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If Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg Worked in PR…

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

If you’re reading this you’re probably aware of the PR ups and downs experienced recently by Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg, two very prominent businesswomen. Sandberg is step-by-stepping her way through a case study on successful book launches, while Mayer ignited backlash and was perceived as setting family/work balance issues back a generation for ending Yahoo!’s policy of allowing some workers to telecommute.

I won’t get into the mixed messages that the media is communicating over whether Mayer and Sandberg are worthy role models for modern feminists or examples of how to ‘have it all.’ What they both are is terrific examples of how to be successful at work and in your career. And their examples translate well in the PR industry.

Picture Marissa Mayer as the new head of a PR agency, one that’s suffered in recent years due to the recession and needs an injection of fresh leadership to reinvigorate its client relationships and to amp up its bottom line to satisfy the bigwigs in its holding company.

PR agencies are in the service business, which means they must be accessible and responsive to clients and their needs. Agencies that are experiencing contractions in business and greater competition are more likely to call ‘all hands on deck’ meetings and stress personal accountability to meet these business challenges. In tight markets, firms may search for ways to combine or consolidate resources or they may try to establish new service offerings and revenue streams. The process innovations they come up with are most likely going to be geared toward helping each employee reach ultimate productivity levels and drive business results. (I realize not all PR agencies are the same; independent firms and virtual agencies, among other types of PR firms, may have different guiding values and different ways to achieve their desired results.)

Mayer gets it. She can talk the talk because she’s walked the walk. She was Google’s first female engineer and the 20th employee for the startup. During her career at Google, Mayer was an engineer, designer, product manager, and executive, and launched more than 100 well-known features and products. She was also in charge of some of Google’s acquisitions. She’s a Wal-Mart board member and angel investor. If anyone can right the ship, it’s her (we think).

Now picture Sheryl Sandberg as a senior vice president of corporate communications. She’s a great boss who brings a broad perspective to the role from her varied and impressive background of experiences. She knows what it takes to get PR a ‘seat at the table,’ too. Even better, Sandberg enjoys mentoring the next generation of internal communications directors with great advice on how to navigate the corporate career ladder.

I’ve written before about how the lines between PR and other functions in an organization can get blurred with PR increasing being measured for its ability to impact sales, customer service and other marketing functions. Sheryl’s experience as COO at Facebook is a good example of how to build inter-organizational bridges among various departments. At Facebook, Sandberg oversees sales, marketing, business development, HR, public policy and communications. She was a driver in uniting these functions to make Facebook profitable, one of her first major accomplishments at the company. Sheryl also understands the importance of transparency and authentic communications, which are essential to corporate communications and brand development.

And who better than Sheryl to shepherd PR through a period of massive change? Technology and social media are changing the PR role, complicating the way we work and measure our results. If anyone can teach us the importance of staying open-minded and encourage us to learn and adopt new methods, it’s the woman who is launching a cultural movement to get women to be better represented in corporate leadership roles.

Like the many places Mayer and Sandberg have worked in their careers, PR can be both hospitable and tough on working parents. I don’t think most working mothers are in a position to follow Mayer’s and Sandberg’s examples of balancing work and family, but both women offer lessons in how to succeed in the workplace.

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 You Have the Political Chops to Work in PR?


A guest post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

If someone told you that you’re “being political” or coming across as a real “politician,” you’d probably be offended. But I will argue that being politically savvy, i.e. having the ability to influence others to accomplish your goals, will serve you well in a career in PR.

The 10 most important political skills crucial to working in PR are the abilities to:

