Donna White, when we started following each other on Twitter, was making a name for herself. Now she’s regularly writing at PrimeTime and making a positive ruckus in the world of PR.
I’m happy to have her as the 15th participant of my Unlocking Potential series.
Without further ado, welcome, Donna.
Q: What’s Prime Time all about? What inspired you to pursue PR?
Donna: I wanted to be a journalist so studied it at university, but quickly discovered that I didn’t have the personality to survive any trash talk from a newsroom editor. What can I say? I’m a positive person. So, flicking through Guardian Media jobs in desperation, I came across a graduate position at a PR agency. It required creativity, communication and people skills – the same things I’d been studying for. So I took the plunge and, four interviews later, I got the job. A hop, skip and a jump later into in-house comms for a UK charity, I’ve recently switched over to digital marketing.
Prime Time started because I love writing and had lots of opinions about the industry and new campaigns that I wanted to comment on without securing approval from managers, directors and clients. It was my personal space where I could test my ideas – and set myself up as a PR champion and influencer. Two years later my baby is in its terrible twos and still going strong. #Proud.
Q: How might people be viewing PR wrong? Why would anyone think ill of such an amazing profession?
Donna: Anyone who thinks PR is service which should be viewed in isolation is clearly mistaken. It only works to its full potential when complemented with marketing and digital.
Integration is key and if brands are using multiple agencies for various campaign components, they should be clear on ways of working. Failing this, just hire a fully-integrated agency. See Q10 below for more details.
Q: What marketing advice do you find yourself giving most often?
Donna: Ensure your brand has criteria as to what conversations it should and shouldn’t get involved with – aka if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it at all!
American Apparel and GAP never cease to amaze me that they risk their reputation for a cheap tweet.
Also, don’t leave social media to your juniors unless they’re well-trained and trustworthy. It’s a series of mini windows into your brand values and, given enough chances, people will look. Don’t let them catch you undressed.
Q: I was chatting with a friend the other day reminiscing about a time when PR was all publicity and then the story of PR turning into an integrative effort. It’s pretty clear PR is an ever shifting definition. Where do you see PR just a few years from now? Will social media be at the helm? Will we return to more publicity stunts instead of strategy?
Donna: In a few years time it won’t matter what department ‘content’ is coming from, as long as brands have plenty of it and a plan to share it with the world. PR will still have its place – otherwise I’m out of a blog – but it won’t be execs selling in pretty press releases to journalists who don’t want to know. It’ll be organisations with shared values teaming up to create a bigger story that shifts people’s perceptions, attitudes and actions. A bigger splash in the pool.
Having said that, although people are becoming tired of stunts (‘Oh, is that a pair of Paddy Power pants in the air advertising betting on the Grand National? Yawn’), they’re still changing the algorithm of the industry by evoking some sort of emotion. But, once you’ve got everyone’s attention you have to cultivate that interest someway – and long-term strategies are key.
With regards to social, despite networks offering advertising, these platforms work best when used by agencies for organic quick wins: launching hashtags, sharing stories and getting involved in bigger conversations. There’s still a sense of achievement of stumbling upon a neat tweet and sharing it amongst your friends / peers.
Q: How can brands get a grip on social media? Can you use a brand and one platform as an example?
Donna: It’s important for brands to understand that not every social media platform is relevant for them. I’d much prefer to see a brand I love showing off great social skills on one channel, rather than a few poorly.
What’s really made me smile in the last few months is the idea of ‘insane honesty’.
Take US diner chain Arby’s for example. When it accidentally forgot to feature Pepsi in one of its adverts, it quickly released an additional video apologising for its mistake. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and makes the most of the opportunity to great effect. The proof in the pudding – it scored more than 1.5m YouTube views in a week.
Q: What’s a brand you’re in love with? Why?
Donna: I love to hate Lego. I can’t remember exactly how the love-hate relationship began. It probably started blocking up my news feeds with smarmy stunts. But, my personal feelings (jealously mostly) aside, I have to salute its communications team. It’s developed a rhythm for reactive PR and is fab at seeking out opportunities. Why? It’s secure enough in its brand to have some fun with it. Yes, the Lego bricks will always have to have certain dimensions, colours and perceptions. But, the boss doesn’t have a cow when these things are ever-so-slightly manipulated It understands that UGC is a pleasure worth any pain.
