012 – Roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches – Megan Driscoll of EvolveMKD

Founder and CEO of EvolveMKD public relations agency, Megan Driscoll discusses what drew her to a career in public relations, what the future holds for PR and marketing, and the interplay between media relations and social media.  She also provides frank advice to those who are starting (or thinking about starting) a career in PR:  “Roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches.”

Episode 012 - Roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches. - Megan Driscoll

Starting a PR agency:

Megan shares surprising lessons she learned from starting her own business three years ago, including the importance of rallying people around your effort, and the challenge of gaining access to credit to fund the business.

As a business owner, she likes controlling her destiny, choosing who to work with and who to hire, how to invest in the business, and whether to expand.

Why a career in public relations?

When working on an internship, Meagan says that she essentially fell into a career in public relations after her boss suggested it as a good career opportunity.  She loves how dynamic this kind of work can be, as well as how you get a behind-the-scenes view of other industries and companies.

Advice for a successful career:

We have to continue to learn and grow, and we must be willing to always be challenged.  As technology changes, and we consume news and media in new ways, communications professionals have to adapt.  We also need to become adept at balancing the needs of our agency with those of our clients and the media.

Megan recommends that young PR professionals get well-rounded, diverse experience, especially early in our careers.  This will help us avoid getting pigeon-holed as having expertise only in one particular area, such as digital, media relations, writing press releases, handling budgets, developing strategy, and so forth.  PR pros need a wide range of tools and skills; developing them early and continuing to improve them throughout a career helps us be more effective at our jobs and provides a distinct advantage in the job market.

She also recommends taking writing classes (especially business writing) and paying attention to detail.  Megan noted that “if your best-foot-forward includes typos, that’s not good enough.”

In addition to developing solid writing skills, we should also “get comfortable with numbers” by taking classes in accounting, financials, and statistics.  “You have to have an understanding and appreciation for math,” Megan advises.

When speaking with new college grads, Megan tells them to “Be ready to work, roll up your sleeves, and get in the trenches.”  You grow and learn by having a lot thrown at you.

Some of the things that can be frustrating about working in public relations include a lack of education among potential clients, who don’t know what PR is now and how it has changed in a digital environment).  In addition to educating clients about the full range of benefits that PR can bring to the table, Megan also works with clients to broaden their understanding of what PR encompasses and how it can be a valuable voice of reason.

The importance of reputation management:

“Our job as communications professionals is to gently remind business leaders that you can say whatever you want, but if you don’t have the proof to back it up, you shouldn’t be saying it.”  As communication specialists, we help ensure they have thought through what they want to say and how they should act.

“Good PR people want their company or client to speak the truth; that’s an important part of the job.”

Megan noted that some clients can be short-sighted when thinking about the effect of their communication.  “The energy you put out there, the words you put out there, and the actions you put out there carry weight and have business implications.”

Advice to business leaders:

  • You can’t just talk the talk, you also have to walk the walk.
  • Think about what is behind a clever or fun campaign; what will you need to do from an operations perspective to reinforce the campaign’s message?
  • Media relations and social engagement must work together.
  • What do your leadership teams look like?  Do they reflect the consumers you’re trying to reach?

Understanding your customers:

“If you don’t interact with the people you’re trying to sell to, how can you have an effective strategy?”  Engaging your customers (and other publics!) and listening to them is a really effective way to understand their values, needs, wants, opinions, and attitudes.

Genius PR move:

Alyssa Milano’s (@Alyssa_Milano) support for the #MeToo movement on social media helped  drive real, meaningful discussion.

… and a not-so-genius PR move:

United Airlines’ handling of the removal of a passenger from a plane and the communications follow-up.  Bad operational decision made worse by ineffective communication afterward.  How could this have been handled better?

An example of a company making a mistake, but handling the aftermath well was Alaska Airlines’ (@AlaskaAir) prompt, on-target handling of Randi Zuckerberg’s (@randizuckerberg) complaint about sexual harassment by a fellow passenger.  The airline took immediate accountability, was open and public about it, and resolved the issue in a classy way.