  1. Re-frame a situation — You won’t get far – unless your goal is to annoy the most people possible – without being able to see things from more than one perspective. In PR speak, this means being able to customize a message or story for specific individual audiences.
  2. Back up your story – Your story will be stronger and more convincing if you can back it up with evidence and proof points, such as customer testimonials, facts and statistics, research from opinion polls or surveys, third-party validation from awards, rankings or expert endorsements, etc.
  3. Convince your audience that you are credible – It’s not enough to have a great story if no one will listen to you tell it. Experienced spokespeople have titled credentials like speaker, author, successful entrepreneur or businessperson, but inexperienced spokespeople can demonstrate their authority by creating their own video examples, articulating new approaches and building followers online.
  4. Stay prepared – No, you don’t have to be paranoid and constantly prepping for a crisis (though that can be useful too), but savvy PR pros need to understand their industry, the players, what’s going on and what macro events can impact industry dynamics.
  5. Know your opponent – Whether your PR career is centered on working with causes, people or products, it’s important to understand the competitive landscape and what sets your work apart.
  6. Build a strong network – Strong PR professionals have good, up-to-date working networks of people to call, including the media, with whom they can work with to get things done and communicate messages.
  7. Manage people – Each day, PR staff interact with people at many levels, from their own bosses and the teams they supervise to the people at multiple levels within their client organizations and also those working in various ways in the media and other external audiences. Good managers are able to communicate effectively with all levels in an organization, and give the right message/tone to the right audience at the right time.
  8. Appear sincere – Someone with really strong political skills won’t appear to have any such skills at all. Character traits like being genuine, authentic, straightforward and effective are all associated with being politically savvy and leaders who are not politically skilled come off as manipulative or self-serving.
  9. “Practice influence” – I didn’t invent this phrase, but I like it. It means showing good judgment about when to assert yourself. For example, while you may be powerful within some groups and could easily throw your weight around to get what you want, that isn’t always the politically expedient way to go.
  10. Create change – Many of us get by in PR by being great at executing the first nine of these skills, but the most expert among us understand how to create effective PR programs that “move the dial” to achieve desired changes in audience behaviors.

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.


Media Relations 101 for Your Job Search

You dream of landing the perfect job at a public relations agency, working with the most interesting clients in the industry and getting them all sorts of public recognition. I’m always amazed at how some PR pros are brilliant at their jobs, but when it comes to selling themselves in a job interview, they crumble. Where did that confident, over-achieving, media rockstar go? Apply some media relations 101 rules on your job search will help pitch yourself as the perfect fit for your next job.

  1. Do Your Homework. It gets tiring sending cover letter after cover letter. You’ll be tempted to just use a template and be done with it. But spending just a little time digging into the company you want to work for will pay off. For starters, it’s impressive because you have already set yourself apart from 90% of the applications the company receives. Unfortunately, most people try to shortcut the job search. Making a tiny mention in your cover letter that shows you’ve read through the company’s website, blog, or recent news can show the hiring manager that you put thought into your letter, and that you really are interested in working for this company.
  2. Know Who You’re Pitching. Sometimes those “Dear Hiring Manager” generic openings are unavoidable, but if you do a little research (see #1), you may be able to get the name of the person who’s interviewing for the role you want. Look on the company’s site, and call if you need to in order to get this information.
  3. Customize Your Pitch. Both your cover letter and your resume should be tweaked slightly for each PR job you apply for. One might look for industry-specific experience, while another may want someone with a wider depth of experience. Play to what they’re looking for, and highlight your skills to match. If you are agency-side, a quick blurb about each client you represent helps set the tone and show how you are the security software PR expert they are looking for. Don’t make the reader think too much to connect the dots.
  4. Hesitate Before Sending an Attachment. Not everyone wants attachments. Read through the job description carefully to see whether it mentions how the hiring manager would prefer to receive resumes. If you have an online link to your resume, include it in the cover letter.
  5. Proofread! Nothing looks sloppier than grammatical errors in your resume or cover letter. Everyone in the world must know this rule by now. Yet I’d say at least half of the applications I receive have some glaring issue. Go over each carefully, and ask a friend to do so as well, to ensure its perfection. Then, just like with a PR pitch, follow up. Give it a few days once you’ve submitted your application, and then check in to see when the hiring manager expects to make a decision.

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.


4 Ways to Build Your Work Portfolio Little Job Experience

Pinching a Star

It’s a circular argument: you need experience to get the job, yet you can’t get experience without the job! But these days, it’s perfectly possible to take your portfolio of work into your own hands. Content creation is abound, and if you’re not taking the incentive to gain experience on your own terms, you will be less likely to get hired for the job you want.

1. Write a Blog
It literally takes minutes to set up a blog and start writing. And since blogs are a great way to demonstrate not only your writing skills, but also your ideas, employers can get a great sense of you as a person and employee by reading your blog.

