PR Pros: Sari M Cicurel On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro
It’s important to promote your clients with an authentic voice and introduce them as an expert in their field. You need to make sure your clients earn the trust of the media so they will become a source that producers and reporters will call on when they need an expert’s opinion.
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 Sari Cicurel.
Sari is an in-demand publicist in metropolitan Detroit — offering the public relations, communications, and marketing services you would expect from a big agency while, at the same time, bringing the specialized attention of a boutique firm. With more than three decades of experience, she cultivates a favorable public image for her clients and gains significant media exposure for them in broadcast, print, and online news outlets. When she is not helping her various clients tell their stories, Sari can be found spending time with her husband of 30 years and her three adult children or giving back by collaborating with nonprofit organizations throughout the community.
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?
When I was in third grade, we had to write an essay about “What do you want to be when you grow up?” So, my father took me to a TV station because I wanted to be a news anchor. When I got there, we went into the production booth and watched the news as it was being broadcast. And, the whole time, I was watching the producer. At the end of the news cast, I realized — oh my god — I don’t want to be the news anchor; I want to be the producer. I ended up interviewing the television producer instead, and, from then on, I knew that’s what I wanted to be. And I did.
I went to Michigan State University, and, after graduation, I worked for years as a freelance producer for a cable company. I got to meet different people every day, and they would ask me for advice about how to further market themselves. I loved doing that, and I realized — this is a business. Instead of just producing videos for clients, I tied it all together and became a full-service agency of marketing and public relations.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
It’s not really an interesting story, but the most interest aspect of my career is the people I get to meet. I can’t pick just one because they’re all interesting in different ways. I’ve been able to meet human trafficking survivors who have lived through the worst experiences imaginable. And, when they were ready to share their stories, I’ve been able to get their voices heard and share their work to prevent this from happening to others. I have another client who served 46 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He learned to paint while incarcerated, and I helped him share his art with the world.
Every day when I wake up, I don’t know what the day ahead is going to bring and who I’m going to meet. That, in and of itself, is exciting. But the best part of my job is when I can share someone’s story and it helps others. That’s when I know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.
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?
The nature of my job is to always be on the move. My husband says I need to take a second to breathe and not move so quickly. He doesn’t know how many times I’ve rolled my eyes at him — but he’s right. I often cut and paste a pitch in emails, and because I’m moving so fast, I forget to change the station or the reporter’s name. I hit send and then scream. But the email feature — where, right after sending a message, you have the option to undo — has saved my tushy plenty of times. I have since learned that it really does make a difference when you just slow down.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now, I’m working with an author to publicize her first children’s book. I’m also working with two different cannabis companies, which I’m excited about because it’s one of the fastest growing industries in the country. Another one of my clients, the Robot Garage, just launched a subscription kit service during the pandemic — delivering the tools for kids to build and code their own LEGO robot at home. I’ve helped a lot of clients as they’ve adjusted their services throughout the pandemic; my job was to make sure they all stayed open. And now, as we transition to a new normal, I’m helping my clients accommodate customers who are coming back to the store and decide how to host events and showcase their products this spring and summer.
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?
I would say passionate; if I don’t believe in what my client is doing or the product they’re selling, I can’t represent them. If they’re selling shoelaces, I better like the shoelaces. If it’s a restaurant, I better eat there and enjoy their food. If I don’t believe in the business, I can’t properly promote them.
Going along with that, I’m also an authentic person. I’m always going to tell my clients the truth, even if they don’t like it. It’s always going to come from a place of love. If they’re preparing for an interview and I think they need to re-work what they’re going to say, it’s not helping anyone if I stay silent.
And, finally, empathy. These last two years have shown how important this is. I have a lot of new clients who left their previous PR people — small family businesses that could no longer afford their publicists’ rates because they were losing money during the pandemic. And I would work at a reduced rate to help them keep their businesses open and tell their stories, even when they couldn’t afford it. When you’re empathic, your clients will stay with you, they will refer you to other clients, and, most importantly, you’ll be able to look yourself in the mirror in the morning and know you’re doing the right thing.
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 seven types of PR:
- Media relations is all about dealing with the media — writing press releases, scheduling interviews and giving press conferences — anything that will help generate positive coverage for your client.
- Community engagement is about developing a client’s relationship with the community where they are located — and beyond — in order to help them gain support and get people interested in their services.
- Corporate and social responsibility is PR that highlights a company’s ethics, environmental responsibility, and charity endeavors.
- Public affairs, also known as lobbying, is about building and managing relationships with government officials to help your clients advocate for their organizations and influence policies on behalf of their customers.
- Crisis management is the PR you need when there’s an unexpected negative event that could ruin your client’s reputation if not dealt with quickly.
- Internal PR is how you communicate and promote a company among its employees, such as putting out an internal newsletter and organizing employee events in order to help make sure the workforce remains satisfied, motivated and loyal.
- Online and social media communications is an increasingly important aspect of PR, and it’s all about staying up to date with the newest online tools to help clients expand their reach digitally and virtually engage with possible customers.
