Skip to main content

If you’ve ever wondered about the different sectors within the PR industry, this episode is for you. Kim Marcus, a dynamic PR leader who has worked for Kin Insurance, Bob Evans Farms, ScottsMiracle-Gro, among others, shares the different verticals a PR professional can explore when starting out their career.

imPRessions Season 2 Episode #6 Transcript

Jenn: Hi Kalli, Happy Wednesday.

Kalli: Happy Wednesday Jenn.

Jenn: I have a quick question for you. Have you always known that you wanted to be in PR?

Kalli: You know, it’s funny, I actually didn’t know what PR was until I went to college and took my first PR class.

Jenn: And now that you’re in PR, is it what you imagined it to be?

Kalli: Oh, God. No. I remember the first day of my PR class because I asked around like, what is PR? And everyone’s like, the best answer I got was, oh, it’s what Samantha does on Sex in the City. So it’s very different than what I initially thought, but it’s so much better not to say I wouldn’t enjoy some fantastic clothes and a nice cocktail right now, but, you know, there’s so much more to it than that.

Jenn: Yeah, same. Same for me. I didn’t really know what it was. I kind of fell into it.

So I thought that this type of conversation would be really important and educational. We’re going to talk with Kim Marcus today. She is a PR pro. She has worked predominantly in-house at some of the biggest companies in the US. And she’s going to share some really amazing insights with us on the different niches within PR, the different subcategories, and what to look out for.

Kalli: Amazing. Well, let’s get to it.

Jenn: So you think you know, PR? Media, pitching, event planning, and messaging are just the basics. In fact, PR is a multifaceted field with various niches beyond the glamor often portrayed in popular media. Today, we’ll uncover PR’s diverse categories with Kim Marcus, a dynamic PR leader who has obtained pivotal roles at Kin Insurance, Bob Evans Farms, ScottsMiracle-Gro and Red Roof Inn, to name a few. Her experience in launching award-winning campaigns and working in diverse sectors has sparked an interesting conversation surrounding PR. What are the different fields and which one is best suited for me? Kim, thanks for joining us today and hopefully you can help us answer some of these questions.

Kim: Hey Jennifer, thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here today.

Kalli: Yes, thank you so much, Kim. So, you know, as Jenn mentioned, you’ve had quite a remarkable career. Can you give us a little bit of your backstory and dive into your experience a little bit more?

Kim: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s hard to believe this summer is actually going to mark 20 years in PR for me. When I think about it, I was like, there’s no way I’ve been in this industry this long, but I think it’s just because I’ve been very fortunate enough to work with some great brands and companies and had the opportunity to kind of stretch myself in different venues and, and avenues and niches that I never thought I would ever have the opportunity to do, or could a dream to be working on. When I was in college, you know, my junior year, taking a PR 300 level class. And then where I’m at today and the opportunities I’ve had. So for me, you know, I probably have taken a backwards approach to the industry. I think most people get out of college, you know, do an internship, go into an agency, and from there they either stay in agency life or go to move in-house and then maybe sometimes even explore nonprofit. I did the exact opposite. I actually, you know, got my master’s in arts administration, which is a kind of nonprofit management for arts organizations, and I actually started my career in a nonprofit, running a community arts center as the executive director. I did that kind of cutting my teeth on what it’s like to work with, you know, key stakeholders and community members and community leaders. I kind of figured out what I’m doing with my life, because what I learned in the classroom was very different. Very different from the classroom to actually being in it. And so I stayed in the nonprofit sector for several years, working with outside vendors and city requirements and learning how to combine and put those together. What that meant from a media relations standpoint, how we worked with artists and entertainment, and again with city guidelines. And then from there I took that actually to Red Roof Inn, and I was fortunate enough to start working with them, focusing on their Red Roof Loves Country campaign. I was planning and coordinating concerts and meet and greets at properties across the US. So really, every any given moment, I was living out of a suitcase for a couple of weeks, jet setting or driving across the country and setting up these local events, working with local media, national campaigns, hosting media tours, and really trying to early in the early years, just figure out what I’m doing.

A lot of people put themselves selves in a box, and they say, I want to do PR, and I need to write a good press release, and I need to only look at this. And I think the biggest advice I’ve given some of the people I’ve mentored over the years is really don’t say no, like, give yourself to learn because you’re going to have a chance to learn and grow, even if it was a failure, and learn and grow if it was a success. So, I just kept saying yes to all these different opportunities. And I’ve just had naturally grown into a career that was really defined in the consumer PR space, I would say. And that’s really where I’ve built and honed my skill set, particularly over the last ten years, specifically in consumer PR and leading integrated campaigns for national brands like you had mentioned Scotts and Miracle-Gro, Bob Evans Farms, and Kin Insurance, and really elevating them helping them build brand affinity and building brand advocates.

Jenn: I love that breakdown. I think you definitely hit the nail on the head. A lot of people go into PR, maybe having like a specific idea in mind of how it’s going to be. Most notably, people joke about Samantha Jones from Sex and the City, right? Like that job does not exist. Okay. Like, at all.  She just goes to these flashy events and looks beautiful all day. And that’s not really what PR is, unfortunately. And you talked a little bit about nonprofits. You know people go to crisis comms, and people work for the government. What are some of the lesser-known categories within the industry?

Kim: Yeah, so I would say I think media relations is more popular but lesser known of like being a specialty. I feel like media relations kind of just is a catch-all for PR, or that PR is more of a verb, like, you know, you do PR well, no, I do strategic communications, and there’s internal communications. And so there’s all these different unique divisions that people just don’t really think about. Community relations is a huge one. Uh, sustainability, uh, working with companies and organizations to really like, direct and define what their engagement looks like in their local communities and how they engage with organizations to support economic development, sustainability, like I mentioned, how do they really enhance the local economy and build to the greater good and highlight the benefits of the organization for being in that community as a whole? I think that’s a massive one that people kind of just glance over or overlook.

I would say another one is internal communications. And so as much as I’ve had a long career in communications, I think internal communications is really unique and specialized for that employee branding. These individuals really help become and develop advocates internally for the company, you know, react to critics or build enthusiasm. I mean, company culture is such a massive conversation in the media over these last few years, and I think internal communications specialists actually help build that company culture, and help develop ongoing programs that keep staff and employees engaged and informed. They give a platform for employees to address needs and concerns. And so it’s really specialized. And I think you really have a unique skill set to enhance that within an organization. Influencer relations and building brand ambassador partnerships is a unique specialty. I think if you’re working influencer relations, it really takes a unique skill set to build that relationship with the influencers themselves, and you have to have a very unique understanding of your brand or your company, and how authentic the partnership is between you and the influencer to really bring that to life. Not everybody and every brand needs an influencer, but I think if you do choose to have one, they need to be authentic. The relationship needs to be clear and defined because otherwise, people today will just see through a fake celebrity partnership or a “yeah, I use them” when they’re clearly reading just a script for a paycheck. And I think the only way influencer relations and influencer partnerships and celebrity partnership and brand ambassadorships really work is if it’s true and genuine and authentic to both parties involved.

Kalli: You know, I think that actually brings us to a really good point. There are so many different sectors and aspects of PR and communications. So like, you know, even from corporate communications to let’s say, crisis PR, how do different sectors differ in terms of their goals and strategies compared to a more traditional PR approach such as media relations?

Kim: Yeah, absolutely. So I think, you know, traditional PR, if you’re we’re thinking about tried and true blocking and tackling, it’s really focused on managing companies’ reputations and how you control that narrative. You know, whether it be crisis comms or through just day to day earned media coverage. I think traditional PR really relies heavily on traditional media coverage. So TV, radio, newspapers and it’s super siloed, right? Like your old school PR practitioners are super siloed. They don’t really work outside of their four walls. They’re focused on media relations and focused on building that relationship with the media to get the TV coverage or get that headline. Whereas modern PR really has created a shift in the industry. It’s more about creating and sharing stories across channels on different platforms, and it’s much more holistic and much more multidisciplinary. I would say that your emphasis is on telling a story, not announcing news. And those stories work because they’re created in a way that resonates with people and drives engagement in action. As I said there this is a multidisciplinary approach. And so your message isn’t just in a press release that’s going out on the wire. It’s a news stations, it’s in newspapers, but it’s also on social media. It can go into an email campaign. It can go into a newsletter. It’s kind of all these different new and digital channels that have really come to life over the last 10, 15 years, I would say. And then also, most importantly probably, is that these modern PR tactics are really settled in data-driven and data-informed decisions. And so there’s a lot of collaboration that’s required to make sure integration is effective and cohesive across a wide range of disciplinary channels.