Lesson: 

Just because you make a mistake, doesn’t mean you’re doomed; you have to own the problem, proactively acknowledge and solve it, and communicate with clarity and compassion.  Showing you genuinely care in this way keeps a mistake from turning into a crisis.

Megan noted how most “PR crises” actually start as operational issues that are mishandled.

What does the future hold for PR and marketing?

From Megan’s perspective, PR and social media are so intertwined that they will require integrated communication strategies.  Communications must be integrated and consistent for an organization to truly have a positive reputation.

Megan’s must-have tools:

  • Cell phone (it’s an appendage!)
  • Laptop
  • Mophie battery packs to keep mobile devices charged, so you can keep working and also stay connected
  • Cision, to create media lists, identify journalists who might be interested in covering your story, and keep track of your history of engagements with journalists (using Cision as a Customer Relationship Management tool)
  • Access to social media platforms

Speaking of using social media for research:

Megan uses social media tools like Twitter, which provides a great resource for understanding what stories reporters are working on, what competitors are doing, and for following the news

In addition to using Twitter for research, she uses groups on Facebook and Instagram to stay engaged with other communication professionals and journalists.

Helping clients avoid the shiny object syndrome:

With new social media platforms appearing almost daily, it seems as if everyone wants to be on Snapchat, or whatever the new hotness happens to be.  But just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it will fit.  Unless you’re trying to reach teens and those in their early 20s, Snapchat probably is not right for you or your company.  As Megan put it, “Snapchat is not the tool to sell anti-aging products.”  Truly.

Facebook might not be cool anymore, but it might be a great tool, depending on who you’re trying to reach and to what effect.

Megan noted that, “Having great media relationships isn’t enough to be a great PR person, you also need to understand the consumer your client is trying to reach.”  That understanding will help identify the appropriate media and engagement activities you should pursue.

EvolveMKD projects:

One of Megan’s clients, Lia Diagnostics, won TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield at Disrupt 2017 in Berlin with the first major update of the pregnancy test since it was created in the 70’s.

EvolveMKD also is working with Merz USA, another client, on a partnership with Christie Brinkley.

Finally, look for Megan’s new book, which will come out in Spring 2018!


Before closing out this episode, I want to give a shout out to Sam, who recently rode to work with me and shared her inspirational story. I wish you luck and I’ll be looking for you on House of Cards!

I’d also like to dedicate this episode to Lou Williams, who was a guest on episode 4, “What’s Wrong With PR?”  Sadly, Lou passed away recently.

Dr. Tina McCorkindale, President & CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, said,

“Over the holidays, we lost a great leader and friend to the field … Lou Williams was an integral part of the Institute for Public Relations.  He served as an IPR Trustee starting in 2002, thanks to being recruited by his friend Ward White, who passed away in 2016.  In 2007, he became an Honorary Trustee and continued to be engaged until his death. Lou made tremendous contributions to the IPR Measurement Commission and served as an IPR Research Fellow.  When I first started my role at IPR, Lou told me his call to action would be how to better interest, educate, and engage practitioners around research.  He started doing this more than 30 years ago with a two-day conference he created in the 1980s, along with writing his best-selling book Communication Research, Measurement and Evaluation:  A Practical Guide for Communicators.

Speaking personally, I can honestly say that we are all much better for having known and worked with Lou, and we will miss him greatly.  I first met Lou as we enjoyed a lobster feast at Katie Paine’s farm in New Hampshire years ago. He was a kind and generous soul with a brilliant intellect.  Lou, this episode is for you!


Thank you, my wonderful listener, for spending this time with me and for being an important part of this community!  Please let me know what you think by leaving a rating and review on iTunes, by dropping me a line, or by sending a voicemail with that handy little orange button on the right (yes, that one).


