PR Pros: Samantha Sands of Fast Forward On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful…

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PR Pros: Samantha Sands of Fast Forward On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro

Tenacious Edge — Public relations experts work on many different assignments with different deadlines at once. A PR pro is expected to be tenacious in producing their best ideas and work while meeting tight deadlines, present ideas with limited information, share compelling stories to the media that translates to a published article for your client, and more. Having a tenacious edge is key to growing as a successful public relations expert.

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 Samantha Sands.

Samantha Sands is a public relations expert specializing in media relations, crisis communication, strategic writing, and an engaging public interviewer based on an organization’s needs. Samantha has worked with companies large and small in the technology, hospitality, travel, and food & beverage industries to achieve desired business goals through public relations. She currently resides in sunny San Diego, California, but has worked with organizations and media around the world.

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?

Public speaking, education, and writing were always my strengths throughout school. I didn’t know exactly what public relations entailed until I was talking with a journalism professor my first semester of college. After hours of conversation about my passions, strengths, and where I want to go in life, it was obvious that public relations was the career path meant for me. After that conversation, I switched my major to public relations and never looked back.

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

Fast Forward helps produce the famous San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, and as the company was gearing up for the event, there were so many journalists that reached out to me days, sometimes hours before the event. I have been pitching and building these relationships for months, and to see it come to fruition hours before the start of the event was interesting but so rewarding. With dozens of news placements being published days before the event, the generated awareness assisted in selling out tickets days before the event!

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?

When I started as an intern, I was assigned to make follow up calls to journalists. Now that we are in a digital era, cold calling was a scary thought. I called who I thought was a journalist, but it turns out he was a lawyer. I started calling from the wrong list. Thankfully I found out after the first few calls and transitioned to the right list, but I learned to make sure you read everything including the fine print in every document you come across in public relations.

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

There are lots of exciting projects in the works in 2022, especially with the return of events! I am working on the 19th annual San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival and the 19th annual Gator By The Bay Festival. I am also working with a femtech company, Orchyd, who is creating an amazing healthcare app and one of the first 100 percent sustainable period care products. The most interesting project I am currently working on is PitchBox Media, the first subscription box service for journalists to find trendy products so they can file their stories faster.

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 three character traits that were instrumental to my success were being valiant, persistent, and creative.

When I first started in this profession I made many valiant efforts to get my foot in the door with opportunities that were coined as impossible for people just starting out. I joined every class, club, webinar, and internship while I was in college to try and understand every detail about the industry. As I was graduating college, I had multiple job offers including an offer from Samsung, and everyone was shocked that I landed a job with a major tech company six weeks before graduating college. I was bold and confident with my skills even though I did not know everything, and I ended up finishing the remainder of the semester online to move back to my hometown and work with Samsung.

Throughout starting my career, I was persistent with all my work and every opportunity that was presented to me. Being bold was an instrumental part of my success, specifically with employee and media relations. I made time and put in effort to get to know everyone on a personal level, not just as a business partnership. Even though journalists weren’t interested in my pitches at the time, they always remembered me because I checked in on their family, I made sure to thank them, sent them holiday wishes, etc. Whenever there was a story opportunity my clients would be a good fit for, I would be one of the first few publicists they would reach out to because I was persistent with them for months before I received a lead.

Learning to be creative with my thinking, writing, and public speaking have also been a huge part of my success. When my clients did not have news to share to the public, I had to get really creative with potential story angles, how to position my clients as leaders in their industries, and how to formulate strategy with investors and c-suite executives. Creativity is one of my favorite parts of this profession, because creativity sparks conversation and actions. Through my creative initiatives when I was just starting out led to a path of conversation, actions, and results with every client I worked with.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you help articulate what the different forms of PR are?

There are a lot of different forms of PR, and often times each form crosses paths because as publicists we wear multiple hats a day. In PR there are media relations, crisis communications, investor relations, advertorial PR, spokesperson, campaign leader, and more.

Media relations is one of the most influential forms of PR because sometimes it can make or break a client’s success. Media relations entails a lot of media research, writing pitches, coordinating interviews or sample requests, following up, watching and listening to the news, and landing clients in the news. It can be hectic at times depending on the time of year or what news the client is sharing, but it is also very rewarding to see your client succeed.

Crisis communication is another form of PR. Most companies may experience a form of crisis at one point in their business. Most people think crisis communication only happens when something big is being shared in the news, but there are thousands of companies that go through crisis everyday that no one ever really hears about. Crisis communication includes quick, strategic thinking, formulating an action plan, writing responses or sometimes a speech, and next steps after the crisis calms down. Crisis communications is accepting the issue at bay, understanding how the issue happened, issuing a formal statement on the company’s stance and how the company plans to learn and grow from the crisis.