Jenn: Well, how so? A lot of our listeners of the show are, like very new in their careers or even might be a little bit more seasoned where they’re thinking about taking a little bit of a change. Like, how do you recommend PR professionals determine which subcategory is most appropriate for maybe their specific goals?

Kim: So I mentioned earlier, I’ve never said no. And I think it’s really the best way to determine what category or subcategory is specific for them and meets their needs is really just trying it out. You’re never going to know if you like something unless you try it. You know, it goes back to being a kid, and your parents are trying to make you eat broccoli for the first time, and you don’t want to do it. Looks like a tree. It’s going to take us gross. And you’re going to learn something regardless. Good, bad, ugly, or in between, you’re going to learn. You know, I learned that I enjoy agency life. I get exposed to a ton of different clients and industries, but my personal skill set, I believe, is much more effective in house working and doing a deep dive with brands and companies to really help expand their audiences and expand their footprint in categories, or by being a category disruptor. If there’s an area that you want to explore, say, crisis communications over influencer relations, talk to people that are currently working in that industry in that category and see what they like about it. It doesn’t have to be interviewing for a role, but just grab a cup of coffee, grab lunch, pick their brain a little bit and see what they like about it, what they don’t like about it, and see if there’s an opportunity that maybe you can collaborate on a campaign together to kind of get your hands dirty a little bit, but you’re not, you know, thrown to the wolves and creating your own influencer campaign. You’re just getting a taste of it. Go to networking groups, see and listen to people, and see what they’re doing and how they’re breaking the rules or how they’re paving the way for themselves in that specific category. It never hurts to have too much data, and the more you know, the more you can understand, and the more that’s just ultimately going to help you in your build out your career or find your own way through the muck of PR.

Kalli: That’s really great advice, Kim. And I think, you know, another big part of really learning your craft is staying on top of trends and knowing what’s going on. So how do you recommend for people to stay updated and on the trends and developments within their niche area of PR?

Kim: Yeah. So one of the first things that comes to mind, actually, is something we do every day in our personal lives, and that’s follow people. It doesn’t matter if it’s on LinkedIn or Twitter and X and or TikTok or a podcast, but seek out people who are speaking about different topics in the industry that interest you, whether it’s a thought leader or a practitioner or even a competitor. Follow them. And if you want to get an even more meaningful experience, engage with the content that they’re creating and build a dialogue to really see and understand their thoughts and perspectives on trends. I would say another way that I stay in touch with industry trends is joining a professional network.

For instance, I’m a member of the Public Relations Society of America and Reagan Insider. Both organizations offer a ton of webinars or in-person trainings or online course certifications, and a variety of topics and areas that I think is extremely useful for, you know, personally, I’ve signed up for integrated Marketing Communication certification, even though I’ve been doing integrated communications for a while and integrated marketing planning. This will just give you another tool, another resource to pull from as you’re building out your career. Really. There’s these professional networking groups that are just super open to helping new and upcoming and even established leaders in PR kind of just build and add to their toolbox with different opportunities.

Also, another way to stay up to date on industry trends is by reading publications reports that are coming out with new data and forecasts in the industry. I think we’ve all seen, you know, reports from Cision or Muck Rack or Meltwater, even agility. But they put out several reports throughout the year offering valuable information and insights on trends within the industry, what journalists are saying, what’s up and coming? I would say the top three for me that resonate the most for staying up to date is that it doesn’t become overwhelming in your day-to-day life. The last thing we want to do is to add to any pressure in an already stressful career.

And so I would say those are the top three and easiest ways to stay up to date on trends and developments, because those are the those are where people are probably like active the most as well.

