PR Pros: Sarah Cox of Dittoe Public Relations On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro
Strong Writing Skills — To excel in a PR career, you must be a strong writer. I’ve found that the more I read, the more creative my writing becomes. It’s something that requires ongoing practice, in my 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 Sarah Cox.
Sarah Cox, Senior Account Manager at Dittoe Public Relations, has over 11 years of professional communications experience. Based in Indianapolis, Sarah leads her team as key project manager for clients in industries such as higher education, immersive museums and audio tech. Sarah enjoys all things PR-related and is constantly looking for ways to get involved in her 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?
I went to college at Ball State University in Muncie, IN, where I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in journalism. Honestly, PR was very new to me until I got to campus and fortunately my advisor informed me of what all I could accomplish as a PR professional. I was immediately sold on the idea and am thankful I took his advice.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
My path to a full-time career in public relations has been anything but simple. When I graduated from Ball State University in 2011, it wasn’t exactly an easy task securing my “dream job.” It was tough and took a lot of networking. (Which I’ve always loved, to be honest.) I ended up going in a very different direction initially, which was accepting the role of behavior therapist at a center for children and adolescents diagnosed with autism. I learned so much in this role; a role that was entirely new to me. I was eventually promoted within this company to a Marketing Director role, which very much fit my professional goals. Within this position I helped start and execute an entire conference for women in behavior analysis. I also created and presented during my own workshop related to marketing and PR within the behavior analytic industry. It was an amazing learning experience for me, and I grew to love the special needs community. From there, though, I wanted to pivot back to a role focused solely on public relations. This led me to reaching out to someone at Dittoe Public Relations, and the rest is history. I absolutely love working at this agency and continue to learn something new each day from my colleagues. My past roles have certainly defined who I am as a person, and I’m thankful for that.
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?
While I can’t think of a specific mistake, I do recall not knowing all the “right” terminology when it came to working on TV segments. I guarantee I probably sounded somewhat ridiculous during those initial calls to TV stations, while still doing my best to say the “right” things in the “right” way. I’ve learned a lot in the past few years!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Great question! Honestly, there a lot of exciting things going on right now. For my higher education client, we’re regularly sharing impactful campaigns with the media. Campaigns that encourage students to pursue higher education, no matter where they are in life. It’s very fulfilling work and I can’t say enough good things about the projects we get to work on with this university.
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?
Being patient, a strong writer and being open to learning have been the most instrumental to my success. PR is very much an art form with a lot of moving parts. Working with the media and multiple clients requires a lot of patience. And being open to learning about a variety of industries is critical to growing as a PR professional. At the core of excelling as a PR pro comes the need for strong writing skills. Fortunately, I’ve always enjoyed writing, so that is certainly an aspect of PR that I love. I remember onboarding certain clients within industries that I quite frankly did not have a ton of background knowledge on. Taking the time to learn from the clients’ subject matter experts was critical to our success in writing bylines, award nominations, pitches, etc.. I think having an open mind as a PR professional allows one to really enjoy the job.
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?
PR can consist of media relations, strategic communications, crisis communications, internal communications, public affairs, social media — the list is lengthy! It’s not just “writing a press release,” which is a common misunderstanding.
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?
For me personally, I pursued a degree in public relations through the school of journalism at Ball State. This was an ideal pathway because many of my courses included advertising, marketing, TV and graphic design insights, which have all been utilized in some way in my PR career. If I was to make a recommendation, I would encourage a young person pursuing this career to get involved in a university’s journalism or communications program. And if they’re extra ambitious, courses related to marketing would be very beneficial as oftentimes communicating with clients involves communicating directly with their marketing teams. Knowing at least the foundation of marketing and how it pairs with PR is important.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Just get out there! If you live near or in a city, especially, there are so many opportunities to connect with other professionals year-round. Getting involved in young professional groups, listening in to virtual panels about the communications industry, etc., are only going to expose you to others you can learn from. Utilizing LinkedIn is also encouraged as it’s an easy way to connect with others and for students, it’s a wonderful platform to explore intern and 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?
It really goes back to networking. I’ve had a lot of personal contacts see my posts on social media talking about Dittoe Public Relations, which occasionally leads them to asking what we could do for their business. PR is about building and maintaining quality relationships. From there, as professionals, we can bring value to really any business of any size if the right strategy is developed.
From an agency perspective, being accessible on our website and social media is certainly helpful when it comes to attracting potential clients.
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.)
- Strong Writing Skills — To excel in a PR career, you must be a strong writer. I’ve found that the more I read, the more creative my writing becomes. It’s something that requires ongoing practice, in my opinion.
- Networking Skills — While some might not like to network, it’s truly a critical aspect of growing in your career. When I moved to Indianapolis, I was fortunate to have a few friends that already lived here who were, in my eyes, professional networkers. I’ve learned so much from them and it’s proven to be very beneficial over the past 11 years that I’ve lived here.
- Creativity — The ability to think outside the box, and sometimes very quickly, is so important. Especially if your PR career finds you working in an agency setting, you’ll likely be working with multiple clients, in multiple industries, all in a day’s work. To keep strategies fresh and successful, it takes a creative mind. (Honestly, this is a fun aspect of PR!)
- Perseverance — It might take a day, or a week or a year to secure the perfect media hit. And that’s ok. It goes back to the infamous saying: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” And sometimes the perfect story doesn’t come to fruition immediately. My favorite publications to work with are travel-based because I absolutely love to travel. I remember working on a story with Lonely Planet knowing that it would take some time to see it go live. It required patience and ensuring that I provided my journalist contact the most accurate information. When the story went live, I experienced true joy seeing my team’s work in one of my favorite publications.
- Friendliness — You know, this might seem basic, but if you’re working in PR, you’re working with other people day in and day out. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect because we’re all doing our best. I think about this often when communicating with journalists. It’s important to view this working relationship as a two-way street because the goal is to ideally help each other succeed. Life is too short to not be friendly, no matter what career path you’re taking.
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’m a big fan of snail mail and I fell in love with this form of communication again at the onset of the pandemic. You know, as small as it is, receiving a letter in the mail means someone took extra time and care to think about you and check in. If we all sent one piece of mail a month, it could truly impact a large amount of people. And it’s not complicated. Just something to consider!
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.
PR Pros: Sarah Cox of Dittoe 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.