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?

It may be tricky to navigate PR as you are first starting because PR is always changing and evolving minute by minute. If someone is considering PR as their career, they should first write down a list of strengths and passions they have, and see if that translates into the skills you need in a profession for PR. From there, join a public relations introduction course, or a public relations writing course to really understand the foundation of PR. Most colleges now offer a public relations degree, so if you are sure that public relations is the career for you, strive for a PR degree. If you are looking for a degree where you can have the potential to dabble in multiple jobs that showcase similar skills, look into a communications degree. From there, find out what industries you enjoy working in, whether it be tech, finance, travel, real estate, or others, and look for career opportunities in those industries. If you posses strong writing skills and have a passion to be a news writer, an anchor, or an editor, journalism may be the career for you.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

Networking was one of my areas of growth I needed to work on when I first started, and it felt very challenging and awkward at times. I recommend joining an association, such as PRSSA, Women in PR, IPRA, or others. These associations have hundreds of eager professionals like you wanting to network and learn more about the industry, and looking back years later everyone I connected with still stays in touch through LinkedIn and other social platforms, and when we get the chance to see each other in person we will.

I also recommend seeking a mentor that has an established career in PR. The right mentor can put you in front of successful professionals in the industry and provide amazing opportunities for you. Most associations of a mentorship program, but if you have a practitioner that you are eager to learn from, reach out to them directly via LinkedIn or email. Most of the time professionals would be honored to mentor eager professionals just starting out in the industry.

Spending 15 to 30 minutes on LinkedIn everyday is a great source of networking. Sometimes you comment on other’s posts that you have never met, but LinkedIn is a place where professionals collaborate and welcome ideas and insight into the industry. It’s a great way to get your name out there and share any insights you may have! Through this, you will see an increase in collaboration, networking connections, and sometimes job opportunities.

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?

Results are essential to being successful in PR. The best strategies to generate solid leads is through research. Research what the journalist has recently published, what topics they write about, and ask yourself if the journalist would really be interested in what you are pitching them. Research takes a lot of time, but it is all about quality versus quantity in PR.

HAROs and Qwoted queries are also a great way to ensure leads. These services have journalists write what they are looking for to help complete their stories, and from their it is up to the publicist to formulate a pitch that would match with that query.

If you are pitching a product, challenge your client to have these products sold at major retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Target, etc., or have a skimlink for products. Journalists typically need an affiliate kickback based on their publication policies so these publications are rewarded a certain percentage with every sale they complete from the persuasion of their story.

If you are pitching a person, position them as an expert and leader in their industry. Ask questions with the client you are pitching, ensuring that you are pitching all of the qualified points on why they are a great leader, and why they would be a great source for the journalist’s story. Make sure your client is available for interviews and can work on short deadlines, typically journalists will reach out a few days, if not hours before their deadline to complete their story.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Writing Skills — having competent AP style writing skills is an essential tool to succeeding in public relations. As publicists, writing is a big component in our day to day agendas. We are constantly writing pitches, news releases, media alerts, client emails, scripts, blogs, and more.
  2. Public Speaking Skills — being confident in public speaking will contribute to a public relations professional’s success. We engage with journalists, live interviews, clients, and c-suite executives on a daily basis, and being able to present information in an engaging and informative manner is imperative.
  3. Creativity — Creativity sparks conversation and action with journalists, clients, presentations, live interviews, and more. Presenting creative strategies to both journalists and clients will keep them engaged, spark conversation, lead to action, and positions you as an expert in your profession.
  4. Passion for Storytelling — Creating and presenting stories is an expectation of PR pros. Clients seek our advice on how we should approach the media with news and updates within their companies, and expect us to paint a clear picture and tell a compelling story so that it translates to media results, generating awareness amongst the client.
  5. Tenacious Edge — Public relations experts work on many different assignments with different deadlines at once. A PR pro is expected to be tenacious in producing their best ideas and work while meeting tight deadlines, present ideas with limited information, share compelling stories to the media that translates to a published article for your client, and more. Having a tenacious edge is key to growing as a successful public relations expert.

Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am passionate about bringing awareness to mental health organizations, especially in communities that need it most. Organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project help veterans seek the physical and mental care they need after serving our country and help get those in need. Suicide rates are at an all time high, and sharing resources where individuals can seek help at any time is essential to saving lives, and help get the care they need to live a life full of joy and hope.

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

PR Pros: Samantha Sands of Fast Forward On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.