Jenn: I love that, and I’m actually a member of PRSA as well, and we do have an episode upcoming about the benefits of joining, so our listeners can stay tuned to that. And it’s cool to know that you’re involved in that as well, Kim, I had no idea. It’s a great, great community there. So with PR, though, I mean, a lot of what we have to do is we have to stay creative, right? We have to come up with these strategies and campaigns, and sometimes, we can lose that fire a little bit. So, how do you personally balance creativity and innovation with the need for strategic thinking whenever you’re crafting a PR campaign?

Kim: Yeah. So, I am extremely data-driven. I really start with the boring stuff first, quite honestly. So for me, before I start any campaign or project, I really want to know who the audience is. What am I doing? What am I writing for? You know, what are their passions? What are their pain points? What are their expectations? There’s a variety of ways you could go about that. If you’re in a smaller company or team that doesn’t maybe necessarily have a research or insights division. You know, you could use something as simple as a SurveyMonkey survey or a focus group, or even something as easy as social media polls to collect information. Then, from there, you can kind of use all that data and distill it down to help you start crafting out messages and stories that resonate with them and address actually their specific needs and interests. Once I know my audience, it’s really imperative to set clear and realistic goals of the campaign at any point. If you haven’t experienced this already, there’s a lot of “wait, when did we agree to that? Why is that the case? You know, why is that the objective? Where are we going for it? Right? We never said that…”

Oh, there were always those moments. So for me, over the years, I have become a little neurotic about documenting goals, and writing a very clear, creative brief. I have been known to be the killer of hopes and dreams. If someone hands me a piece of paper and it’s like we want a five-second ad, great, what do we want? What does that look like? What’s the point here? I go back, and I push back a lot because I want everyone involved. You know, I want to set very clear goals. What are we trying to do? How are you going to measure success? What are our KPIs like? Very outlined and documented. And then once I’m done with the boring stuff, then I kind of get into a little bit more creativity. And so I think if you like to work in a vacuum, your campaigns may come off a little one-sided or may seem a little bit repetitive. So I think it’s imperative and, you know, and I’m a big believer in them is in brainstorming sessions and club of working sessions.

You have done this a ton both in-house and in my agency career, just getting people together in a room and talking about campaigns, ideas. You know, I always run through there is no bad idea. And there’s been times where we’ve thrown out silly names or ideas, and those have ended up being some of the best integrated pieces of a campaign. But sitting in the room with all these different peoples from different backgrounds and different experiences, you get exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking, and you could start seeing how different elements of the PR campaign can come together, but also how they translate into different channels. And so how will this theme be executed, not only in the media and in a press release, but how will it be conveyed on social media? How can it be conveyed in email? You can’t come up with innovative ideas sitting in a room alone. It’s really important for me and personally and for my creativity to get together, throw around ideas, and see what sticks and what doesn’t. Test them out. Even with ideas. There’s been times where I’ve pulled friends or co-workers in different divisions, like finance, and just got shown them a campaign, show them a theme, ask for their thoughts on it, like just pulling and testing and seeing, you know, they might see something you don’t.

And that could be the game changer. So I think those are the big ones for me. On balancing the boring and the black and tackling, you know, mundane tasks of PR, but also with the creativity. I think you can’t get creative without having a strong foundation that foundation of key metrics on your audience and then on the campaign as a whole really will allow you to be more creative. I think it doesn’t it doesn’t put you in a box, it helps you break through a box.

Kalli: I completely agree with that. And I think, you know, like you said, the foundation is so important because it helps you kind of have that better understanding so you can have creative ideas that really will be effective. With that being said, I think one of the other things with having a strong foundation is that you have a better sense of what emerging trends and new things that you can try out. So, Kim, are there any emerging trends or new subcategories within PR that you find particularly intriguing?

Kim: Yeah, I think now this is an approach that I have always taken to my work, but I think especially now in a post-Covid post lockdown world, a trend that’s becoming more and more apparent with brands and companies is actually being more human. Uh, which sounds weird because you think you would think brands are always already taking that approach. But I think being human and having empathy and understanding that the world is a hard place today, and I think just taking a human approach and saying, we get it, we’re in it with you and we’ve been there too. I think another trend that goes hand in hand, actually, with being more human is being authentic. We’ve all worked on campaigns at some point where we will where you want to call us, or you’ve seen a campaign from a brand that you’ve loved and you’re like, who let that one go? Like, did the PR person see that? And because it seems so fake and disingenuous in that it’s more brands and companies are really developing an authentic voice and being genuine and having a genuine belief in a genuine building, a genuine connection with their audience or their target consumer.

