At this year’s Publicity Club Bell Ringer Awards, SHIFT Account Director Matt Trocchio was honored by the New England PR community as PR Practitioner of the Year. Over the next few weeks, we’ll share Matt’s thoughts about the public relations industry, what’s working and what’s not in PR today, and how to navigate the choppy waters of a PR career.
SHIFT: In your opinion, what is your view of what constitutes a great PR practitioner?
Matt: I think there’s a lot that goes into becoming a good PR practitioner. As much as the industry might move to a new school model, I think what makes you a good practitioner is actually some of the oldest of the old school mindsets. You roll with the punches, you adapt to different communications styles, and new technologies—that goes beyond social media—but just to the different types clients.
What also makes you a good practitioner is the ability to “be a people person” and be able to work with different people and different styles and personalities. I think that helps you the best. You’ll work with different clients that have contacts that work differently than you. You’re going to adapt to new team members that work differently than you. There is no I in team. It’s one of the oldest sayings and I think it still stands true today and that’s what ultimately makes you a better PR practitioner.
SHIFT: You’ve been in PR for more than a decade, right?
Matt: Just about.
SHIFT: What has changed the most about the profession?
Matt: It changes daily. I’d say the biggest change for me from start to finish is just how much the actual PR person is now at the forefront. Before, we were able to hide behind the curtain; you worked very closely with your clients on messaging and set them up for interviews. With the fast moving changes in social media, anything you do puts you out there. So there is no “I’m going to be the man behind the curtain and no one will know what I do.” No, you’re very much out there and you have to be careful. Just as much as you’re telling your clients what to say or what not to say, you have to be very careful how you message things as well on a personal level.
SHIFT: How did that impact your career? Or how does it impact someone just starting in PR’s career trajectory, and how does it help them decide whether or not PR is the right profession for them?
Matt: Two-fold answer there, I suppose. One thing I always say is, “don’t change who you are.” You want to have a personality. I always say you don’t have to “not have a soul” to do this. But you probably do have to think twice about some of the things that you share with the world. Some people are obviously very careful, and others don’t care and they’re willing to share every aspect of their life from when they went to the bathroom to what they ate.
However, when you have clients, reporters, analysts, and different influencer groups you want to work with that have to take you seriously– I think that does impact what you share, and you should probably think twice about some aspects of that without over-policing yourself.
In terms of whether this is a career for you, I think it comes back to looking at the different skill sets that go into the job, how willing are you to work with people, and how willing are you to put yourself out there a little bit. That also goes in the reverse. You have some people who don’t want to share anything about their life and don’t want to be in the limelight. If you’re not ready to have that potentially happen to you, PR is not the best career choice for you.
SHIFT: Have you experienced that kind of impact personally?
Matt: Me personally? No, I have not had that happen, luckily. I’ve seen it. Without oversharing, I’ve had friends that had clients who may have had spokespeople that overshared their intimate relations on Twitter and things of that nature. Luckily I haven’t had to handle a fallout of that nature, but it does happen to people.
SHIFT: Some people say that people say that PR as a profession has gotten harder than it used to be in the “good old days”. They said it used to be easier to get coverage, it used to be easier to pitch stuff, and they say now it’s so much harder and it now takes an account executive three times as much work and time to get the same results they used to five years ago. What’s your perception on that?
Matt: I think to some extent, it may be true. Even before my time, it might’ve been easier to pitch journalists depending on how hungry publications were, how much staff they had, and what the need was to write articles. The job is just as hard now, but for different reasons. You have shrinking staff at publications, so there are fewer contacts, which does make it harder to pitch. But there is also an enormous world out there for us that wasn’t available in those early days.
It’s almost like the best and worst thing that you could ask for; there’s no limit to where you could take news, but at the same time it is very focused and there are fewer influencers out there that probably matter to you, so there’s still a lot of work that goes into PR and I think that’s probably where a lot of young people come into the industry and they go cross-eyed right away. Yeah, you can shotgun blast everything and not be successful at all, or you could do what we tend to preach here, which is to be very targeted and find the right influencers, find the right publications that match your client. That does take longer and is a bit harder, because you really do have to tailor the message and get it right, and you get fewer shots at it because of that.
Next week: brand journalism, the changing roles in PR, and managing a PR team – stay tuned!
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology