Posted on June 15, 2017
Not until the end of my sophomore year did I figure out I wanted to major in public relations. I tried liberal arts- that was a no, I tried advertising- that was a no, but when I came around to taking a few PR classes, I liked being able to present in front of an audience (hello theatrical background!) and both technical and creative writing styles.
I quickly learned that if I wanted to land a job somewhere down the line, I needed to network like a crazy person. So I did. I went to every networking event I could, had countless people look over my resume, and kept hustling to get good grades while working long hours at Nordstrom. A few classes that really helped me understand what PR was all about was my campaigns class and my Chicago agencies class at DePaul. From learning in my classes, I started interning at a boutique firm, and when I say boutique, I mean a strong boss lady one woman show. I learned how to write a press release, what a media list was, and how to pitch media. After I graduated from DePaul, I later landed my first internship at Weber Shandwick, a global PR agency in the Hancock with 300+ employees. This was quite the culture shock let alone being able to comprehend how one agency can have so many clients. PR is all about work hard, play hard, and Weber knew how to have fun. At times you can feel a bit lost with so many people because we all want to stand out a little bit, don’t we? A lot of us interning were friends which was nice- we ate lunch together and went to happy hours after work.. living out our interning days in its best form. It was great to be able to work on reputable brands and feel like you were in the heart of corporate America straight out of college, but PR internships like to take you on a roller coaster ride, so I kept on networking and trying my best.
Then I interned at Olson: a 75 person mid-size agency with cool clients in a lofted space in west loop. Here I felt like everyone knew who each other was and could joke around the office. The work I was able to do was so hands on because the teams were smaller, so the more exposure for me the better! I decided after interning at Olson I liked the smaller office vibe. Everyone was friends, they had fun, and did great work.
We are almost there! Then I received a job offer at MSL. The coolest thing about MSL is it’s a global agency but with such a tight knit, boutique feel. There are about 35 employees in our office, and the best part is everyone is friends. I tell my work pals I count my blessings because I found great coworkers, and great friends too.. and sometimes those are hard to come by! Funny story: before I knew what PR or advertising was, I always envisioned myself working for Leo Burnett, not because I knew what I wanted, but because to me, Leo Burnett was the place to be if you wanted to be the catalyst of advertising (hello naive 20 year old self…). Little did I know a few years later I would be working in the Leo Burnett building, working with PR pros and advertising creatives and strategists in such an integrated way.
So I will say this, big or small, PR pros know how to have fun. I do think there is something to be said about being at a smaller agency: you are more hands on which only benefits you in the long run, and you get noticed pretty easily. It’s also cool to work at an agency where you have a mix of clients both national and local to Chicago. I did a round up of pros and cons for all agency sizes from my experiences- and I hope you find the perfect PR agency fit if you are looking to enter agency life!
Boutique Firm: 1-10 people. You will see every task from the beginning to end and you have to be willing to get down into the nitty gritty. Great way to learn about the industry quick if you are new to it! Very fast paced and sometimes overwhelming if you are new but don’t be afraid! Smaller clients and sometimes smaller budgets mean lots of creative thinking and workarounds. 🙂
Mid-Size Firm: 15-75 people. Great client exposure and great brand recognition with all the perks. Small enough to be noticed yet big enough to execute ideas that might be a little more costly.
Full Size Agency: 100+ people. Brands with budgets and great perks. What I found at large agencies is that it is a great place to network and maintain relationships. You never know who you might run into down the line. Sometimes you might feel lost in the mix, but easy solve because you can get your hustle on and do great work.
Questions? Thoughts? Concerns? Ask away!
Posted on April 11, 2017
Reality TV has been a hot topic for me lately. While I don’t often talk about work, I spend a lot of time with clients developing reality TV shows from start to finish. It is something I just fell into and wound up loving. While each project is unique and exciting, it has also jaded me from watching TV like a normal person. With every new scene, I watch it through a “man behind the camera” lens.
Last week, I chatted with Mary Mel of WRUW about my love for Erika Jayne, work and the change of going back to school to get my masters in PR/AD. Reality TV, more specifically Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, has always been my guilty pleasure. When I am stressed, I numb my brain with their complaints about their 15 nannies and gossipy glam sessions.
With so many people consuming reality TV and a new show popping up every week, I wanted to share some behind the scenes facts and tips on how to land your own TV show and what really goes down behind the camera, because let’s be real: I know some of you lead crazy enough lives to deserve a camera crew.
