PR Pros: Vicki Bohlsen On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro
A PR pro needs to be an excellent, clear and concise communicator with the spoken and written word. My team would never hire someone who didn’t excel in these two critical areas. So, don’t have a typo in your resume or spell a name wrong in the cover letter. Persuasive communication is key in this industry.
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 Vicki Bohlsen.
Vicki Bohlsen, who started her career in New York City at CBS Television Network, has more than 35 years of experience in marketing, advertising and public relations. After a stint in affiliate relations in national television, she went on to work in the promotion department of a local television station and at a couple of public relations firms before she embarked on a successful freelance career while raising her three kids (now ages 23, 21 and 17).
Twelve years ago, she founded Bohlsen Group (formerly BohlsenPR) — a B Corp certified, unified marketing agency in Indianapolis — that works with organizations that use business as a “force for good.”
Additionally, she hosts a podcast titled “Taking Care in Business”; the podcast presents people from all over the world who started or work for companies that prioritize people and the planet over profits.
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?
It was a bit of a winding road. I enrolled and was accepted into the nursing program at DePauw University in my home state of Indiana; but shortly after that, my mother passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. Being an empath, I realized that nursing would be too intense for me. Good nurses, to me, were the ones who not only cared for my mom but our family as well. I was afraid that I’d “take my work home with me” every night if I became a nurse. So, I just took classes that interested me and — around sophomore year — settled on a major in the Communications department. I preferred the theater, writing, speech and public relations courses. When I graduated, I moved straightaway to New York City thinking I’d work in theater management. I met with a “head hunter” who suggested that a job in public relations was the best path for me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I started BohlsenPR (now Bohlsen Group) during the Great Recession. At first, I envisioned us working remotely, but it soon became clear that we needed to have a place to gather with each other and clients. A few months after opening the company, we moved into our first office with card tables and chairs (seriously!) as our office was being built out.
Then, ten years later, the pandemic hit! I made the decision to negotiate us out of our office lease immediately. We worked entirely remote for more than a year and, only recently, committed to a co-working space. We now have the best of both worlds. We work remotely as much as we want, but have a space to go to for meetings, brainstorms and… to keep our sanity.
As I felt in the beginning, it’s not about the space you do the work in, rather, the work you do.
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 working at a local television station, I was arranging for the news talent to appear on a float in a local parade. In a memo outlining the timeline for the day, I told them they’d “convene” when I meant “commence.” Although it was very clear from the timeline what I meant, one of the news anchors called me out in front of everyone. It was embarrassing, to say the least. I learned that using bigger words is not necessary. I also committed, if I ever got to a position of authority, to treat all team members with respect even if they made a mistake.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Bohlsen Group got B Corp certified in 2016 and, since then, we have been committed to working with organizations that use business as a “force for good.” We’re blessed to be positively impacting the world while doing what we love. Every day is exciting for me!
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 am self-motivated and self-disciplined. I became resilient in young adulthood after having had a pretty rough childhood. I didn’t have a lot of parental guidance, and so it was a requirement that I couldn’t rely on anyone but myself. I am grateful that the pain turned into positive energy and empathy for others.
I am a fearless visionary. From being a new PR pro to starting my own company, I can’t tell you how many times I have been scared. The fear can always be there — the early days of pitching a story to a major news outlet to failing at starting my own business. However, I have learned to make informed decisions and be far-sighted in order to accomplish goals and succeed.
I am committed to having a positive impact on others. I not only find it important to create a positive workplace culture, but to be perceptive of the needs of others so that my work can be impactful and as far-reaching as possible.
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?
I think there are six main areas of PR, as outlined below. The bringing together of more than one + marketing and/or advertising = Strategic Communications.
Social Media Relations
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?
This is such a hot topic for me because I wish that it was all more streamlined at the university/college level so that employers can really understand a candidate’s strengths when interviewing. Therefore, I have no easy answer. Most liberal arts colleges offer a degree in Communications, and that is where the PR curriculum is housed. At larger universities, it varies. Even if a university offers a degree in PR, I would suggest casting a wider net into Strategic Communications because an understanding of marketing and advertising helps a PR professional understand how it all works together. Courses in Journalism certainly help, but a degree in Journalism alone isn’t going to cut it.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Although I’m an introvert, I take a sincere interest in meeting new people. I think this is because I love, love, love to read biographies, memoirs and non-fiction. When I meet a new person, I ask them a lot of questions; inevitably, I find that I am authentically listening and contributing. I enjoy helping others succeed, so I have no problem introducing people to each other if it is going to be a great connection.
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 all starts with good positioning. Identifying what do you do and for whom is key! We were the first B Corp certified company in Indianapolis and remain the only agency certified in Indianapolis. We are committed to working with organizations that use business as a “force for good.” This provides positioning that is unique to our (perceived) competitors.
Second, marketing! We tell our positioning “story” and showcase success stories. We manage Bohlsen Group just as we do a client.
I started my podcast as a passion project, but there is no doubt that it is a marketing and lead gen tool for Bohlsen Group. I do not shy away from having guests on the podcast who are from aspirational client companies.
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.)
- A PR pro needs to be an excellent, clear and concise communicator with the spoken and written word. My team would never hire someone who didn’t excel in these two critical areas. So, don’t have a typo in your resume or spell a name wrong in the cover letter. Persuasive communication is key in this industry.
- A PR pro needs to stay on top of trends in not only PR, but marketing and advertising as well. Things are constantly changing in any industry, but especially in PR. When I was getting started in my career, we didn’t even have the internet (I know, I know). There were four television networks and a few cable channels — no iPhone, no social media.
- A PR pro needs to feel empowered and confident to communicate how to incorporate new tactics into campaigns when they believe doing so will help meet goals and objectives. A lot of prospective clients will think they “need press releases” when they need so much more. It is imperative to not only explain the importance of relationships, good media lists, outreach and follow-up, but the other creative ways their target audience(s) can be reached.
- A PR pro needs to understand the importance of and how to report and measure success. Finding out what and how to best measure success for a client should be established up front because that will guide your planning and execution. For example, we created our own proprietary earned media measurement system that we feel covers all bases.
- A PR pro needs to be well-read and/or capable of researching and discovering information on a variety of topics. Especially if working in an agency, you will be exposed to many different industries and types of companies. You might shift gears a handful of times in an hour. The more you know about the client, the more comfortable you will be.
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. 🙂
Clearly, I am very passionate about using business as a force for good. With the current state of our country, business and community leaders are oftentimes more influential than our government. People are looking to people in positions of authority to guide and influence; therefore, I believe that we need to do exactly that. We need to lead by example.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.
PR Pros: Vicki Bohlsen 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.