You don’t need to be the industry’s most-read blogger. It’s not your popularity that really even matters. Simply written good content on professional and industry topics and sharing the link in your job application can help hiring managers could give you an edge.

What to write about:

  • Your take on your industry
  • Opinion pieces on industry news
  • Link to other industry blogs and comment on the topics

2. Press Releases
For PR professionals, the press release is the quintessential tool for the trade. But if you only wrote a couple of releases in college for your Comm class, you might feel like you don’t have an adequate hand on writing them.

Reach out to charities and nonprofits and let them know you’re looking to build your portfolio. Offer your services (free of charge) to write press releases for their news. It’s more impressive when you’ve got releases that are found online, so collect links to your press releases for your virtual portfolio.

3. Case Studies
Case studies are a great way to show you’re paying attention to how your industry helps companies. Create a case study from anywhere you’ve worked, interned, volunteered, or attended (school) that demonstrates areas you want to work in. For example, maybe you interned at a PR firm, though you didn’t get to dabble much in the publicity side. You could still create a case study about a client (leave names out of it) who saw an increase in visibility, thanks to the firm’s efforts.

4. Articles
There are literally hundreds — if not thousands — of magazines, newspapers and websites clamoring for content. Sometimes they can’t afford to pay, so they’re perfect for you as a beginner to pitch an article. Get to know the audience, and try for one that has a focus in the industry you want to work in. Come up with a unique story idea and sell it to the editor. Then keep the link or physical cutout for your portfolio.

Whether you write these samples for yourself, volunteer at a nonprofit or intern at a company, they’re a great way to show a potential employer that you take initiative to overcome that circle of no-experience-no-job.

Photo credit: Kunal Patel

A Look at PR Internships

This is a post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

I’ll admit it’s been a long time since I was an intern, but frequently I talk to PR students who are starting their careers and the topic invariably comes up. In fact, these days it’s just about unheard of to work in PR without first having at least one internship. Internships provide real-world experience that can help candidates stand out in PR job interviews and help interns build their professional network.

Since internships are so common now, there are a lot more formal processes in place for them too — particularly at big PR agencies. For instance, if you’re planning on applying for an internship for the summer, you need to get to work now. Most agencies start accepting applications right after winter break, and by May they’ve selected and signed on their interns for the summer. A typical agency internship lasts 8 weeks, after which most interns either: a) go back to school; b) are offered a full-time position at the agency; or c) look for another internship or job.

One trend I’ve noticed is that more recent college graduates are applying for internships rather than full-time entry-level positions – even if they’ve already built up PR experience with other internships during college. I think that reasons for this trend could include:

  • The perception that the only way to be hired for an entry-level job at a big agency is to first work there as an intern.
  • Students who want to work in a new city, i.e. not the one their college is located in, feel that they need to make new connections in that area.
  • Studying PR in school exposes students to a broad range of practices and some still aren’t sure what they want to focus on in their careers by the time they graduate. Internships are a way to get practical experience that will also help them narrow or select their career path.
  • The economy is still in poor condition and the PR job market is still tight so new graduates are scaling back their expectations and aiming for intern-level positions instead of entry-level jobs

The economy may also have had a hand in the increase in unpaid internships in recent years. Some industries, such as the music and film industries, rely on unpaid interns and can offer valuable experience or connections in lieu of pay. While some unpaid internships can be categorized as educational and may even qualify the intern for school credit, if the work is menial it violates federal law not to pay the intern and several states are cracking down on this practice.

Legal or not, unpaid internships exist. Kent State University professor Bill Sledzik offers this summary of the pros and cons of both paid and unpaid internships.

Lauren Berger, founder of, has had positive experiences with her unpaid internships at organizations such as MTV, Fox, BWR Public Relations and NBC. She says, “Unpaid internships can be the best experiences of your life. They were the best experiences of my life. They should be just as valuable as paid opportunities. Remember, unpaid internships should be only 12-15 hours per week. You can manage a part-time job, internship and school at the same time.”

She also comments on virtual internships, “Virtual internships can be amazing opportunities as well. A virtual internship means you work from home instead of from an actual office. Normally, virtual interns communicate with employees via Skype, texting, phone and email. Try to look for a virtual internship with structured hours.”

Want to weigh in on your intern experience?

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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