How to contact Megan:

Instagram:  @megankcraig

Twitter:  @mkdrisco

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/EvolveMKD/

Website:  evolvemkd.com

EvolveMKD main number:  (646) 517-4220

Media inquiries:  media@evolvemkd.com

Jobs at EvolveMKD:  careers@evolvemkd.com

New Business Inquiries:  info@evolvemkd.com


About Megan:

Megan Driscoll is a sought-after strategic media and communications professional with nearly 16 years of experience in healthcare, aesthetics and dermatology, and prestige beauty.  Key to her success is Megan’s ability to always find a way.  She finds potential in every opportunity for her clients through determination, relationships, agility, and sound strategy coupled with a creative spirit.

Megan has cultivated relationships with physicians, consumers, key opinion leaders, and taste-makers to gain her clients national  recognition.  At the end of the day, Megan wants to surround herself with smart, passionate people who value integrity — people who are serious about their work, but don’t take themselves too seriously.  This philosophy is at the heart of founding EvolveMKD, where Megan provides day-to-day client counsel, strategic direction, and a savvy eye for what makes news and who can make the news happen.

About EvolveMKD:

Evolve’s chief capabilities range from traditional public relations (PR) campaigns to social media content creation, platform management and metrics reporting to physician and influencer relations.

EvolveMKD is a tight-knit collection of storytellers, brand builders and caretakers, data crunchers, media hounds, digital strategists, and collaborators.  They operate as an extension of your team, getting to know your brand, your work, and your customers.  They will work directly with you to develop an effective campaign to meet your brand’s needs and strengthen the connection between you and your customers.

003: Prof Dustin Supa on The Dude Deficit in Public Relations

Prof Dustin Supa - Don’t assume people know what you do in Public Relations

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Prof. Dustin Supa’s key points:

  • 80%-90% of Public Relations undergraduate students are women.
  • Most of the male undergraduate PR students had a prior exposure to PR.
  • Teachers are uncomfortable teaching PR, because they don’t know what it is.
  • Public Relations is a field with a PR problem.
  • Public Relations is not diverse enough, either demographically or in diversity of thought.

Transcript:

Mark:               Hey, welcome back to Better PR Now. This is Episode three. I recently caught up with Prof. Dustin Supa of Boston’s University College of Communication. He was presenting the findings from a pilot research project that explored ‘The Dude Deficit’ in undergraduate public relations classrooms; why are so few young men choosing to major in public relations, as opposed to related fields like marketing and journalism? Dustin’s research points to an explanation and suggests some ways to address this issue.

                            I’m here at the International Public Relations Research Conference in Miami Florida, and I’m joined by Dr. Dustin Supa, from Boston University. We’re going to dive into a study that he presented here with his research partner Liza Moskowitz, who was a 2015 undergraduate alumni at Boston University’s Public Relations Program.

                            The title of the study was An Examination of Undergraduate Males’ Reticence to Study Public Relations. Dustin welcome.

Dr. Dustin Supa:       Thank you very much.

Mark:               Okay, let’s jump on this study, because I think there’s a lot of really interesting things to unpack out of it. So, tell me about the study; how did you do it and what did you find?

Dustin:               Well, the study originally came from the concept that you keep reading all these non-empirical studies or anecdotal information, particularly in a lot of trade pubs about how we need more men in public relations. Why do we have so few men? And, you know, this kind of concept of the PR girl, right? Everybody has the picture in their mind when we use that. And that’s really become, at least at the entry level, the kind of dominant paradigm.

If you have a public relations entry level job open, you might have one male apply, but you might have 200 females apply.

Mark:               And your experience in the classroom?

Dustin:               And the experience in the classroom is that, if you have more than one male student in your classroom, depending on the size of class, you’re impressed because you just don’t see that very often.

So that’s why I wanted to kind look at it and say, “Okay, maybe we should take an empirical look at this; is there something there?”

We know that 60% of students going to college are women. But that doesn’t account for why 80% or 90% of students in public relations are female. So there’s the deficit, ‘the dude deficit,’ if you will.

Working with Liza, we did a lot of background research. And first of all, there’s not an issue with too many women in public relations; the issue is not enough men in public relations. So we’ve got to be clear on that, because women traditionally had not been in roles of leadership and I think that’ll change over time, given our numbers right now.

