Public Relations 2013: What qualifies as unique?

Becca Grober, Intern, Shank Public Relations Counselors

First off, I would like to introduce myself as the newest intern at Shank Public Relations Counselors. I’m Becca and I am a senior in my last semester at Ball State University. This is my fourth internship experience. I am an avid reader and like to pretend that I’m the next great chef.

While at Shank Public Relations Counselors my goal is to do something different with social media. Every Monday, we will pose a new question on Twitter and Facebook. We hope our followers, and others, will respond. On Wednesday, we will post our response on the Shank Public Relations Counselors blog. Friday, we will feature the most interesting answers. The goal is to start a conversation because after all, that’s what social media is all about.

Let’s start with something that I have been lectured about before at previous internships: the word “unique”. Unique is a word thrown around constantly. By definition, unique means to have no like or equal; unparalleled; incomparable. It can’t be qualified.

So, are any of our ideas really unique? The answer is probably no. For a concept, idea or strategy to be unique, it must be one of a kind. Most likely what you plan to do has already been done before. That’s not to say that it’s not a great idea or it won’t be successful. All that it means is that it is not truly unique.

In public relations, our best brainstorming is done through research. Inspiration often comes from others’ work and strategy. Picking and choosing pieces of many plans is how we develop our own plans. Our inspiration comes from others. We choose what works best for our client and create a strategy for their needs. While sometimes our combination may be unique, the individual parts don’t quite fit the bill of “unique”…they’ve probably been done before in one form or another.

Imitation can be considered the greatest form of flattery. When utilizing other’s ideas for your own planning, you are telling them that you admire their work. You’ve seen something successful and think to yourself, “Could that work for me?” Not everything in one plan will work the same in another. We transfer ideas to create the perfect equation for our client.

In that rare instance you may run across something that is “unique”, think about this: If there truly is only one of that thing, or the idea has only been used once, then it might mean that it’s not very good. When something works, it catches like wildfire. Everyone wants to say that they were part of the first wave. So, if it didn’t catch, maybe it’s because it didn’t work.

Job hunting in an ocean of “unique”

As I begin my job hunt I find the word “unique” around nearly every corner. Whether it’s employers looking for “unique” candidates or potential employees boasting about how “unique” they are, you can’t quite run away from the word.

If you are a potential employee utilizing the word “unique” or even the phrase “new ideas” in your cover letter, think twice. What new or unique ideas can you truly bring to the table? You’re presenting yourself to an organization that has most likely been around for a while. Have you thought of something they haven’t thought of or done yet? It is possible, but present your idea in a positive way. Think of it as something supplementary and not brand new.

On the other end of the spectrum are those employers who attempt to find the only unique job candidate to ever exist. The focus is lost in translation. An employer should look for individuals with skills and ability. The candidate should have knowledge of the industry and skills to match. The hope is to find someone who stands out, but is a good fit for the organization.

So what does this mean for the often misused, descriptive word? That’s up to you. I suggest we eliminate the word in public relations. Brainstorm with your employees. What exactly is your brand? How do you describe the company? How would others describe you? That’s how you should sell yourself as an organization. In the end though, you as the professional have to make the choice for yourself:

The question is not all that unique. What are your thoughts?


Can a public relations person unplug?

A pivotal part of the public relations profession is staying in the know. Twitter, Facebook, blogs and news sites are constantly checked, as we are responsible for knowing, well, everything.

So what happens when a PR pro wants to take the kids camping or spend a quiet evening with the significant other? Can you safely ignore the news feeds for a few hours? What if something breaks about your client and you miss it? Worse, what if Kimye breaks up and you aren’t the first to post about it?

All of this leads me to the question, can a public relations guru ever safely “unplug?”

Last month I took a few days off to go to Bonaroo in Tennessee. Between the live awesome bands, I wandered the camp grounds with my phone in the air searching for reception. Surrounded by hippies, I was a rarity.

After not having service for four days I came home to 64 work emails, 27 personal emails, six Facebook notifications, five new Twitter followers and one direct message.

As an intern my internet absence was doable, but for a professional I’m not so sure it could have been done. We are responsible for the well being of our clients including evenings and weekends. We’re expected to be on call, on point and most of all knowledgeable. We are, after all, counselors…24/7.