For want of a cliché it operates firmly outside the Lego house.
How many brands are confident enough to turn a complaint from a seven-year old girl into a compliment – by releasing a range of inspirational female figures? It’s probably the same as the number of brands which can create a BAFTA-winning self-titled movie.
Q: What advice would you give to someone wanting to be a PR pro?
Donna: Don’t forget to PR yourself. Find your niche. and own it. Whether it’s social media tips, a great relationship with a national journalist or in-depth knowledge of a specialist sector, position yourself as the go-to person and share your accomplishments when it all falls into place – for the clients or your business.
Q: Do you have a few life lessons you learned from your work in PR?
Donna: Don’t be intimidated by your position:
Have an idea or want to critique your client’s strategy but you’re just a junior in the company? It doesn’t matter. Ok, don’t shout it out during a crucial pitch, but find someone in the agency who you trust and be open with them. It’ll not only show you’re engaged and invested in the project, but will boost your profile. Even if nothing comes of it, I believe a CEO and a junior should be able to have a productive conversation. After all, we’re just PRs.
There’s been times when I’ve had that gut feeling to speak up and either missed the opportunity to speak up or didn’t communicate my point clearly. I remember in the first few weeks of my first PR job, I was involved in a government health campaign pitch prep workshop and the idea the seniors were leaning towards didn’t feel right. I broke up the conversation which took place around a large conference table, commented and it was dismissed because ‘what did I know?’ We lost the pitch but it didn’t matter to me. I’d stayed true to myself.
I wished I’d remembered that money when – fast forward a few years at a new agency – I’d made a fool of myself selling in a non story (roast dinners rarely make the news) at the request of my boss who hadn’t completed a sale in years. I knew it wasn’t a productive use of my time and the angle wasn’t working but didn’t speak up. So I not only damaged some journalist relationships by sounds like a plonker on the phone but also found it hard to justify my results.
Invited to a meeting but not sure why?
Talk to your boss and ask them what you can present, share or ask in the meeting. If you can’t do things, explain you’ll be taking notes. You want people to know you’re not just there for the tea and biscuits.
It’s PR, not ER:
As far as I know, no one’s ever died from an incorrect press release or missed coverage opportunity. Take your job seriously, of course, but don’t take it home with you.
Q: What are some habits you have that keep you ahead of the marketing game?
Donna: I follow the trail to see the bigger picture. If I spot a unique campaign on one of the 20 national, industry or blog sites that I read most days, I’ll research what people are saying about it and do some digging as to whether the agency has simply recycled an idea or has pushed the boundaries. It takes time but it makes my blog arguments stronger.
Q: Would you tell us a story of when a risk you took ended up becoming a success of yours?
Donna: Last year I left a permanent agency role for an in-house temporary contract at a national charity. It meant stepping down from a management role but I believed in the charity’s vision.
I went in there with nothing to lose but one goal: do the job (slightly) better than my predecessor.
I used my agency experience to create strategy documents and PR plans they’d not seen in a while and, when the chance came up to squeeze a digital internship into my day job I took it. It showed I was passionate and helpful, at the cost of a few early mornings and late nights.
But, that was my stepping stone to make it into digital. Now, I have two core skills under my belt. No looking back.
Q: If you had unlimited resources and time what would you do?
Donna: I’d work for myself and start my own consultancy: Prime Time.
It would (no, it will) offer clients an integrated service – PR, marketing, digital etc. But, to add jam to our bread and butter, we’ll have freelance PRs and copywriters to hire out and a recruitment division to ensure we’re introducing an outstanding range of diverse individuals to the fold.
Being a mixed race woman in any sector isn’t easy. I always want to champion diversity, equality and rising stars.
Q: Where can people find you and your passion, your work, your art?
Donna: You can catch up on the latest Prime Time (PR In My Eyes) news and views on www.primetimepr.co.uk.
Alternatively, follow my industry, soap opera and fitness ramblings on Twitter (@dmhwhite), Pinterest (@dmhwhite) and Instagram (@dmh_white).
Stay Positive & You Heard It Here
Also at PrimeTime, you view my guest post on Facebook’s hidden feature that (most) brands are missing out on.