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PR Training Continues

A close friend has been developing a training program for interns and new hires in his company’s corporate communications, public relations, and marketing divisions. With three summer interns and three new hires, the company’s public relations department now has fourteen people; it also utilizes two outside firms to help with branding, events, tradeshows, and specialty PR. The current public relations team isn’t over-taxed, but sometimes seems at a loss of how to proceed with major initiatives without outside help. My friend wants to move away from using outside firms, but can the problem be solved by six young professionals with limited public relations experience? Yes–with a little internal espionage.

We decided that our newbies would work best in teams of two, so we paired them up: one intern with one new hire. The interns are all in their early 20s and the new hires are in their mid-20s, with one exception. (The third new hire is a thirtysomething “career-changer” we paired with the intern with the most experience in public relations.) We figured this would be our Premier Team.

Our Premier Team will be liaisons. This really means they will be spies. They will work with our outside public relations teams to glean intelligence that can be used to eventually supplant the role of the outside public relations firms with internal members. After spending two weeks learning the business, they are expected to begin their covert intelligence gathering missions.

The outside public relations firms are under contract and not doing a great job. Since they’ve been prodded in the past to do better and haven’t responded, the idea is to get what we can out of them now. To this end, we expect our Premier Team to co-opt important relationships the outside PR firms have that we don’t. For instance, one of the outside firms has gotten the company coverage in a major trade magazine a number of times. The company’s internal public relations team consistently fails in securing trade magazine coverage, so we need to co-opt the relationship.

Our next team of newbies–codenamed America’s Team–will earn the ins and outs of public relations in hopes of turning the new hires into starting pitchers. They’ll work with the internal public relations  department’s two main outgoing PR people to develop and retain contacts, learn the art of writing press releases, and learn how to get the company’s mission into print. We chose this team based on the fact that the two newbies displayed the most gregarious traits and seemed more pliable than the others.

America’s Team is expected to generate publicity for the company by their second, post-training week. We felt giving them a timetable was essential as they would push their superiors to help them learn quickly. In doing so, they could generate publicity from existing contacts.

Our final team is Team C. This is comprised of the two least experienced newbies. Team C’s job will be supporting existing internal public relations staffers in the hope that they will learn quickly and become more valuable team members down the road. At first they update media lists and collateral material, working with the marketing department. They will also sit in on meetings, receive incoming calls, and compose email pitches and responses (subject to approval before they’re sent).

At first, we felt we were giving Team C the shaft, but we quickly realized someone has to do the dirty work. Team C, once it proves itself, will work with the Premier Team to fill the gap left by the eventually departed outside PR firms. We’ve created an entirely new public relations team, in-house, that’s unburdened by the failures of the old regime. Our timetable for this change is approximately seven months, which coincidentally is when the contract expires on the more experienced outside PR firm.

As you can see, we had some fun creating this new public relations department and coming up with responsibilities for the new team members. But beneath the surface of our silly code names and sometimes CIA-esque motives is a real yearning to reshape the company’s PR department into a more flexible, talented, and well-oiled machine.

Our newbies will spend the first two weeks on the job touring the company’s various divisions. They’ll meet with technical team members to better understand how the company works; the investor relations team to understand the significance of the company’s place in the public market; the marketing team to get insight into the company’s message and what materials are at their disposal; the sales team to discuss customer feedback and how to better position the company in the media with regards to important clients; and the CEO, COO and CFO to get an understanding of the company’s upper management.

Our hope is that after this whirlwind tour, our newbies will be able to go about their duties with confidence in the company and its products. The interns and new hires will also, of course, spend a considerable amount of time learning the ropes from the current public relations team. My friend said he will oversee this process directly because in the past, he feels that the PR department has shunned newbies and “hung them out to dry more than once.”

This Friday is the newbies first day on the job. It will begin with a meeting with my friend and an introduction to the rest of the staff. The entire PR staff will then go to lunch and not return until Monday.

“Your first day should be fun,” my friend said. “Because after that, if you screw up, it won’t be much fun.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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