It is necessary and valuable to check out every once in a while. A clear head can produce better work. Find ways to blow off steam without putting yourself off the grid. Take that camping trip with the family, but make sure a trusted colleague can stand in for you or you can be reached in case of an emergency.

The unexpectedness of the profession keeps me interested. It bothers me more to be disconnected than the idea that my time is not necessarily all my own. There is a fine line that PR people must dance upon, and it sits between being a workaholic and not good at your job. Love it or leave it, that’s the nature of public relations.

 By Noelle Pickler, Intern

Edgy vs. Cautious: Knowing your clients’ risk tolerance

We were up against the deadline for a client’s e-newsletter a few weeks ago.  The copy for a highly technical article had been reviewed by the client and one attorney, but we had not heard back from two other experts we’d asked to review.

“What do you think we should do?” the client asked.

It was a flattering question, because it mattered to him what I thought.  But I had to supply the right answer for him, not me. As I thought about my response, the experience “tape” running through my brain reminded me this is one of the most cautious, risk-averse clients with whom I work.  In their business, they should be cautious and risk-averse.

What is most important to them?  Being first to the market with important information?  Or holding the information a little longer and knowing they have every detail right?

I immediately had my answer: We can’t run the article until we hear back from all four experts and have every detail confirmed.  Being excruciatingly correct matters more than being on schedule in this case.

Risk is a funny thing. 

When developing creative concepts for clients, we should give them at least one idea that’s beyond their comfort zone. Why would they ask for new concepts if all they wanted was predictable “been there, done that” thinking?  We always include a few “comfortable” plans that are perfectly good options.

A productive, meaningful conversation usually arises when we discuss the “out there” options, even if one isn’t selected:  “What’s the downside of this?  And then, what’s the upside? that we’d get noticed? that we’d be perceived as a creative leader in our industry?”

Some clients want to be edgy.  My “out there” recommendations for them would be different than for the risk-averse client.

Likewise, my decision might have been different if my risk-averse client was facing the 6 p.m. TV news: make the deadline, but pare down your message to the facts we’re sure of.

We’re fortunate to have long experience with many of our clients – in fact, sometimes we have more institutional knowledge of the company than our client-contact person!

That experience allows us to inherently know each client’s values along the way, understand how they make decisions, and apply their success metrics.  Knowing who’s edgy and who’s cautious is a tremendous asset for high stakes decisions.

By Marilyn Shank, Vice President

Transitions: Student to Intern

The transition from college student to intern isn’t easy. I should know, I made the switch three weeks ago. It’s an adjustment, to say the least, but it is doable. Here are a few things I’ve come to realize that have helped me adjust:

My first few weeks as an intern were exhausting. Until this point most of my jobs have been pretty mindless. An eight hour work day where you are required to use your brain and knowledge will be tiring after jobs where you don’t. I learned the hard way that midnight is not an appropriate bedtime anymore. Give yourself a break and go to bed a little earlier. It will help you work harder and feel less mentally exhausted at the end of the day.

Lucky for me, I’m not required to wear a suit everyday. I know it can be hard to feel comfortable in work clothes when you’ve been so used to maxi skirts and Birkenstocks throughout college. Look for things that can double as work and play clothes with an open mind, and you may be surprised to find you already have a lot of items that will work for both. Consider the clothes you do have to buy as a professional investment.

It’s true what they say; nothing prepares you for the real world like living in the real world. What we’ve been learning in class is relevant, but you can’t become a rock star at media pitches until you actually start pitching to the media. Appreciate your time as an intern, because it could very well be the most valuable tool you have to prepare yourself for a career.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. This is your opportunity to work with professionals while still wearing the “newbie” hat that allows for a few mistakes here and there. A good supervisor will want to help hone your skills. If you don’t ask questions then a) you might not be meeting your supervisor’s expectations and b) you’re not learning anything. Isn’t that the point?

If all else fails, remember: an internship isn’t permanent. It can be viewed as an experiment, if you will. If you love what you’re doing and where you’re working like me, you’ll have proven your hypothesis that, indeed, public relations is the right field for you.

