Sara Rude

Public Relations: Lessons from Marty McFly

By: Sara Rude | April 11, 2013 | 

Public Relations- Lessons from Marty McFlyRemember the pivotal scene in Back to the Future II when Marty McFly travels back (or forward?) to 1985, only to find that it’s totally screwed up because he messed with his parents’ past?

He’s completely disoriented.

He has no idea how the house he grew up in, the neighborhood he skateboarded around, and the small town he loved had become so… different and confusing.

I had a very similar experience when returning to the public relations agency world about six months ago after a six-year hiatus.

Minus the DeLorean, unfortunately.

When I had my daughter in 2006, I decided to leave agency life and work for a non-profit organization with more flexibility so I could spend more time with my munchkin.

I wasn’t directly involved with marketing or public relations in my new role per se; I worked in more grassroots-type recruitment. Little did I know, in the six years I spent in my non-profit bubble, the world of public relations was completely evolving. No one even had the decency to give me a heads up!

Back to the Future

Fast forward to 2012. With my daughter happily in school full-time, I made the decision to return to the agency world that I so desperately missed. I longed for the creativity, the hustle and bustle, the daily interaction with people from all walks of life, and most of all, the ability to write, pitch, and win great media placements for clients.

Getting a big article in a trade publication featuring one of my clients was like a high for me – I loved that rush of success. That’s what being good at PR was to me. Stupid. Me.

I started back into the PR agency world and had NO IDEA what I was doing anymore. Wait, what? Businesses use Twitter to enhance their brand image? I don’t even have a personal Twitter account; I never thought I was interesting enough… and Facebook… that too?

There’s strategy behind that?  What’s a “social media director”?  There are blogs out there that actually matter and people read (not to mention share on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter)?  On that note, what the heck is Google+?

I was in for a crash course in social media marketing, which, evidently, is kind of a crucial component of every comprehensive marketing campaign.  Newsflash.  I got totally Marty McFly’d.

The Learning Curve

Since I’ve been back in the public relations world, I’ve been spending countless hours reading everything I can on social media: Learning about pitching bloggers, figuring out who matters and why, and discovering trends and how to integrate them into our clients’ needs. And, I haven’t even scraped the surface of what’s out there or what I need to know to be the PR counsel that I expect myself to be.

Of course, “traditional” public relations is still important. I can write one mean news release on a new product launch or business opening. Looking for someone to pull together a media list of key editors covering your topic of interest? I’m your gal. Need some creative content for a website (yes, we had those in 2006!) or a newsletter? Yep, I’m on it.

But, seriously, when did that become part of a public relations campaign? Well, the answer is obvious: While I was off stupidly trying to be a good mom. (That’s sarcasm – they really do need to make a font for that.)

Evolve and Change

The lessons I’ve been learning aren’t new to anyone in the communications industry. This industry has been changing since it started. My boss used to send news releases via fax and type them on typewriters. He’s a billion years old, obviously (ok, 52, but still). I can’t even begin to fathom how he’s managed to stay so relevant with all of the changes he’s had to adapt to.

PR professionals have to be flexible, constantly learning and evolving, and aware of what matters most. If we can’t provide “great value” to our clients, we become irrelevant. And irrelevance is the worst – baby needs new shoes.

I definitely wasn’t expecting this much of a difference in a field I had previously worked in. But, I’m embracing it – because, really, what other choice do I have? Social media is here to stay – the Internet isn’t just a fad. And, we can either change with the times or keep on wishing for Doc Brown to show up on our doorsteps.

And, here’s the brutal truth – he ain’t coming.

About Sara Rude

Sara Rude is a public relations specialist at STIR Advertising & Integrated Messaging. She has been creating a buzz in the public relations world for more than 10 years. To Sara, public relations needs to be aggressive and creative, while having a targeted, strategic approach. When she's not knocking out incredibly innovative public relations campaigns, she can be found trying to keep up with her beautiful daughter, Molly, and rescue dog, Kirby.

  • SpinSucks

    SaraJeanne06 I <3 Marty McFly!

    • SaraJeanne06

      SpinSucks He was quite the babe… with his high tops and stone-washed jeans. #whoyoucallingchicken

      • SpinSucks

        SaraJeanne06 Hahaha!!! Even though I own the movies, I still watch it everytime it’s on TV.

        • SaraJeanne06

          SpinSucks It’s actually illegal not to.

