PR Pros: Stacey Ross Cohen On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A…

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PR Pros: Stacey Ross Cohen On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro

Knowledge is everything. Prepare yourself for a lifetime of learning. PR is a complex field that requires an in-depth understanding of the PR industry and the brand you represent — including products/services, competition, and industry. You essentially need to be the eyes and ears of your client and be well-versed in media relations, message development, branding, research, social media, and the latest communication trends. To stay current, I encourage my team to consume (a lot of) media relating to their respective clients. This means following key journalists and bloggers, setting up Google Alerts for clients and relevant topics, and subscribing to newsletters from relevant organizations (e.g., PRSA).

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 Stacey Ross Cohen.

Stacey is an award-winning brand professional who earned her marketing stripes on Madison Avenue and at major television networks before launching Co-Communications, a full-service PR/Marketing firm with offices in New York and Connecticut. She is a Huffington Post and Thrive Global blogger, TEDx speaker, and has been featured in Entrepreneur, Forbes, Crain’s, Sales & Marketing and other leading national media. She holds an MBA from Fordham University and is a native New Yorker.

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 made the move from a big ad agency to CBS/FOX Video’s international marketing division. Much of my day was spent gazing at spread sheets analyzing past performance and forecasting. I’d somehow always find my way to the PR department to find out what exciting campaign they were working on — — e.g., screening of a Mick Jagger video at a downtown hot spot. The PR department was eliminated and the woman who headed it up started her own agency, and upon chance meeting, she asked if I’d like to chat about a job opportunity. I was hired as a Senior Account Executive and CBS/FOX became my main client. PR was foreign to me and there were no You Tube videos or internet at the time. I just figured it out and quickly became the owner’s right-hand person. I saw the good, bad, and ugly of running an agency; this learning was priceless for starting my own agency.

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

Five years after launching my agency, Co-Communications, I was ready to throw in the towel. My daughters were both in elementary school and I had no work-life balance. I was working 75 hours a week. Enter Valerie, a brilliant management consultant I met through a women’s business organization, who helped me adopt a different mindset. During a lunch meeting, I confided in Valerie that I could no longer handle the stresses of running a business. With her charming British accent, she started to ask me questions about my business, like “What is your profit margin? What is your overhead?” I looked at her blankly and told her that I’d need to compile these numbers. She replied, “You are not going back to corporate. You excel in marketing. But it is time to shift from an entrepreneur to a businesswoman.”

Valerie offered to coach me on how to scale the business and work smarter. My first homework assignment was to prepare a spreadsheet of agency accounts parsed by monthly retainer amount and monthly time investment. This revealed a startling truth. One of the largest agency clients, a national real estate brokerage, was actually not profitable due to time overages. Valerie urged me to speak to the client and raise the retainer. But I was apprehensive. Valerie persisted, “Ask for more money or drop the client.” So I developed a six-month analysis of my work and followed Valerie’s advice. The result? The client understood and asked how much the retainer should be increased.

This moment was the turning point — I became a true business owner. But, more importantly, I got my life back, boosted my confidence, and developed my first affirmation. That same year, I had a deep yearning to hit the million-dollar mark. So Valerie encouraged me to use the positive affirmation, “I will have a million-dollar business by the end of the year.” And guess what? It worked! It wasn’t magic, of course. The affirmation was accompanied by hard, smart work. But the affirmation helped make that work possible.

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?

I was managing the press at a world premier video screening for the Boston Celtics at Boston Garden when I worked with CBS. When an attendee approached me, I assumed he was there to cover the event and directed him to the press “pit.” A sales rep from the company elbowed me and whispered Stacey, “That’s the Boston Celtics’ coach.” I turned 10 colors of red but the coach and I became quick friends. Lesson learned: Research the key players prior to covering events!

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

I’m working on a book project on personal branding which will be published by Post Hill Press and distributed by Simon and Schuster in the Fall 2021. In the book, I share my signature branding methodology, ME SQUARED, to provide the nuts and bolts of building a personal brand and social media best practices. There are chapters on LinkedIn, Networking, and Entrepreneurship — all critical 21st Century skills.

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 first trait that comes to mind is risk-taker. I’ve always been a risk-taker and, in fact, started my first business at age 14. I encourage my team to embrace challenges and try new things: this yields personal and business growth and the best results for our clients. I’ve taken on many risks throughout the years. One such example involved the acquisition of two smaller agencies — one failed due to a lack of cultural fit, and the second one was a success and is still paying dividends! So, stretch out of your comfort zone, look failure in the eye, and know it is a stepping stone to success.