By Noelle Pickler, Intern

A Good Public Relations Person Pt.3

Well here you have it, the remaining seven (plus one) things that make a great public relations person. May you be challenged by the 21 items and cultivate your skills! Find the full list on our website.

  1. Be confident but not arrogant – speak your mind when your opinion is supported by facts or experience.  As baseball Hall of Famer and broadcaster Dizzy Dean once said – “It ain’t braggin’ if you done it.”
  2. Be a problem solver:  We are by definition problem solvers not just communicators:  How do I introduce this product or service?  How do I protect the company reputation?  How do I get this new technology to work for my client or organization?  How do I get the package to that city in the next 45 minutes when the elevators just shut off (this comes from a real world public relations experience)?
  3. Be accountable and dependable.
  4. Get out of the cubicle and off the X-Box 360 or PS2 and experience life and real people of all kinds.
  5. Understand news media in all of its various forms – know what is news and what is not; understand the continuing 24-second news cycle; understand deadlines and how newsrooms around the world work.  Know how journalists think, work, act, write.  Be able to speak like a reporter – know what a cop-shop is, and how to use B-roll, for example.
  6. Have fun.
  7. Be good to yourself and to those you love.

7+1.  You don’t have to “like people.”

By David L. Shank, President/CEO

What Makes a Good Public Relations Person

Not just anyone is cut out to be a good public relations person. David Shank has a pretty idea of what works and what doesn’t. Here is part one of a three part series on what really makes a good public relations person. Enjoy!

  1. Integrity and ethical grounding – know what’s right and what to do if you’re asked to do something else.
  2. READ – anything and everything you can get your hands on. Read real books, magazines and newspapers.  Read beyond your own present interests.  Go to the library and grab a book randomly off the shelves and finish it.
  3. Have the ability to think through difficult issues and to be able to see around the corner at what may be coming at you; and see forward weeks and months and years at what may be expected in the future.
  4. Understand how people think and respond to the culture and world around them.
  5. Be versed in numerous disciplines – psychology, sociology, history, government, current affairs, art, science, BUSINESS!
  6. Be a GOOD WRITER – who is easily understood, can comprehend difficult topics and simplify them to the level that Aunt Norma at the Beauty Shop can understand it.  On the other hand you must be able to write at more sophisticated levels for white papers, speeches, articles, presentations, etc.
  7. Be able to write in numerous formats and to switch gears instantly.  How you write a Tweet, isn’t the same as writing an op-ed for the New York Times; writing a blog isn’t the same as writing a technical article for a business magazine.

By David L. Shank, President/CEO

Summer 2012 Intern: Noelle Pickler

Our Summer 2012 intern, Noelle Pickler, of Ball State University.

If you’ve ever applied for a public relations internship before, you know the drill: insanely early deadlines, late nights at Kinko’s and stress induced hair loss by the second month of your search.

Public relations students persevere because a) perseverance is laced in the DNA of any great PR professional and b) good luck finding a job if you haven’t had at least one internship.

I, too, was one of the PR students camping outside of the university printing department and pulling out my first gray hairs before I landed an internship at Shank Public Relations Counselors, Inc.

Take my word for it, finally receiving and accepting an internship offer is well worth the hard work. Nothing beats it, except maybe the free bagels and the bragging rights you garner from being given your own office.

I’m no internship expert, but with a clear, semi-stress free mind I can look back at my long search with perspective, both the things I did right and the ones I did not. Allow me to elaborate:

1. Make sure your writing samples are strong: Before I chose public relations as my area of study, I fancied myself as something of a reporter. Writing has always been something I enjoy doing, and luckily I’m decent at it. When it came time to put my portfolio together I included tons of writing samples, bordering on too many, but I knew they were strong. Writing is a major part of what an intern is responsible for, so don’t neglect to show your strengths in your portfolio. Even a short news release written for class can boost your portfolio, because if it’s good it’s good, right?

2. Don’t be afraid to be innovative: You’ll hear a lot of opinions when it comes to designing your resume, portfolio, branding yourself, etc. It’s hard to say what is correct when the experts can’t even pick one way to do things, so don’t forget that your opinion matters. You and I may not be experts yet, but I knew how I wanted to present myself to potential employers. I designed my resume to be unique, representative of me and memorable. With some agencies, it might have been too far from status quo, but it obviously worked out for me in the end. Be confident in who you are, because someone will appreciate it.