1 | Although it is “reality,” nothing is unplanned. Every conversation is sketched out in a plot-line. While this does not mean scripted, there is a general guide of what the subjects will talk about and when. If the producer does not catch a scene exactly as they need it, the subjects may be asked to create it again. On a different note, even late night talk shows are scripted. Producers will check with a celebrities publicist to get talking points and the host will rehearse them with the interviewee.
2 | Reality TV shows seek out “flawed” individuals. Whether it is having a harsh temper or being terrified of flying, you bet that producer is going to pick on your weaknesses. Take a TV show like The Bachelor for example, there can only be one winner. That means that of the 30 girls in the cast each season, only a few can be “normal.” They have to fill the season with other tune-in worthy stuff to keep viewership high, and that means c.r.a.z.y. Imperfections set you apart- sometimes in a good way.
3 | You only see a small portion of the action. Something that drives me crazy is when I see hundreds of angry tweets about a specific moment on a show and in reality producers are master manipulators. They have 50 hours of video content, and cut together different scenes into a half hour episode. If someone gets eliminated on a talent show for bombing, remember that all of their applause could have been cut out and they could have been eliminated simply because they weren’t as interesting as other contestants.
4 | A show cast or contestants on a talent show are chosen to play specific “characters.” People are cast to fill specific roles, for example “the mean girl” or the “girl next-door.” The cast signs onto these roles and agrees to play to that role for the camera. Ex. Corinne from The Bachelor.
5 | Getting a show picked up by a network isn’t easy. Having a show go from concept to on air can take many, many years. Typically, a production house will fund your concept and then try to sell it to a network. People think it is glamorous, but in reality it is a lot of waiting around! There are many different ways that a network can order a TV show, so it changes depending on the case. Your best bet for getting picked up for a TV show is to send an email directly to a production company, such as Story Monster, to see if they are developing anything.
Obviously every case is different and some shows are filmed with honesty, but a large chunk of the TV we consume on a daily basis follows these steps.
Did you know any of these things before? What is your take on reality TV?
Posted on March 6, 2017
More often than not I receive the question “So you’re in public relations. What do you do?” and part of what brought Al + I together is our different backgrounds in PR – she has her own biz and I work in a public relations agency (hello corporate America!). Let me start off by saying: PR is fun. I think across all PR agencies, it’s the mindset of “work hard, play hard” that gets you through the day and everyone’s combined hard work really pays off.
So again, what is it that I do? Anyone looking to get into PR but not sure what it entails? I broke down a few crucial parts to what makes up being a public relations professional along with a few tips I’ve learned so far in my career.
Ever wonder why your local FOX news covered the grand opening of the new grocery store down the street and interviewed by standers and C suite execs of the grocery store chain? Chances are they are working with a public relations agency with the goal of spreading the word about their grocery store on a local and national level. Now why is the grand opening of a new grocery store interesting you ask? That is where us PR wizards enter the scene. Our goal is to think not only creatively, but strategically. Does the Chief Marketing Officer of the grocery store brand have any local ties to the community? Does the company support a foundation that would entice more customers to shop there over it’s competitors? PR people take all of these angles into consideration when we are calling the producer of FOX news, ABC, NBC etc. because they want to know “Why is this story interesting?” and “Why does this story matter?” If we only have 30 seconds to speak with the producer: we better be ready to give a five star elevator pitch and make it the most exciting story to date.
Since the world is turning into a digital, always plugged in society, we are also finding the perfect online news outlets that both you and I read. If the grand opening of the grocery store was happening in Orange County (southern California), our target consumer probably reads The Orange County Register online and in print. It’s our job as experts to find the editor who is writing about similar events, get in contact with them, and again explain to them why this story is important and why it’s something they should share with their audience.
You might be wondering: do we pay the OC register to post about the grocery store grand opening? The answer is no. PR is free publicity. (*Note this is different than an advertisement.) The grocery store brand is paying my agency to hustle and get the word out about the grand opening. This means having write ups in well known outlets that have millions of monthly readers. If I had a friend post on her Facebook about the event, it would only reach the number of friends she has on FB. We want to earn the most impressions for this story so we go for the heavy hitters that make the most sense. In other words I am not going to pitch the San Francisco Examiner for an event happening in Orange County– it doesn’t make sense and unfortunately no one really cares in SF.
I am in such a cool position at my job. I am the hybrid child at work being half consumer and half digital focused. In the PR landscape of things, digital experience is quickly evolving into something everyone needs to be an expert in. That being said, I work on different influencer programs with my consumer clients. I help find the right bloggers with the right audience that is the best fit for the brand. I help draft content briefs so our bloggers feel well equipped with relevant information about the brand when they go to write and really am the day to day liaison between our blogger friends and the brand to make sure they feel good about their post and are producing engaging, relevant content.