We wanted to see if there were any systemic reasons why we were not seeing men. So we looked at 262 undergraduate males representing 62 institutions, so it was a fairly broad spectrum.

Mark:               So this was not limited to Boston?

Dustin:               No, this was nationwide. There were Boston University students, and there were other Boston-area schools, but it was all across the country.

We wanted to see and we wanted to find male undergraduate public relations majors. Male undergraduate communication majors, not public relations, so maybe in advertising or journalism, or even to some degree marketing, and then undergraduate males who were not in communication, not in public relations, so we kind of had three groups set up.

And what we found was that the males who were undergraduate public relations majors really seemed to have a solid grasp of the field. They seemed to understand what public relations did. The understood the upward mobility, they understood the job openings pretty well. So, the males who are doing public relations seem to get in it and they seem to have a high opinion of the field. The issue was not that they’re being driven out of public relations, because the ones who were in public relations really seemed to like the field.

Mark:               So it’s not that they’re leaving; they’re just never coming in.

Dustin:               They’re just never coming in. We did find that the other communication majors, non-public relations, also seemed to have – not to the same degree, but also seemed to have a pretty strong understanding of the public relations industry, had a fairly high perception, not as high as those in the field. But it doesn’t really surprise us that a journalism major may not think as highly of public relations as a public relations major, so again not super surprising because they had some knowledge.

But really the non-communication, the non-public relations majors, the evaluation of the field was significantly lower of those in the field. They did not perceive public relations as something that they wanted to do. They did not perceive public relations as a field that had financial stability.

They basically looked at public relations through the lens of shows like Scandal or Sex and the City, or saw public relations as mostly as event planners, social media stuff and just media relations, so they see the tactics of public relations and they’re not interested in those tactics.

But one of the things that we found that was really interesting was that most of the students who were in public relations came to it because they had a prior exposure.

Mark:               Did you get any sense for what what that prior exposure might be?

Dustin:               Usually it was a family member or a family friend or somebody that they knew was in public relations. And that’s where most of the people said, “Yeah, that’s interesting.” The other thing was they had found it after they had been another major. I mean the average undergraduate changes majors seven times.

Eventually public relations may or may not have been one of them. One of the questions we had was, “Have you ever been a public relations major?” The non-communications majors, no, but some of the communications majors had been public relations at one point. So some of them were leaving, but I don’t think that’s really one of the issues, because they tend to move around a lot. And some of them had been other majors before they were in public relations.

So they’re finding out about public relations usually in the first communication class. Well, if a student comes in and doesn’t take communication classes or doesn’t take an intro-level communication class, they’re probably not being exposed to public relations. When we started digging into it like, “Why don’t you want to be in public relations?” and more than 70% of them never heard of it.

One of the things that we think potentially could be, not the solution, but a solution is to see what we can do about increasing exposure and getting factual information out there. Not just the cultural perception of public relations, but factual information about public relations, because a lot of our students were in marketing. And marketing aligns perfectly with what I want to do. Well, great, but there are enough elements of public relations that you shouldn’t be saying, I’m in marketing because it aligns perfectly with what I want to do, and then strongly disagreeing about public relations aligns with what I want to do.

There may still be a discrepancy there, but there should be that much of a discrepancy. Obviously, they’re different fields but they’re not so entirely different that they should be at the opposite ends of the spectrum.

One of the things that we looked at is, could we offer some exposure programs either at the high school level, most people were taking journalism in high school. And most people maybe even get some kind of principles of marketing or some business level type of course in high schools, but there are no public relations.

And in fact, one of the comments that I heard during the discussion was that teachers are uncomfortable teaching public relations, because they don’t know what it is. And we have a hard enough time finding our own field just to our friends and family, but how do we then try to educate others on public relations? It’s not just talking to the media. It’s not just planning events. It’s not these things, but we need to be able to say here’s what it is. And that’s one of the solution that we think might help start addressing.

I don’t think we’re ever going to have equality and we may or may not be on the tipping point. I don’t ever think we’re going to have a 50/50 split of males versus females, but 80/20, 90/10 that’s not healthy for the field either.