3. Don’t settle for a position beneath you: That’s right; it’s my opinion that there are some positions beneath even an intern on the public relations food chain. You know, the internships where you spend more time fetching coffee and shredding papers than anything else? It’s true that internships may not always be glamorous, but your time is still valuable. Chances are you’re good at what you do, and the right internship will respect your strengths, helping you hone them as you go. An internship is one of the best educations you’ll receive and learning how to make double sided copies is, let’s face it, elementary.

I can say with confidence I’ll leave Shank Public Relations Counselors having learned immensely and enjoyed thoroughly. I’ve already been given two large writing assignments, had the opportunity to attend an event for one of our larger clients and I definitely can’t complain about my mentors here. I’m so glad I waited for this opportunity, plus did I mention the bagels?

By Noelle Pickler, Intern

Same Game, New Rules, New Tools

The word public in public relations is finally, well…public!

According to David Meerman Scott, author of, The New Rules of Marketing & PR, the thanks go out to the Internet. In his book Scott states, “After years of almost exclusive focus on media […] blogs, online video, news release, and other forms of Web content let organizations communicate directly with buys,” (Page 11).

That my blog reading friends, requires a new rule of public relations. Public relations was once a profession that relied heavily (and almost exclusively) on the media to tell their story.

Hence the old rule: Buyers only heard about your company if the media wrote about it.

Now, we shall introduce the new rule: You can talk to your customers yourself.

Scott claims in his book that “if you do a good job telling your story directly, the media will find out. And then they will write about you!” (Page 10).

Despite the fact public relations pros are all really excited about the new rules, it is important to consider keeping the old rules on radar. I consider today a transition period in which there is a wide range of professionals. Some professionals would still prefer receiving a news release via email while other social media friendly would prefer you pitch a story via Twitter. While some day the public relations profession may completely throw out the old rules, for now, it seems in our best interest to be aware of both sets of rules. The key is to KNOW who you are talking to and their preference and niche.

So for now…go talk to your publics!

By Julie Stutzman, Account Associate


Thank You, Mike Wallace

Thousand of public relations professionals and crisis managers owe Mike a huge debt of gratitude. We have created a meaningful and purposeful industry of helping business and institutions work through crisis management with the single opening question:

“Are you prepared for the day when Mike Wallace walks through your door?”

Wallace, a mainstay of the CBS News program “60 Minutes”, died April 7 at age 93.

That’s never a real threat in most cases but just the thought of Wallace’s aggressive and credible investigative journalism was enough to turn normal steel-nerved business people into glassy-eyed, undulating gelatinous blobs like Jabba the Hut, brain fried and medically unresponsive.  And these were the leaders who were innocent.

His fellow “60 Minutes” reporter Morley Safer described him: “Wallace took to heart the old reporter’s pledge to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” as reported by Adam Benstein in the Washington Post.

Wallace was old-school journalism.  He was the guy Woodward and Bernstein looked up to before Watergate-reporting was cool.  He was of the Walter Cronkite and Eric Severeid generation.  Reporters first, make-up wearers second.  More than if it bleeds, it leads.

There is a lot to be learned from Wallace and his take no crap attitude:

  1. Do the right thing – If you and our enterprise are doing the right thing you shouldn’t have to worry about this and the next generation’s Mike Wallace crashing through the door.
  2. Be prepared.  Wallace’s scathing interviews were based on hours of research, confirmation, witnesses, testimony.  He knew when the truth was stretched and would hit you with his classic “Oh, come on…”  You need to be equally prepared.
  3. You need to know how to react to the crusading reporter as they come at you.  You have rights as a subject.

Wallace tormented his subjects, but his objectivity, honesty and credibility could never be challenged.  He wasn’t perfect, He fought his own devils. But he also demonstrated hard-hitting, investigative reporting of the highest quality could pull real audiences in prime time.

In his own way he made a better world, if for no other reason than forcing us to ask our clients: “Are you prepared for the day when Mike Wallace walks through your door?”

By David L. Shank, CEO/President