Collaboration is another trait that has allowed me to enjoy a thriving agency culture. While many think I named the company after my last name “Cohen,” “Co” is the Latin derivative meaning “with.” Collaboration is at core of our team’s (aka Co-stars) success. Communications requires collaboration — a true partnership with others where ideas born, exchanged freely, executed and sometimes tossed out. In a service business, people are the largest asset, and a culture of collaboration drives both client and employee retention. I feel blessed that many clients and employees have been with us for 10 plus years.

The third leadership trait is positivity. When leading a team, enthusiasm is infectious and breeds productivity and creativity. When you engage with negative thoughts, chances are you won’t succeed. My “can do” attitude has served me well; I encourage my team to be problem solvers, not problem spotters. For example, if a staff member is having difficulty securing media coverage for a particular client, I urge them to “Go in the front door and if that doesn’t work, proceed to the back door and then the chimney” In the early days, a client who was pleased with a PR program asked if we could run an ad campaign. My response: “Yes, we can!” My next call was to a friend who worked as an ad representative to give me a crash course in advertising. The result? We evolved from strictly a PR agency into an integrated marketing firm with multiple service offerings.

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?

Great question! Public Relations is often misunderstood by the general public. Many people think that PR is all about spinning stories and creating positive images for brands when it’s so much more than that. PR is a strategic way to build relationships with key audiences, manage the company’s image, and shape public opinion. It’s about communicating the brand’s message clearly and effectively through a multi-channel approach (blogs, websites, print/broadcast media, podcasts, social/online media, etc.). PR professionals are responsible for managing communication between a company and its stakeholders, which includes shareholders, customers, employees, and the media.

There’s a variety of different types of PR — each with its own objectives and strategies.

Media Relations is one of the most common — and essential aspects of PR. Establishing solid relationships with print/broadcast media, bloggers, and podcasters to share your brand’s story is essential. This third-party endorsement builds credibility and trust for the brand and directly impacts the bottom line. Other types of PR include Community Relations, Internal/Employee Communications, Investor Relations, and Government Relations. Lastly, Crisis Management is a top priority for reputation management and upholding the company’s image. While some PR professionals specialize in crisis management, all PR practitioners should be versed in crisis communications and have response plans to face any incident scenario. As we all know, one tweet can destroy a well-established brand/CEO’s reputation.

Today’s PR is a blend of traditional and digital PR tactics. No matter what type of communication you are sending out, it’s crucial that all efforts support the brand’s overall business goal and message. Equally important is understanding the target audience and where they are spending their time. There is no doubt that PR is a powerful tool that can make or break a business. In fact, Bill Gates once said that “If I were down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on PR.”

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? The good news is that there’s more than one way to get your start! Some of the best academic major options for aspiring PR professionals include Public Relations, Journalism, Communications, English, business, and marketing. Many graduate programs offer communication programs. Career options are extensive — — PR professionals work for corporations, non-profit entities, government agencies, politicians, celebrities, and other organizations.

I have an MBA in Marketing and have found this degree invaluable. When I started in this business, I used to say that you needed eyes in the front and back of your head. Now, you need sensors on every part of your body. PR practitioners today need to be marketers — — and connect the dots between all marketing disciplines; working in a silo won’t bring desirable results.

PR professionals need to be lifelong learners to keep up with the constantly changing media landscape. The skills required for successful PR today are very different from even a decade ago. As technology advances and new platforms emerge, PR professionals need to be able to utilize these tools to reach their target audiences. It’s no longer enough to send out a news release and hope the media will pick it up. Instead, savvy PR practitioners use social media, online content marketing, and other techniques to get their messages across.

During the college years, internships are a must. Internships offer valuable, real-world experience that can give recent grads an edge in their job search. At Co-Communications, we believe internship experience is so important and look for this when considering entry-level candidates.

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

Thanks. I take pride in my networking skills which anybody can develop by networking strategically, consistently, and purposely daily. The core of good networking is building solid, authentic relationships. It’s best not to focus on how many people you meet networking. Instead, focus on meeting the right people.

Those who have a solid professional network have a career advantage. Networking is an art, and it takes time to develop your skills. My three top tips for networking are 1) Be a strategic networker. When networking, having a game plan will help you cover desired topics, establish professionalism, and gain credibility. Decide beforehand what you want to achieve from networking, such as career exploration or making new connections; 2) Ensure all networking relationships are mutually beneficial. Networking is not a “one-way street.” Sharing connections, support, and resources with others is key; and lastly, 3) Maintain relationships. The best way to maintain a relationship is through consistent communication. You want to be top of mind should an opportunity arise. Also, relationships are built on trust, so make sure you deliver on your promise.

