PR Pros: Dick Grove of INK Inc Public Relations On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly…

Posted on

PR Pros: Dick Grove of INK Inc Public Relations On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro

Don’t ignore the benefits of sense of humor. You may not need this to be wildly successful in PR, but I guarantee you’ll need it to survive. If you can’t laugh at yourself and the human comedy of our daily lives, you don’t belong in this profession. Or as I was once told, “Take your job seriously…but never yourself.”

Have you seen the show Flack? Ever think of pursuing a real-life career in PR? What does it take to succeed in PR? What are the different forms of Public Relations? Do you have to have a college degree in PR? How can you create a highly lucrative career in PR? In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” we are talking to successful publicists and Public Relations pros, who can share stories and insights from their experiences.

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dick Grove.

Over a 50+ year career, Dick Grove has managed the gamut of business and consumer communications from financial and investment relations, to high-tech campaigns and products, crisis management, and the vagaries of the entertainment world. With a Master’s in Journalism from the University of Kansas, he’s served in the MarCom C-Suite with companies like Itel Corpration, GE Capital and IT&T as well as in a V.P. role with Burson-Marsteller. In 1997, the Kansas City-based Grove launched his own Public Relations firm, INK Inc. Public Relations, notable for being one of the first to utilize a “virtual” PR team and “Pay for Performance” client model. In January of 2022, he released his first book titled, “It’s the Media Stupid! PR Without the BS” where he pulls back the curtain to debunk the misconceptions about the industry while providing the types of valuable tools and advice to help PR professionals succeed.


Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I didn’t know the name “PR” as a kid, yet even at an early age, I wanted to do things that had to do with communicating with the masses. My parents were divorced when I was five, so I learned to do a lot of play acting with my older brother listening to the radio, early TV serials and particularly the commercials. I actually founded my first ad agency, RH Grove & Associates (which had no associates but just sounded cool), at fourteen to promote a candidate for student council president in junior high. I came up with a slogan, wrote a campaign platform and the speech to the assembly; and even convinced the local radio station disk jockey to mention the candidate on air.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. We lost to a kid wearing his Eagle Scout badge for his assembly speech who handed out candy suckers with the slogan, “Don’t be a sucker. Vote for Schmucker.” Learned a very valuable lesson about the need to understand the audience!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your company?

One of the most interesting stories was just coming up with a name for my firm. Since I had already used R.H. Grove & Associates thirty years previously, I needed something catchy that would differentiate us from the pack. I tried various combinations of initials and trendy names but nothing really hit me. Finally, after brainstorming several bland sounding names, my daughter, who is also in PR, said, “Just name it for what you do. You get people press coverage. You get them ink. Call it INK.” Thus INK inc. was born. Clear and concise. I think many emerging companies obfuscate themselves under acronyms or their own ego rather than having their name succinctly convey what they do or the service they supply.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It’s funny in hindsight, because it was driven by my naivete, but was a big mistake at the time. I thought, like many do, that by simply hanging out a shingle that the clients will be knocking down the door. The “If you build it they will come” strategy. Good for movies but not so much in real life. I realized in very short order, I had to market the firm and put almost as much time into promoting the company as I did getting it launched. As a self-funded entrepreneur, you quickly learn the same lesson we try to teach our own clients. You must promote yourself if you are to grow and survive. So what we did is try to be objective about ourselves and pitched INK as if we were a client.

Our internal efforts resulted in stories in the WSJ, New York Times, Forbes, INC, and even PBS and CNN. It put us on the map and really drove home the point of how objectivity can pay big dividends.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

One of the most rewarding elements of this business is the opportunity to work closely with both established and new organizations that have passion and vision. We’ve always gravitated towards those wearing the “white hat” who are seeking to make a real difference in people’s lives which can come in many forms. A client we’re working with now exemplifies that and it just so happens to be the U.S. government.

