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Sara Rude

Public Relations: Lessons from Marty McFly

By: Sara Rude | April 11, 2013 | 
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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.

56 comments
Kimcan1
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.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

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!

dbvickery
dbvickery

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!

tnfletch
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!

allenmireles
allenmireles

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. :)

yvettepistorio
yvettepistorio

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
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!

Sjeanne06
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!

Sjeanne06
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!

isitacordero
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

Sjeanne06
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!  

Sjeanne06
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! 

Sjeanne06
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! :)

aimeelwest
aimeelwest

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

belllindsay
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. :) 

JonMikelBailey
JonMikelBailey

@SpinSucks "Is there a problem with Earth's gravitational pull in the future? Why is everything so heavy?"

aimeelwest
aimeelwest

@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
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!

Sjeanne06
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
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. 

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