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

Another great question. More than ever, management and clients demand measurable, tangible proof that PR plays a direct role in driving leads into the marketing funnel. It’s essential to link PR to quantifiable business goals and determine how PR is moving the needle and impacting the bottom line. Our activities need to drive mind and market share for the brands we represent. The good news is that PR is increasingly data-driven and trackable — — making the industry more accountable than ever.

The surge of measurement, analytics, and tracking tools allows us to make PR more of a science. Traditional PR helps create brand awareness and complements digital PR’s more immediate and measurable results. Practitioners now need to consider if efforts are driving website traffic, search results, link building, and lead generation.

And of course, there is never a final destination; we can essentially market in the moment by accessing data in real-time and modifying campaigns “on the fly.” Both quantitative (e.g., number of brand mentions) and qualitative (e.g., message tone) are growing in importance and will require PR professionals to have a command of Metrics/KPIs.

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.)

Seeing the bigger picture. Whether working on the agency or brand level, you need to develop a well-informed PR strategy. Without a clearly defined plan of where you’re going and what’s needed, your chances of success are slim. As part of our client onboarding process, a Discovery session is standard to get a deep understanding of our client’s goals, target audiences, competitive environment, differentiators, etc. While it’s tempting to jump into tactics like creating a blog or YouTube channel, I guide my team to step back and look at the overall strategy. Otherwise, you are likely to end up back peddling. Part of the strategy also considers the “what ifs” and anticipating issues that may happen.

Maintain Flexibility. To be successful, PR practitioners need to be nimble and adapt to the industry’s ever-changing demands. A day in the life of a PR professional often requires coming up with solutions on the fly. The ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously, juggle deadlines, react to breaking news and crises comes with the territory. You will be thrown curveballs, and your “To Do” list or routines will quickly go out the window. So, expect the unexpected. For instance, I received a call from a healthcare client in crisis while heading back to my office from a lunch appointment. There was an outbreak of pneumonia at the assisted living facility, and a news crew flanked the building to get the scoop from nurses walking out of the building. I quickly did a U-turn and headed over to the facility to handle damage control with the crisis management team (medical director, executive director, legal counsel, and internal staff). It’s all in a day’s work.

Knowledge is everything. Prepare yourself for a lifetime of learning. PR is a complex field that requires an in-depth understanding of the PR industry and the brand you represent — including products/services, competition, and industry. You essentially need to be the eyes and ears of your client and be well-versed in media relations, message development, branding, research, social media, and the latest communication trends. To stay current, I encourage my team to consume (a lot of) media relating to their respective clients. This means following key journalists and bloggers, setting up Google Alerts for clients and relevant topics, and subscribing to newsletters from relevant organizations (e.g., PRSA).

Building relationships. Relationships are everything in PR. Building and maintaining solid relationships with clients, journalists, influencers, and other industry professionals is a high priority. Strong communication skills — — the ability to clearly articulate ideas and listen attentively — — are essential to develop positive relationships. When I began my PR career, I was fortunate to have a mentor who stressed the importance of relationship building. She referred to the essentials of relationship building as the “3 R’s”: Show Respect; Be Responsive (e.g., meeting reporter’s deadlines); and Serve as a Resource. These 3 R’s build trust and create a mutually beneficial relationship. Another piece of advice to develop positive relationships is to check in regularly with clients to ensure campaign efforts align with objectives and internal priorities. On the media front, don’t reach out to reporters merely to pitch story ideas; engage with them on social media and recognize their work regularly.

Creativity is part of the equation. Creativity is essential for success in any field, especially PR. After all, it’s our role to be new, different, and original — — and come up with unique ideas to capture the attention of the media and the public. A classic example of creativity is Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest which has evolved into a multi-million-dollar sport. The annual Coney Island event attracts tens of thousands of spectators, worldwide press coverage, and intense social media chatter. And behind its success? PR mavens who served as Nathan’s agency of record with a big vision. The contest has essentially generated a publicity boon for Nathan’s that no amount of paid advertising could ever achieve. Nathan’s is not alone: smart publicity campaigns have brought plenty of other brands big success. The Rose Bowl began as a way to shine a spotlight on Pasadena, California. Hollywood honchos started the Academy Awards to raise Tinseltown’s profile. More recently, we’ve seen the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and Elon Musk’s SpaceX Launch. At the end of the day, it’s all about standing out from the endless flow of content out there.

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.

The movement that comes to mind is #changeforthebetter. The world is faced with many challenges — — the war, climate change, poverty, social injustice and more. This movement is a reminder that we all have the power to make a positive difference in the world. By being accountable for our actions and using our unique gifts to add value to the world, we can create real lasting change.


Stacey Ross Cohen Socials:



Twitter: handle — @StaceyRossCohen

Instagram: handle — staceyrosscohen

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

PR Pros: Stacey Ross Cohen On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.