
  • Tailoring a press release to be web-friendly
  • Embedding multimedia items into pitches, emails and other written content
  • Reworking a web page with new messaging

What do you think? Is it time for PR professionals to learn some code?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


Finding Work Life Balance in PR

balance scale

This is a post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

Working in PR can be stressful. [Case in point: once again, PR made the ‘most stressful jobs’ list.] As PR professionals, we are providing a service to our clients or managers, and like other service providers, our work must cater to these clients. PR work is also opportunistic – meaning we have to stay on our toes, since opportunities can arise at any time.  The folks at MediaBistro’s PRNewser have five more reasons why PR is so darn stressful.

Sometimes the work we do is for a great cause – or our work gives us great satisfaction. However, most PR professionals (like other working professionals) seek “balance” between their work in public relations and other parts of their lives. How do we balance this stressful work with other demands and interests in our lives? Here are several approaches:

Forget the word “balance” – Really, it’s unrealistic to literally balance your time and spend an equal number of hours at work and at personal activities. Instead, experts at advocate focusing on achievement and enjoyment. Their definition of Work-Life balance is “meaningful daily achievement and enjoyment in each of the four life quadrants: work, family, friends and self.” Is this attainable? In an online interview, author Aliza Sherman said, “Stop using the word ‘balance.’ My co-author Danielle Smith and I like to say that ‘balance is a mythical bar that we hold over our own heads, and just when we think we’re getting close, someone moves that bar.’” Sherman prefers the word ‘juggle’ and says, “As moms with businesses, we juggle. We can’t be at 100% as a mom or as a business owner at the same time. We have to give ourselves a break, forgive ourselves for not being ‘perfect.’ It isn’t about balance, it isn’t about perfection, it is about doing our best and having the conversations at home to create the system that works for us.”

Just Do It – Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg made headlines (again) when she revealed that she leaves the office at 5:30 pm every day. We know PR is stressful (see above) and it can be tough to carve out personal time when the phone is ringing, but it’s also easier to do if you set a routine and make your schedule a habit.

Listen to your inner Buddha – Lori Deschene who blogs at Tiny Buddha offers these 6 tips for creating work/life balance so that we allow ourselves “sufficient time to create [our dreams] – while also allowing space for relaxation, spontaneity, connection, and the simple act of being.”

Take care of yourself – Exercise can help eliminate the negative effects of stress. It’s also a great way to clear your head for better decision-making. Although it can be tough to get started and/or to make time for regular exercise, investing in your health is truly the most important reason.

Learn from others – Is there someone you know who epitomizes work/life balance and seems to “have it all”? If so, take that person out for a coffee and ask them how they do it. Find a work/life balance mentor and build your own support network in the process.

Set boundaries – We’re really talking about time here, and how we spend our daily 24 hours. In order to reap the most achievement and enjoyment from those hours, we have to learn to say no to some things so that we can focus on and prioritize other activities.

Evaluate your work life balance – Measurement is a favorite topic in PR. Like some PR campaign objectives, our work/life balance goals can be tough to measure. Start by charting your accomplishments; don’t just look at what’s left on your to-do list – be sure to note the successes.

Any other tips for balance PR work with the rest of life?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


Is PR a Good Profession for Parents?

This is a post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

Advances in communication technologies, increases in virtual offices and the prevalence of flexible (round-the-clock?) schedules make it possible to balance the work with personal demands in life.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since listening to Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk about why we have too few women leaders and also since I’ve been approached by more than a couple of younger female PR professionals who want to know how they can prepare for work life when they start a family. (Having just crossed a milestone birthday and with a child in double-digits I guess I’m now a Buddha of sorts when it comes to work-life balance. Yikes.)

Sheryl Sandberg’s argument is compelling, made more so by her delivery and her backstory. (She went from being Larry Summers’ research assistant at the World Bank to being his Chief of Staff at the U.S. Treasury, became vice president at Google and is now COO at Facebook.) In her version of Women’s Lib, our daughters will have a chance not only to succeed but to be admired for having done so. To get to that day, she urges women to “take a seat at the table, make their partner a real partner and to not leave before you leave.”

Her argument is being heard in other industries too. In a NY Times editorial Dr. Karen Sibert argued that women who “want to be doctors should be doctors [and not get enter the profession looking for work-life balance].” Conversely, a colleague, Dr. Suzanne Koven, argues in response that maternity leaves and part-time hours aren’t just women’s issues and believes that Sibert’s “just say yes” approach risks discouraging women from pursuing careers in medicine.

Public Relations is similar to the medical profession in some ways. Our work is service-driven and we often work in response to the needs of our clients, which can include internal corporate clients. PR opportunities and crises can arise at any time. For these reasons, PR work can involve long hours and lots of stress. (Of course, our actions don’t typically result in life or death consequences.) Scaling back on clients or type of projects can make for a friendlier work-life balance, but could harm future career opportunities.

Since roughly 70 percent of PR professionals are women, many of us will or have had to deal with the mommy question. Many moms go on to have very successful careers in PR. Some heed Sandberg’s and Sibert’s advice and go “all in.” Others shape their work around their personal needs and schedules.

The answer, of course, is that there’s no one way to do things. Honestly, there’s no single definition for success either. Personally there are days when I think the answer is to just keep trying.

In that vein, here are a few of my picks for career advice for anyone who is trying to balance a PR career with their role as a parent:

What do you think? Is PR a good profession for working parents? What’s your advice for making it work?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.


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