USAID is part of a joint international initiative, in partnership with Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany and the EU, known as Water and Energy for Food. In a nutshell, WE4F identifies, mentors and helps scale burgeoning international startups with leading-edge innovations focused primarily on increasing food production for local farmers and communities. Sustainable and efficient use of water and clean energy sits at the core with the benefactors typically rural and poor.

There’s so much talk around climate change, and the necessary adaptation, but most feel there’s not really much action taking place. This effort isn’t only a clear cut example of action, but this “teach a man to fish” approach is paying huge dividends for millions around the world while laying the groundwork for the future.

On another note, spending time really diving into what’s taking place in locations such as Africa, the Middle East and throughout Asia is sobering. As Americans we tend to have an “out of sight-out of mind” mentality to what others face. But we’re reminded daily of how lucky we are. With something like this, we’re not just working for our client but also, indirectly, those forced to walk many miles daily just to access clean water. It’s P.R. with a purpose.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The most important trait is recognizing your own limitations. Surround yourself with people as smart or smarter than you and be inclusive to fresh ideas. Be honest with yourself about those limitations and be able to delegate responsibilities and listen, really listen, to differing opinions. One has to only look at the US Presidents most admired, such as Kennedy on one side of the aisle and Reagan on the other, to see great examples of delegation. One caveat is that delegation should not translate to being disconnected or absolution from final decision making. Great leaders in politics, business or even in a family are inclusive to ideas but know the final decision rests with them. Truman’s famous sign on his desk, “The buck stops here” comes to mind.

The second most important trait of a successful leader is being empathetic to those he or she is expected to lead; and to be willing to demonstrate this empathy by never asking someone to do something you would not do yourself. You cannot put yourself above others and expect to gain the respect you’ll need from them. History is full of examples of leaders who have lost touch with their employees and fallen in failure.

The third most important trait is integrity. Integrity is a word tossed easily about and often used to cover just the opposite. My definition of integrity means having a moral compass or code that you hold to, no matter the consequences. I’ve had clients who have asked me to cut a corner on an invoice, to offer a kickback under the table in return for more business, or to lie to protect themselves from embarrassment or worse. I’ve had many opportunities to represent clients in an industry or a philosophy that, while perfectly legal and perhaps very lucrative, went against my beliefs and what I wanted my company to represent. By turning them down, I kept the respect of my peers and myself.

For the benefit of our readers, can you help articulate what the different forms of PR are?

After fifty years of making my living in PR, I’ve learned one thing above all else: PR firms get hired for many reasons with many different job definitions, but they get fired for one above all others…not delivering consistent media coverage.

There are lots of tactical and practical arrows in the public relations quiver including:

  • Crisis Communications — advice and counsel to management on policy and communications during a crisis.
  • Financial Relations — advice, counsel and communications with the financial community and shareholders.
  • Marketing Communications — promotional communications with potential customers.
  • Internal Communications — communications with employees and families.

And within the last ten years…

  • Digital Marketing Communications — proactively integrating social media and paid media into the marketing and communications mix (videos, posts, etc.) that communicate your product or company message directly to consumers or other audiences.

All are vitally important in today’s modern business world, but none more important than the one missing from the list — Media Relations, or in today’s vernacular, Content Creation. It goes by many names: traditional media outreach, earned media, press relations, publicity — all with a varying degree of expertise and purpose. But all are aimed at securing positive media coverage on a consistent basis.

Where should a young person considering a career in PR start their education? Should they get a degree in communications? A degree in journalism? Can you explain what you mean?

First, and foremost, be a student of life. i.e., be curious and absorb the human condition whether in business, politics, health or pop culture. Second, get a broad education but yes, major in journalism. Your future as a PR pro depends on your understanding of how the news media works and what makes a great story. Most college communications and PR sequences teach theory but little of the practical techniques of landing press coverage. As stated earlier, PR is a part of the news business; so you best understand the principles of good journalism — how to recognize a great story and how to communicate it to an audience, including the media which will be its conduit.