      • photo chris

        @SaraJeanne06 SpinSucks sounds hot to me! Does he also spot a mullet? 😉

        • Sjeanne06

          photo chris SpinSucks No mullet, unfortunately… but he did ride a skateboard with quite a masculine flare…

    • @SpinSucks SaraJeanne06 One of my all time favorite movies. 🙂 Wasn’t his name Calvin? 🙂

      • Sjeanne06

        aimeelwest SaraJeanne06 Ha! Calvin Klein, it’s written all over your underwear! #classic

  • It’s crazy how much and fast things change. But it makes me super happy to hear you’re embracing it and your ancient boss is too 😉 
    And I agree, people have to be flexible, willing to evolve and adapt to the times. There really isn’t much of a choice if you want to remain relevant and competitive.

    • Sjeanne06

      yvettepistorio It was definitely a “jump in with both feet and pray you don’t drown” type of situation… but, thanks to a lot of great people and webinars, blogs, and other industry resources (a little trial and error), I’ve managed to float along pretty well!
      Ha! My boss wasn’t thrilled about the “nine bilion year old” comment, but he’s a good sport! 🙂

  • It’s enough to make your head spin, isn’t it, @SaraJean0? And the thing that makes me crazy is things just KEEP changing. Some days I want to shout “Could we all just STOP for a few days so I can catch up?”. Great post. Nice to meet you here. 🙂

    • Sjeanne06

      allenmireles Thanks so much! I TOTALLY agree with the “let’s just freeze for a week and learn what is going on!” theory – let’s start a petition!

      • belllindsay

        Sjeanne06 allenmireles Amen sisters. I gave up staying on top of everything a few years back. It’s impossible!! I’m a generalist – know a little bit about a lot of things. But not a whole lot about everything. 🙂

        • allenmireles Sjeanne06 allenmireles  I keep track of what I can and figure the rest will either filter in or out as needed.

        • belllindsay

          aimeelwest allenmireles Sjeanne06 Exactly! I figure – I know what I know – you know? 😉 My mantra is “You can’t know EVERYTHING” – though in this crazy space you sometimes feel like you *should*. I make sure and read a lot to keep up with the newest shiny things, and will try out the ones that appeal to me or that I stumble upon that I’ve somehow missed (like Evernote). It really is an exciting time though. Remember when your telephone was attached to your kitchen wall…?? LOL I do.

        • Sjeanne06

          belllindsay aimeelwest allenmireles Sjeanne06 Great point.. you simply can NOT know everything… because as soon as you think you might, something new comes up.  
          I’ll one up you Lindsay – remember when phones were rotary?  Or when “call waiting” was this super awesome invention that only the cool kids had? And an answering machine was a separate machine attached to your phone with a CASSETTE TAPE? 🙂

        • belllindsay

          Sjeanne06 belllindsay aimeelwest allenmireles Dear Sara: I am old. We had two TV channels when I was growing up. 🙂

        • photo chris

          belllindsay aimeelwest allenmireles Sjeanne06 “Remember when your telephone was attached to your kitchen wall…?” At our game night last month a good and hilariously funny friend stared intently at my cordless phone and jabbed at a few buttons. “WHAT are you doing?” I asked. “I don’t really know,” she quipped.. “I’m fascinated by this; it’s been so long since I’ve seen one!” Ahhhhhh!

        • belllindsay  allenmireles Sjeanne06 I  also  have a few people I follow that I find interesting that are not necessarily part of my industry because sometimes things that are working in other areas can be modified to fit your needs as well.

        • photo chris belllindsay  allenmireles Sjeanne06 We lived very far in the country and I remember still having a “party line” when I was really young.

  • NancyCawleyJean

    ginidietrich SaraJeanne06 Welcome back to the wacky world of PR Sara! You’re going to rock it. 😉 GREAT post!!! Hello, McFLY??

    • SaraJeanne06

      NancyCawleyJean ginidietrich Thanks so much! I’m loving #PR life and looking forward to learning all the other things I don’t know about!

  • SaraJeanne06

    NancyCawleyJean ginidietrich Thanks Nancy!

  • tnfletch

    Funny, I haven’t thought about that movie in years! This industry is not for people who can’t embrace constant learning and change. At least we never have an excuse to be bored!

    • Sjeanne06

      tnfletch Back to the Future… so great – remember how they hydrate the Pizza Hut pizza? I’m pretty sure that’s how Pizza Hut got the idea for their “new” pizza sliders… just sayin.  
      It’s kind of great being in an industry that isn’t stagnant, though, isn’t it?  I mean, I would rather be constantly challenged and learning than bored – as you said!

      • belllindsay

        Sjeanne06 tnfletch *Always* be learning. 🙂

  • SaraJeanne06

    Kato42 SpinSucks Thanks for the RT Kate!

