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Once in a while I’m going to try and post a Q&A with an industry leader who I admire and think can help all of us PR pros out. For that reason, I’m very thankful for the opportunity to interview Deirdre Breakenridge.
For background, Deirdre (@dbreakenridge) is President and Executive Director of Communications at Mango!, which is a new marketing agency that launched in February. Prior to this venture, Deirdre has spent more than 20 years counseling senior-level executives at companies including ASCO, Hersheys, JVC, KRAFT, and Michael C. Fina. She is also an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and is the author of four books: Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences, The New PR Toolkit, Cyber Branding. She is also co-founder of #PRStudChat on Twitter.
The following is part one of an interview with Deirdre, which discusses life at a new agency, as well as her advice to young PR pros. Part two, which will be posted on Monday, 3/15, will include her thoughts on social media and where the PR industry is headed.
Q: First of all, tell us a little bit about your new agency, Mango!, and how you became involved.
I love to talk about Mango! because there’s a good story behind it. Whenever someone asked me in the past about my former agency, PFS Marketwyse, and what the “PFS” stood for, I would always take pause. There was no major moment or epiphany that created PFS. Rather the PFS stood for two companies, Paradigm and Full Scope, which merged in 1994. I used to joke around and say that the PFS stood for “Pretty Freakin’ Special.”
But, Mango is entirely different. I believe the agency was born out of a need in the market. We listened carefully to what our customers were saying. They were having a hard time managing the transitions in the media landscape and questioning the relationships of their agencies because social media is a game changer (both for the client and also for agencies and the services they need to provide). We realized that our experience in social media, as well as some really good traditional communications history, could produce a hybrid agency that is flexible, shows great versatility in media, knows how to listen to the market and, at the same time has those fun, bold, bright and exciting qualities that an agency should possess. To me, Mango! represents those characteristics and more.
Q: How is Mango! different from other agencies/companies you’ve worked with?
I’m sure there are other agencies out there that are taking this very same approach. But for me, based on the companies I’ve worked with, I feel Mango! is different because it builds community through conversations and engagement; a great way to reach people and have them interact and speak directly with you. We understand that there will be traditional needs (whether it’s traditional PR, direct mail, TV or radio) yet we want to make sure that we are listening to people from the bottom up, in all cases, so that we understand whether it’s offline and/or online what the people need from their brands. This changes the entire broadcast model, which just doesn’t work in today’s fast paced and collaborative social web. We’re looking forward to having Mango!’s clients learn a better approach to relationship building and also to seeing how communication is extremely integrated. Public relations (with new roles and responsibilities), marketing and web all must come together at the strategy table because of the new ways that consumers are behaving, interacting and choosing the media they want to consume.
Q: For students and PR pros looking around, the big question they want to know is if you are hiring?! If so, what is the best way to apply for a job or internship (if you are offering these – and if so – are these paid or can you only achieve school credit?)?
The economy has altered our hiring practices for the time being. When we see college graduates with degrees in communications coming out of school and taking internships, we know that the economy is still on the mend. My agency has always offered paid internships unless the student is taking the internship for course credits (in this case, they are reimbursed for all of their expenses). However, it’s very important as a junior and senior in college to be active and network with professionals, so that they have good connections and people to turn to for advice and for career opportunities.
I see so many proactive students on Twitter and Facebook networking and making connections. I applaud their efforts. Many of them are joining in the Twitter PR chat sessions, whether it’s #Journchat, #PR20Chat or #PRStudChat. They are also participating in Help a PR Person Out or #HAPPO. These students send a very strong message that they are passionate, enthusiastic, and want to learn as much as they can either before they begin a career in PR, or look to excel at a faster rate. Whether PR professionals are hiring now or looking for interns/employees in the future, we will look to these students and young professionals who are already engaged in our public relations communities. For me, seeing first hand through social networking, a young professional’s engagement and interest in the profession, positively impacts their chances of being selected for a communications position within my agency.
Q: You are very much involved in helping students and young professionals through your blog and various tweetchats. What do you find is the no. 1 question you are asked, and how do you respond to it?
I try to be very active when it comes to students and young professionals because these are the communications leaders of the future. The number one question that is asked usually is in the form of “Is PR right for me?” and “When did you realize that you wanted to be in PR?” Now, I know that’s really two questions, but they go hand in hand. My advice to the student is: although professionals can guide you and offer their experience, you are the only person who can truly answer the question “is PR right for you?”
I realized the answer as I participated in PR initiatives as a junior PR person at a New York City agency. Despite the many challenges and stress (which comes from any job), I had this incredible force and drive from within, pushing me to do more, learn more and to rise to new PR heights. I found myself wanting to take on tougher challenges and enjoying how to be a part of the communications solution.
I realized that I wanted to be in PR during my internship – something just clicked for me and felt right. It also really helped that a senior VP at the firm and mentor had a tremendous amount of faith in my PR abilities. I remember him signing a copy of the book “The Practice of Public Relations” (he was interviewed in one of the chapters) and his inscription said that I would have a stellar career in PR someday. I still have that book on my bookshelf today. I trusted and believed him. Of course, the whole time I also believed in myself. I let my instincts guide me knowing that someday I would give back to students and young professionals, so that they would hopefully feel the same excitement, drive and passion that I did early on in my own career.
Q: For professionals like myself who may have anywhere from 2 to 6yrs experience, what advice can you offer us as we look to move up the corporate ladder and make a name for ourselves?
This is another very important and popular question. I think it deserves a lot of thought depending on the person and their strengths. Each and every one of us has to figure out what we do best and then highlight those strengths by going above and beyond in certain ways to stand out. Now, there are definitely some initial characteristics that get a person noticed right away by a supervisor or an executive in an organization, even before they have the opportunity to shine with their own unique talents. For instance, I always noticed the young professionals who were conscientious and in the office early, working and staying later to make sure everything was done, or those individuals who would see if anyone else on the team needed help. I also noticed the people who took the time to ask questions and who found interest in the client’s business (above and beyond the initial assignment). Then, there were those who asked for more work because they naturally wanted to take on greater challenges and excel. These people tend to stand out.
Once you are recognized for your enthusiasm and passion, you can then show your unique talent whether it’s speaking, writing, social conversations, media, or great creative ideas in PR. For myself, the rule of thumb was to show the passion first, and then add the skills to the passion, to really get noticed and stand out above the rest.