Can you share some tips on great networking?

Networking to drive business is one thing. Networking to enhance your own professional situation is another. Some do it naturally but for others, like myself, it doesn’t come easily. While I like to think of myself as gregarious and outgoing in business situations, by nature I’m a bit shy and I have the added liability of hearing loss. So in my case, I have to push myself to go through the four tips of good networking:

  • Be a joiner. Find business associations and other organizations made up of those who can help your business or even your own self-development. Then Join and discipline yourself to attend, preferably in-person, their meetings and events.
  • Attend the meetings and force yourself to mingle among several groups. Don’t get stuck in one.
  • Listen, and listen some more, but contribute thoughtfully. Introduce yourself and share your connection to what you have learned.
  • Ask for and keep business cards and make notes on those cards as soon as you can. Don’t expect to remember names or their importance without a cheat sheet.
  • Follow-up and stay in touch on a regular basis.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

The single best strategy for generating good, qualified leads is to demonstrate your ability to achieve measurable results. Real tangible results for your clients, that can be measured and shared.

The second strategy is to merchandise those results through your website and other social media channels.

Third, merchandise those results within and outside your professional network of prospects, past clients, and business or investment friends of your company. Do some bragging, you’ve earned it.

And lastly, and if appropriate, utilize digital marketing and ads to spread your successes.

Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are your “4 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” and why.

PR can be a damn good job or career. One is probably never going to become wealthy doing it. But doing it well means you can make a nice living while meeting some very interesting people along the way. It doesn’t require the PRSA to put initials behind your name or even necessarily a college degree. What it does require are the following:

  • A base knowledge of journalism and how to communicate to the media

My first job in PR was with industry powerhouse Burson-Marsteller in New York where all the entry level assistant account execs soon learned the AP and NY Times style book. These had been touched on in college but never to the degree I learned in my first few months on the job. Everything we wrote, every press release or pitch or by-line had to be reviewed by Burson-Marsteller’s crusty old copy editor who had spent years at the Times and wielded a mean red pencil if he found errors — and he found plenty. It was a lesson learned. You must know how to communicate coherently, succinctly, and according to the rules if you’re going to succeed.

  • A curiosity of the human condition — business, politics, pop culture, health, geopolitical

To be successful, you have to be a news junkie, read, watch, and devour what’s happening around you. Have a thirst for facts and knowledge along with a sense of wonder about the world around you. Be curious as to how things work, what people do for a living, how businesses are structured, and what’s new — changing and evolving every day.

  • Understand that in this field the media is all important

In the modern business environment, media relations or content creation is the channel through which all the other PR strategies must travel to find success. Too often in today’s fast moving digital world, media relations has become the orphaned stepchild in a marketing or PR firm, often relegated to simply writing and distributing press releases. Ironically, it is the success or failure of delivering good press coverage that plays the biggest role in the longevity of this same firm. Get to know the media you’re targeting and their rules of content and deadlines; and be specific and focused in your outreach. The old adage of you get only one chance to make a first impression is strictly true here.

  • Don’t ignore the benefits of sense of humor

You may not need this to be wildly successful in PR, but I guarantee you’ll need it to survive. If you can’t laugh at yourself and the human comedy of our daily lives, you don’t belong in this profession. Or as I was once told, “Take your job seriously…but never yourself.”

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

The movement I’d most like to inspire is a return to civility and humor amongst all Americans. If that goal is too grand, then at least amongst those I come in contact with in-person or virtually, every day. It seems we’ve lost so much of our ability to have civil discourse today or mutual respect for each other even when our opinions differ. We’ve lost much of our ability to find humor and pathos within ourselves, our neighbors, and our business associates. We are all on the same long journey together full of highs, lows, happiness and disappointments. I’d like to inspire this movement through a simple dictum of working hard, skillfully, and with empathy and integrity while keeping a sense of humor.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

PR Pros: Dick Grove of INK Inc Public Relations On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.