Mark:               So, if you put on your prescriptive hat and you look at the academy, and you look at the world of professionals who are out practicing, do you have recommendations for things that they can do, either on the academic side or on the professional side, to start to mitigate this? To make the profession more widely known and to make it more attractive to a truly diverse audience of folks who are potential students and future practitioners or professionals?

Dustin:               I think one of the things that all practitioners should do is understand that they are in a field that has a public relations problem. And what are they doing as individuals to help that situation? I think if we can recognise that, “Hey, I’m in public relations and public relations may not have the best perception. What can I do to change that?”

Could I go to my kid’s career day? Could I offer to speak to a class, or is my company involved with something that is a pro bono client or charity organization that deals with children? Is there something that I come in and say, “Hey, here’s what we are helping with, and here’s what we do.”

So it’s not even a matter of doing stuff that’s so outlandish. I don’t think that we should necessarily be trying to weasel our way into high schools to find people. But if there are opportunities where I have some younger people or high school students, I’ll take the 30 seconds to say here’s what I do.

Or if I’m out doing something and someone asks, “What do you do?” “I’m in public relations.” Well maybe you add a sentence. So, instead of saying “I’m in public relations,” maybe at the end of the sentence saying, “I’m in public relations and here’s what I do on a regular basis …” to help explain to people what it is that you do.

So, I’m in public relations and I help manage the relationship between this organization and this group of people. Or I am involved with promoting the work that is done by this non-profit organization, or something like that.

And I think that if we can just add that second sentence and not assume that people know what you do when you say, “I’m in public relations.” I think even that starts the ball rolling in a simple way; those are some simple steps.

Mark:               Brilliant. Is there anything else you would like to add about the study, or the next steps on the research side, or the next steps to address the issue?

Dustin:               Well, I think the important thing is to recognise with this particular study, is it’s totally a pilot. Right? We didn’t look at comparing men and women. We just wanted to start seeing some empirical data. So what we hope to do is to take this pilot study and then use that to get a grant to help us understand what are the bigger issues?

We have 262 responses; that’s great, but what happens when you get 5,000 responses? How do we really start winnowing down? Are there scales or are there things that we need to know that would make the difference? So, we’re at a starting point.

Mark:               What would your next questions be as you start to dive into this deeper?

Dustin:               I think what we want to do is look at the factors that went into them deciding there are other majors? What were those factors? I think if we can start seeing why people chose the major they’re in, then we can start saying, “Okay, what can we now do about that?” But, we are going to need bigger samples. And there are existing scales that do that.

We are just going to come at it from, “Okay, how do we address this lack of diversity?” And diversity is obviously an issue in public relations anyway. But diversity comes in many styles. Because we are primarily a female field, that doesn’t make us diverse; that actually makes us less diverse. We do have a severe lack of African Americans and Hispanics in public relations. If we were 100% African Americans, we would not be diverse then. So we’re looking at this from [the perspective of] “How do we make public relations truly a diverse field?”

Mark:               You have diversity when your profession or your group mirrors the same diversity in the larger society, and we’re not there.

Dustin:               We’re not there, and one of the bigger challenges though, I think, is not only mirroring the diversity in society at large, but also understanding that diversity is not necessarily a category you can see. True diversity means that eventually you have diversity of thought, and that’s really where we need to head towards.

Mark:               Great. Thank you so much for this opportunity. I love this topic.                       

—-

Thanks for joining us for this conversation about a topic that really is so important to our profession. I think Dustin really is onto something here, and I can’t wait to hear what he finds out in the larger study.

As public relation professionals, whether we’re on the academic side, the practitioner side, or have a foot in both worlds, we all have a stake in this issue. And we can take action to make a difference right now.

I’m going to take Dustin’s advice to help more young people understand what public relations really is about. The more people understand our profession the more it will be seen as a viable career choice for both men and women from every background.

The diversity of perspectives is really important to the future of our profession. Will you join me in this effort?

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Thanks for taking this journey with me as we improve public relations one conversation at a time. I’ll catch you on the next episode!