I handle all of these things, based on my clients’ needs. However, I do feel very strongly that, if my client is in crisis — depending on the crisis — I may need to bring in a crisis PR specialist. If this type of PR is not your expertise, it is not going to help your client if you try to do it in the midst of a disaster. It’s best to bring someone in who does this type of work every day.
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?
In this industry, education is essential. Starting out in this field, you need to know that you will never stop learning. Even after 30 years of experience, I’m still attending webinars and trainings to further my knowledge. This industry is always changing. When I started out, there weren’t cell phones or social media, and I’ve had to learn how to Tik Tok and Snapchat for my clients.
If you want a career in PR, you should get a Bachelor of Arts degree — I got mine in telecommunications — and take all different kinds of classes, from journalism to communications and social media. If you want to get into this field, it’s important to write a lot, read a lot, and research a lot. It’s also important to have an internship — as many as you can — because that’s how you gain experience and that’s how you figure out the kind of jobs you like and don’t like. For instance, through internships, my daughter learned she didn’t like the cubicle life. And that’s the thing about PR — it isn’t a 9 to 5 job. The industry is working 24/7 so you will need to be comfortable with logging on outside of your fixed hours.
You also need to perfect your time management and interpersonal skills. In PR, you’re always working on a deadline, and you’re always meeting new people. So, if you enjoy building and maintaining relationships with clients, a PR career might be for you.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
You can’t be afraid to go up to people and introduce yourself. You have to believe in yourself and what you do for a living. Research businesses you would like to work with and make a list — calling them and showing them how you can share their message and help their business. Networking can mean a lot of No’s. It may be a business saying they already have a publicist or they’re not ready for PR yet. Networking also means checking back with people and saying, “I’m here if you need me.”
You also need to help network for your clients. Find organizations you think they would want to be involved in. I had a client the other day who expanded into a new area and asked me to find places for them to network. So, I went online and found organizations, exhibits, women’s groups, etc. nearby. Sometimes networking simply means Googling ideas to find what works for your clients.
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?
When I was starting out, I thought about what kinds of businesses I wanted to represent at the time. I thought about where I liked to eat and where I liked to shop, and sometimes lead generation was just asking the owner, “Have you ever thought about media relations?” And, when I got clients, I would work really hard for them — so that, now, 100 percent of my leads are from referrals. When you can say that, it means you’re doing a good job for your clients because they’re recommending you to the business owners they know. It’s also key to remind your clients to refer you. I will host promotions — giving gifts to clients to thank them for referring clients and to remind them, if they are happy, to refer me to people they know.
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. It’s important to promote your clients with an authentic voice and introduce them as an expert in their field. You need to make sure your clients earn the trust of the media so they will become a source that producers and reporters will call on when they need an expert’s opinion. I am proud that this year, as the snow began to fall in the Midwest, both of my national companies that assist in home renovations — 1–800-HANSONS and HandyPro — received media calls, beyond my pitching, to get their opinions on stories that related to home safety.
2. Be the person that can be counted on. When the media calls, say “Yes,” and tell your clients that they need to be ready whenever the media does call. Your name and reputation are everything in this industry, so it’s important that you are making the media’s jobs easy. It’s also important to make sure you know who’s who in the media both locally and nationally, and to know when someone leaves a position and who replaces them. It’s always essential to have an up-to-date media distribution list.
3. Don’t give up. Be persistent and patient. If you are like me, you pitch the best stories you can. Some media grabs it right away, and sometimes you wait and wait and don’t hear back. But not hearing back doesn’t mean no. Sometimes it just means you have to rework your pitch or message them again so the email is at the top of their inbox. I have learned over time — and the pandemic seemed to make it much worse — that producers and editors get so many emails that, often, yours just gets lost. So be persistent and make sure you’re at the front of their mind.
4. No one ever likes change, but if you want to succeed in public relations, you have to adapt to change with a smile. Breaking news happens, and the pandemic certainly made everyone learn about adaptability and pivoting. My national brands, such as skinnytees and Ashley Gold, had to solely rely on online sales during the pandemic, hybrid employee schedules to fulfill massive national distribution orders, and social media sales instead of in-person shows. These things will frustrate your clients, so you need to be the person who helps them through these changes.
5. Being a great storyteller has served me well in my position. Loving my clients’ stories and having the passion and empathy to want to help them has made me successful in my career. Sometimes it’s just helping my small business owners who have owned their businesses in a community for 40-plus years stay afloat during a national pandemic. If I can help do that, I know I have done my job.
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 would want to use my public relations platform to put a huge spotlight on mental health. Too many kids are struggling with depression and bullying. You need to identify it early in a child’s life and get them the help them need. In my job, I’m able to get to the media to say, “Keep shining a light on mental health — not just when a school shooting happens but every day.” If I have a client who’s a therapist, I will propose whatever I can to get them to talk to the media, or I will suggest philanthropic efforts in mental health for my clients to work with.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
All my services can be identified on my website at www.sarimcicurel.com. You can also follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Sarimcicurel and listen to my weekly podcast “PR Weekly with Sari Cicurel” wherever you get your podcasts.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
PR Pros: Sari M Cicurel On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.