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. In this part 2 of 4 in our interview series, we talk about effective team management.
SHIFT: Do you see PR’s profession embracing the concept of brand journalism and helping a client become a media outlet in their own right?
Matt: Absolutely. To use a generic phrase, at this point “content is king”, and I think more and more companies are realizing that they have to start producing their own content if they want to get anyone interested in them. We have fewer journalists to work with, and you do have a wealth of information and a wealth of data that you’re probably trying to get out there. If you can’t share it with those outlets you need to put out it somewhere, otherwise it’s being wasted.
I definitely think PR will embrace brand journalism, because that seems to be the change in direction across the board. It’s something we’ve recommended to a number of clients to kind of create their own portals. I was always very impressed with what Kaspersky Labs did with Threat Post in creating their own media hub. I think that’s kind of one of the first examples of that I would say that I was really impressed by. I think more people should be doing it.
SHIFT: Does that change the skill sets of the average account executive or senior account executive has?
Matt: To some extent, but in other ways you’re still keeping the core; your job is to help create stories. It’s just a different way of doing it. Rather than coming up with an idea and sharing it with someone else, now you’re sharing it directly with the client. If they have a hub and they’re willing to put in the work, your job is really just helping them as an editor and creating what kind of content is best for their community and helping push it out.
SHIFT: You’re also an account director and have lots and lots of teams under you. What do you think makes for a great manager in the PR profession?
Matt: Managing 12 people is a very interesting position to be in. I’d say there are two things that people need to work on. First is the realization that no two people can be managed the same way, everyone is different so you really do have to take the time to get to know each of your players, what their strengths and weaknesses are. I know that most people probably hear that and go “that’s a given,” but I don’t think it is for a lot of people.
I think a lot of people come in and once they hit a leadership position assume it’s my way or the highway. I do think you have to be firm with the direction you give, but you have to understand that everyone is different. They might interpret a piece of information a different way, or they may need to learn a skillset a different way. Really taking the time to help that staffer out helps you in the long run because they actually will learn the job and they will work harder and you, you know, you will ultimately benefit from the overall account standpoint. The other aspect is, without sounding too generic, to never forget who you are or where you came from.
I think your team also works harder when they know that you’ve done the work and you’re willing to get into the trenches with them and work really hard. I think it’s very easy to work your way up the ranks, get a certain promotion and think “I will never do X project again,” and that just simply isn’t the case with how fast we have to roll and how much work needs to get done. When your team sees that you’re willing to jump in help on a report, or if there’s a big launch and you’re still willing to pick up the phone or call a reporter, I think that does make a difference.
SHIFT: What sort of tactical recipe would you recommend for someone who’s a new account manager? What would you tell them, “here’s something that you should be cooking all the time”?
Matt: The recipe to a good staffer might change daily; based on the earlier comment I had about everyone being different. The biggest piece of advice I could give a new manager is to not wait till someone’s annual review to have a conversation about what’s working and what’s not. That should be sort of a consistent conversation, not just in real time.
What I try to do personally with every member of my team is to meet quarterly and have a mini dump of here’s what’s going really well, here are some of the skill sets I’m concerned about that you need to work on. That way by the time you get to the annual review there are no surprises and it’s more of a conversation about are the areas of growth I’ve seen over the last year, one or two pockets you still need to work on and this is what we’re going to do to help you work on it.
I think these conversations go best because, again, they’re not sitting down thinking they’re doing terrible and then thrilled that they’re doing great or the opposite, which you know no one ever wants where they think I’m doing this excellent job and here are all of these holes I never knew I had.
As silly as it sounds, just constant communication, I think as an industry we all know that although we help other people with their communication, we’re actually pretty terrible at it sometimes. So yes, there are no shoes on us at times. I think practice what you preach is ultimately what it comes down to.
SHIFT: The breaking point for a lot of people in the profession is going from high performance executor to manager. In our shop it’s Senior Account Executive to Account Manager, and that’s where people usually choose a different career path. If you were giving advice to people at that specific junction, would you tell them “stay with it, I stuck with it, I survived all the way to Account Director”? What would help people make that transition? How did you make that transition?
Matt: I’m not quite sure if I mentally know how I made the transition. I will say going back to an earlier comment, I think what makes it a tough transition for people is that from the Account Coordinator to Account Executive and even sometimes to the Senior Account Executive range, your goals are very centric to you. The mission is very centric to you. You are part of a team and that is important that never changes, but it’s very easy to get lost in “this is what I need to do for growth, this is what I need to do for the client, this is what I need to do for this.”
Once you’re an Account Manager and above it’s no longer just about you, it’s about the team as a whole; ultimately the team’s success is your success. I think that’s the hardest part for people to grasp. It was tough for me because as an Senior Account Executive I could go home and be like, “I accomplished; I got five briefings today and I wrote three press releases.” It was very much “I know what I did today”.
As you get older you work harder and you grow a team and you ultimately have more meetings than tasks sometimes. It’s about helping a client through a situation or helping a team mate learn how to do a task and you’ve definitely worked an entire day and you’ve worked hard but I think it’s harder for people to grasp “but what did I do today?” because they can’t tie it back to something as simple as “well I got that Forbes hit” or “I got that press release.”
I think that’s the hardest part of people’s transition, they don’t actually know what they’ve done. If you really take a step back and you look at the joy an Account Executive has on their face when they come into your office because they got that Forbes hit, or you got that call from a client because they’re thrilled by how that campaign went through, that’s what you accomplished during the day. I actually feel I got more out of that than I ever did out of the hit I got myself. I’d much rather high-five my team and be psyched for them.
Next week: accomplishments, and what he wishes people understood about PR!
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology
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