  • SpinSucks

    JonMikelBailey SaraJeanne06 I freaking love that movie!! “Wait a minute Doc…Are you telling me (fill in the blank here)”

    • JonMikelBailey

      SpinSucks you built a time machine out of a Delorean?

      • SpinSucks

        JonMikelBailey Oh I could go on for days!! “So does it run on regular unleaded gasoline?”

        • JonMikelBailey

          SpinSucks “Is there a problem with Earth’s gravitational pull in the future? Why is everything so heavy?”

      • @JonMikelBailey SpinSucks I would still love to own a Delorean. My dad actually worked with the gentleman that designed it.

    • SaraJeanne06

      SpinSucks JonMikelBailey

      • JonMikelBailey

        SaraJeanne06 SpinSucks No one’s voice cracks quite like Michael J. Fox’s does.

  • erikj

    Smart #PR advice: RT tressalynne: Love it! Lessons from Marty McFly by SaraJeanne06 via SpinSucks

    • Sjeanne06

      @erikj tressalynne SaraJeanne06 SpinSucks Thanks so much Erik! I appreciate the RT!

  • SaraJeanne06

    tressalynne SpinSucks Thanks so much for the RT and kind words!

  • SaraJeanne06

    PublicRelay Thanks for the RT!!

  • SaraJeanne06

    isitacordero Thanks for the RT! What’s your favorite Back to the Future quote?

    • isitacordero

      SaraJeanne06 Thanks to you, Sara! All of them really, cause´ I thinks it´s a great post! Sorry, my english, can read it, but can´t write it

  • SaraJeanne06

    beamingbohemian Thanks for the RT! #goteamPR

  • SaraJeanne06

    MENGonline ginidietrich Thanks for the RT!

  • Love this!

    • Sjeanne06

      @Dayngr Thanks so much!!!

  • SpinSucks

    LisaGulasy I love Marty McFly!!! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • LisaGulasy

      SpinSucks Me too! Glad you enjoyed.

  • SaraJeanne06

    VictorCanada Thanks for the RT!!

  • We are on the learning curve together, Sara. I’ve been a mechanical engineer, a software developer, a data architect, and an executive.
    I’ve never been in marketing or PR – account management has been the closest in regards to hitting the streets/conferences/user groups to build brand awareness…with no marketing budget, of course.
    Social is much easier for me because it seems “common sense” to establish social proof with expertise, good citizenship, and success stories. I’m much more comfortable having someone assess us based upon content vs me trying to sell them something (I suck at Sales…and actually wrote a blog post about it).
    Time will tell if I can use social to effectively tell our story and develop more clients. I still think it is harder in the B2B world or when you are competing against an incumbent product w/major mindshare and limitless budget. Meanwhile, I want the floating skateboard…DeLoreans are always breaking down!

    • Sjeanne06

      dbvickery “I’m much more comfortable having someone assess us based upon content vs. me trying to sell them something.” So true!  Let your content “speak” for you; as long as it’s good content! 🙂
      I’m with you on the floating skateboard – but, just make sure you get the one that can float over water!

  • I think the ability to see the big picture and recognize cultural shifts is part of the PR DNA Sara. We see the changes in technology, in work and in play, how people live and how organizations work with people. We’re all about improvising, adapting — because we’ve always had to. Good luck catching up – and welcome back. 🙂 And FWIW even though I haven’t been away, I wish I had a time machine to go back and pay more attention to trends and changes as they were happening, how ahead of the curve would I be now!

    • Sjeanne06

      3HatsComm I totally agree!  I think we will ALWAYS be on a “learning curve” in this industry… it’s just part of the role.  One of the trickiest things is that it’s hard to say which of all of the new “trends” will be the ones that stick… there’s just so many of them coming out every day!  
      Thankfully, there are tons of resources out there to help navigate this crazy word! Good luck to you, also!

  • SaraJeanne06

    Appinions Thanks for the share!

  • SaraJeanne06

    SarahEChamp Thanks for the share!

  • AceConcierge

    joycecherrier Morning Joyce!! Thank you for the RT! Cheers to a fab Friday

  • Kimcan1

    I totally agree – I was in the same boat – coming back to the public relations industry after a 5 year hiatus. My concern is that our industry is still coming to terms with the impact and opportunities presented by social media – while this is happening, others are taking over ‘our turf’. PR practitioners should be at the forefront of social – they are amazing and powerful tools for engagement and communication with stakeholders.

    • Sjeanne06

      Kimcan1 It’s an interesting conversation, isn’t it?  There is literally no time between when news happens and when it hits audiences.  On top of that, audiences can engage immediately and with a lot of impact.  I agree that as PR professionals we need to learn to embrace social media into our outreach.  It’s just a lot to wrap my head around!

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