June 02, 2004

PR Career Tips: Making Upper Management Appreciate Your Work

SUMMARY: PR and corporate communications can be an incredibly frustrating career because upper management often doesn't appreciate your work. How can you get your company to support the PR function (or failing that, land a new job?)

We interviewed Cathleen Toomey, VP Communications Stoneyfield Farms for her useful suggestions:
Stonyfield Farms, the world's largest organic yogurt manufacturer, was built solely on public relations, which means President Gary Hirshberg understands the value of PR. (In fact, until just four years ago, Stonyfield Farms had no advertising budget at all.)

Which is why PR veteran Cathleen Toomey "harassed them and harassed them" until Stoneyfield Farms hired her as VP Communications.

Previously Toomey worked client-side as VP of PR for Timberland and VP of Marketing for Babson College, among others. She also worked agency-side (which she highly recommends for any PR person) for accounts such as Chipwich, Norelco, and Rockport Shoes.

She talked with us about what to look for in a PR job and other insights she has gained throughout her career.

How to find a top-notch PR job (where you're appreciated)

Toomey wanted a PR job with two key attributes, the first being firm upper management buy-in. If upper management isn't willing to invest the time needed to build or maintain a top PR department, you may end up with a headache from butting your head against a brick wall.

Toomey is an operating team member, one of six key people at the company. "In terms of my relationship with the president, if I need his time, I get time," she says. "He's devoted a lot of time to the PR initiative."

For example, Toomey explains, she recently managed to land a story about Stonyfield in an upcoming issue of People magazine. The photo shoot alone required Hirshberg for 15 solid hours, in three different locations, in two states. "He did it because he knew it was a huge, huge opportunity," Toomey says.

Secondly, she wanted to work where there would be a story to tell. "In PR, you're always trying to talk about trends, about what's news," she says. "For a consumer products company, it's usually news about the product." At Stonyfield, because of the company's involvement with environmental and health issues, there are many programs that can be turned into PR opportunities.

How Toomey landed her current job

Once she had identified the company she wanted to work for, Toomey sent in a resume for a job she was overqualified for. She went to the interview and was told that she was overqualified (yes, she would have taken the job had it been offered.)

"The next week I went to a networking meeting and saw that there was a posting at Stonyfield, a new listing," she says. "So I called the person who had posted the job, the president's assistant."

The assistant hadn't seen Toomey's resume, so she sent it again, then called to follow up. The assistant said the resume was more marketing related when what they wanted was someone with a focus in PR.

"I said, Wait a minute, I'll send my PR resume," Toomey says. "It's the same resume, but highlighting the PR work, pointing out how even if I had a marketing title, it was still PR work." Lesson learned: Don't rely on a generic resume to present you properly for different jobs.

Once Toomey came in for that second interview, she knew she had the job: "The interview went the entire day," she says. The president invited her to stay and "jump in" on a marketing meeting, they went to lunch, and she met a number of other people before the day was out.

How to get more appreciation from upper management

If you don't work for a company that appreciates the true value of PR, Toomey has two suggestions to help you convert management into true believers:

Suggestion #1. Prove PR works

Educate management by creating an ongoing series of memos or presentations featuring metrics and anecdotal evidence to prove PR works. For example:

-- Compare the cost of advertising and the cost of a PR campaign

-- Illustrate other companies who have succeeded through PR

-- Get testimonials from customers who have switched to your brand because of the plan you have in place

-- Invest in a pre- and post-campaign brand awareness study just as you would with advertising.

-- Create your own rating system, with A, B, and C clips. "An A is a clip about the entire company, a B is valid but it's a wrap-up and includes other companies, a C is just a mention." Then measure the success of campaigns by the number of A, B, and C clips you receive.

Suggestion #2. Land a big-name story occasionally

So, while you may know a cover story in a vertical trade magazine is worth more to the bottom line than a quote in USAToday, getting mentions in household name media may help your case with upper management. It gives them bragging rights with their board, and makes them doubly excited about PR.

In Toomey's case, mainstream media are the best vehicle for her message, so we asked her how she landed the possible People story. Her tips:

-- Offer a variety of ideas

A colleague had introduced Toomey to a reporter from People at a trade show. "We started talking about all of our programs," she explains.

Back at the office, Toomey sent ideas back and forth to the reporter until she hit on an idea that got the reporter excited.

She always included national trends, outside statistics, and information on what other companies were doing. If you don't include that information, "they'll reject it out of hand," she says.

-- Never be rude…

…even if you're asked for the same information five times.

-- Be ready to leap through hoops when they call

Toomey received a call last week from a People photographer who wanted to photograph the president on his farm. "No, Gary doesn't live on a farm, but I can *get* him on a farm," she told them.

Not only that: they wanted to shoot the next day. "They wanted him milking the cow, feeding the cow, all the things Gary did at the beginning of Stonyfield," she says.

The shoot was successful (though it took twice as long as planned in freezing weather) and the story should run in next week's issue of People. Toomey's keeping her fingers crossed.

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