I, for a very long time have said no consumer will do anything unless it’s driven by emotion, uncovering that genuine and emotional connection with them. Find a way to hook your brand to that and engage with consumers that way. That’s leveraging emotions and being authentic in your brand voice, in your company’s standings, and with your audience. It’s just truly been a game-changer. I think for these last few years those are some of the biggest trends that I personally have been seeing. You know, as it relates to crisis comms, internal comms, media relations, or even strategic communications. You’re really looking to help a company achieve its business objectives at the end of the day and really understanding your audience, being authentic, being human, and connecting with people, whether it be through an outside partner or through your own channels, in a way that makes sense and is genuine and true and emotional.

Jenn: Last question for you: this has been a really amazing conversation, and we touched on it a little bit, but what are some of the challenges that PR professionals face in general? Whatever you got, but more specifically, true within some of these niche subcategories, and how can they overcome them?

Kim: I don’t think the challenges in these niche subcategories are necessarily vastly different from traditional PR. Measuring ROI has always been a question, “Why am I doing this? Why are you asking me for this money? How can you tell?” and I think that’s a challenge. Regardless of if you’re working in community relations or media relations, influencer relations. But here, “I could show you engagement. I can show you impressions, I could show you the total number of placements and ranking within the category.” But you start looking at other ways, like the number of backlinks, the number of time spent on websites through Google Analytics and engagement rates. If you’re doing a piece of sponsored content or social posting, I would also say another challenge that jumps to mind is managing client or internal expectations. You know, there’s often times where people just don’t understand why it might be helpful to do a matte release, or why we want to spend money on a satellite media tour or do an onsite activation. That’s a lot of money. And so it’s educating across the board about really what needs we’re meeting, how we’re actually addressing them, and how to avoid some of that conflict moving forward. So again, you know, we joked about not having a clear foundation or solid foundation earlier in creative briefs. Regardless of what category you’re working in.

Again, you still, as a PR practitioner, need to effectively manage and maybe overmanage client expectations. I would say you can’t communicate enough. The more you share, the more they can understand. Last but not least, I think a challenge again across the board as PR practitioners; we all have seen issues with breaking through the noise. Now, it’s getting harder than ever to get the attention of journalists and media. The hardest thing is breaking through the noise. I think that goes back to having an authentic and human approach. They’re dealing with the hardships of day-to-day life, just like you’re dealing with the daily hardships of day-to-day life in the industry. As a PR professional, having that strength and endurance to just continue to uncover another way, what’s another way in? What’s another story? And that could be internally. Why don’t you self-publish on LinkedIn as a thought leadership piece? Find new different ways, because it’s only going to get worse, I would think, right now before it gets better. But I think there’s a little bit of everybody in this industry who’s just kind of getting it. Appreciating that your story may take you six months to get placed, and just because you want it placed now doesn’t mean there’s someone even available to write it completely.

Jenn: And you’re totally right with it. There’s it’s such a competitive landscape right now in the media. And your pitch, you could even have the most amazing story, and unfortunately, the reporter just lost half of their colleagues, and they can only write so many stories at one time. So, you’re totally right. There are a lot of challenges, but I think you provided a vast amount of solutions for people and they shouldn’t be dismayed. While PR may not always be the glamorous industry many think of, thanks to movies and TV, it’s an incredibly complex yet interesting job that takes many forms, and I think we can all agree it keeps us on our toes. So, thank you again for joining us, Kim, and helping to identify how deep and intricate the world of PR can be.

Kim: Absolutely. My pleasure.

Jenn: As always, thanks to our listeners for tuning in. Join us every other Wednesday for new episodes that invite incredible voices in PR and marketing to share their stories. If you know someone who would make a great guest, reach out at imPRessions@pollackgroup.com. Until then, download and listen on Spotify, Apple, or Amazon Music, and be sure to follow us on social media. See you next time!