Happy client + happy blogger + happy team = winning.
One of my clients for example, sells baking products. Through lots of research, I help find the perfect food blogger that 1) fits well with the brand and likes to bake 2) has strong photography skills 3) her audience is engaged with her content on both her blog and social channels and 4) is affordable for our brand to sponsor. Once all of these boxes are checked, I work with the blogger on selecting a recipe that most likely centers around a holiday (for example, cinnamon rolls for a Christmas brunch) and will resonate best with their audience. I am also the one reviewing their content to make sure it fits the brand’s voice, and when the post goes live, we later report on her metrics! (Views, engagements, likes, shares etc.)
It has been really neat so far on my blogging journey to incorporate what I am learning at my PR job into my blog posts on Al + Lex and working with brands that best fit into my lifestyle. Of course I want to share information about products that I use in my daily routine, whether it be relating to fashion, fitness, beauty, travel or PR.
For example, one product I came across is Felix Gray. Think of Felix Gray as the go to eye wear for people who work (and stare) at a computer all day. I am quickly raising my hand volunteering as tribute as I am always staring at a screen whether it be at work or for blogging. I wear my “Nash” style Felix Grays at work and when I am elsewhere typing up my blog posts. Before I started wearing my FG’s, I would ask myself “am i slowly going blind?” due to blurry vision throughout the day even when I was wearing my contacts! My Felix Gray eye wear has helped me alleviate eye strain by eliminating glares and filtering blue light.
FG sources their acetate (fiber used to make textiles) from Varese, Italy – a region with a 100+ year reputation for producing the world’s nicest acetates (think along the lines of Oliver Peoples). They did a ton of research and started working with a firm to create the perfect lens, which does not use a coating to deflect blue light like other brands might, but filters the high-energy light by using a synthesized pigment naturally produced by the human body and adds it directly into the lens material. What I also love about this brand is that it is so affordable. The lens itself would typically cost $300+ from an eye doctor, and we all know that frames can be so expensive these days! Felix Gray is its own efficient tech company and with that, keeps the prices low and affordable while selling a quality product.
My favorite part about PR is we get to brainstorm and think of creative ideas for brands in hopes to tell a story, make an impact, and engage with consumers. We want our brands to resonate in the minds of consumers and create a campaign that lasts instead of being a one and done moment. The mind of a PR person is always churning with thoughts: How can we get through the clutter for our client? What is the next big thing in social media? How can we make a statement? What does the brand need the most? What can we do that no one else is doing?
When we are planning for the next year for our clients or have a new business pitch we are going after, we have numerous brainstorms to hear the ideas of our fellow coworkers. Ten heads is better than one and I personally love hearing everyone’s ideas because everyone comes from a different background, bringing fresh ideas to the room.
In short, I love my job and the work I get to be involved in. If you are looking to get into PR, I recommend joining your local Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) chapter, grab coffee with someone who works in an agency who’s clients intrigue you, and most importantly be open to anything when it comes to PR. You will learn so much that goes beyond a job description that will help you both in the workspace and in your everyday life.
Smiling big as I wrap up this post because I love what I get to do and I hope with whatever you do as a career or hobby, you love it too.
Complimentary product was included in this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Photography by Brittany Benson.
Posted on May 26, 2015
In a two part guest series, Ashley Altstadt let’s you in on her tips and recommendations for going after what you want, and ultimately landing a coveted spot in the fashion industry. This is part II.
Do as much as you can on the side.
When I’m not at my current job, I’m writing for online fashion magazines. Start a blog, take photos and show off your work anyway that you can. Companies want to see someone that takes the time to do what they love. Having a blog will also show off your personality and point of view to future employers.
Dress the part.
When you’re trying to land your dream job, you want to be taken seriously. I always go for a tailored pant or a midi dress for an interview. Employers want to see that you can put yourself together, but you also have your own personal style. Don’t wear too much jewelry, keep it light on the make-up, and always wear heels that you feel confident in.
Before every interview I always research the company inside and out. You want to impress these future employers by knowing the company background and philosophies. Doing your homework shows that you’re serious about the job.
Be smart on social media.
Make sure that you’re putting out a positive image of yourself on every social media platform. Employers will look there first to see what you’re like and who you are. I always stick to classy and respectable posts because you never know who is looking. Social media has become the largest representations of ourselves whether we like it or not.
I’ve learned that being nice to people will get you further in life than anything else. Always be pleasant, be nice to everyone you meet and SMILE! Also, HAVE FUN! Fashion is supposed to be creative, artistic and exciting.