PR in Pink Chat with Shonali Burke
Welcome back to PR in Pink Chats! It’s been a while, but there are still lots of neat and interesting folks to hear from.
In this chat edition, Shonali Burke (@Shonali) shares her experiences getting started in public relations, starting her own solo PR practice, and being all things social in the interwebs.
Ms. Burke is an accredited, award-winning communication consultant and sought-after speaker based in the Washington, D.C., metro area with a national reach and international network.
She writes the Waxing Unlyrical blog, which is a great resource for PR folks, and also started the #measurepr bi-weekly Tweetchat. And she’s just an all-around nice person, and I’m happy to have gotten to know her over social media.
Check out this chat with Ms. Burke, and I’m sure you’ll come to appreciate her insights as much as I do:
How long have you been working in public relations and what was your first PR job?
I started working in public relations about 15 years ago. My first career was as an actress and director (primarily theater), but I realized very soon that fulfilling as it was, that wasn’t necessarily going to generate a decent income stream. Because quite a few people knew me via drama (I was also a radio DJ and, for a while, the cell phone “voice” for what was then one of India’s largest mobile companies), folks started asking me if I would “help” them with PR. Of course, not knowing the first thing about it, I said yes…!
So my first real PR job was managing the function for a financial services company. I moved to the US in 2000, and started my career all over again with a boutique agency in San Francisco; so, from the US point of view, that would be my first job here.
When did you decide that you wanted to continue working in PR as an independent practitioner? What are some of the pro’s and con’s to having your own practice?
Even when I lived and worked in India, I ended up working independently after a while. Primarily that was because I still kept one foot in the performing world, and that was the only thing that let me manage my own schedule so that I could take on theater gigs when I wanted, and PR gigs when I wanted. In my latest incarnation as an independent practitioner, it’s been about three years; and this time around, it was because, as the economy started tanking, I just didn’t see the kind of job I would like to do. So I figured I should just go out on my own, and that’s what I did.
Some of the pros of working independently are: you are your own boss so you can pick and choose the work you’d like to do; if you work from home, you save a ton on dry cleaning bills (I mean, not many of us wear a suit to work when we’re commuting from the bedroom to the home office); and, obviously, you’re not bound to an office schedule so you can factor in doing things of a personal nature when you need to.
However, I think many people believe being independent is a bed of roses; it’s not. I think we actually end up working much harder than a lot of people who are full-time employees, since we have to do the work *and* manage the business. That’s not necessarily a con, but it does come with the territory.
I’d say some of the cons of working independently are that you can get to be a bit of a shut-in, because you’re not going into an office every day and meeting your colleagues; the lines between your work time and personal time get blurred (so it’s important to recognize and manage that), and it can be tough to regulate your income stream the way you’d like. You also have to be good not just at attracting but at closing business, so you have to be a really good sales person.
Why did you launch your blog, Waxing UnLyrical? What do you like about blogging, whether on WUL or on any other outlet?
Back in 2008, when I was still relatively new to Twitter, I was having a back channel conversation with a “thought leader” about the social media storm-in-a-teacup of the day. When I later looked up that person’s blog, I saw that my comments had been used almost verbatim as this person’s opinion, with no credit given. I was a little taken aback; if it had been me, I would at least have referenced the other person.
I felt that if my opinions were good enough to be represented on someone else’s blog, they were good enough for my own… because one of the things I’d been worried about in terms of starting my own blog was whether or not anyone would care. But this was the catalyst in making me start WUL.
I love the way blogging lets us connect with so many other people. Of course you can do that on micro-blogs as well, but you obviously have more characters to do it with on a blog. I think it can be a huge asset professionally in terms of building your reputation and standing in whatever industry you’re in, growing a community and, used well, blogs will eventually start resulting in business. I hear a lot of people say, “I don’t know how to blog.” To which I say: “Rubbish. You may not know the technicalities of publishing a blog, but those are easily learned. If you can write a journal, you can publish a blog.”
You also moderate a popular weekly Tweetchat, #measurepr. Why do you believe that PR practitioners need to understand measurement and ROI?
At the end of the day, everything we do in public relations has to help our organizations/clients somehow when it comes to achieving business goals. So if we’re not figuring out how to tie what we’re doing to how we’re supporting those goals, we are probably the first people that will be laid off, downsized, etc. So, from a very selfish point of view, it’s in the interest of every PR practitioner to show how s/he is contributing to the bottom line.
At a more macro level, PR practitioners are, at their core, educators. We educate our clients, we educate our audiences… whether we know it or not, we’re teaching. If we don’t have the platform from which to do this, we do a disservice to the PR industry as a whole. So to keep elevating our industry, we need to understand measurement, keep our jobs, and keep teaching!
What do you find is a common assumption PR practitioners make with regard to measurement? What are some resources that are helpful in better understanding measurement in PR campaigns?
Some of the assumptions/misconceptions I come across frequently are:
1. Measurement is tough. No, it’s not. It can be as simple, or as complicated as you make it. The more complicated you make it, the tougher it will seem.
2. People are still measuring impressions… and stopping there. It’s fine to do that, but it’s *not* fine to stop there. We have to constantly be trying to correlate what we’re doing to what we’re trying to achieve.
3. Folks try to measure the tools instead of focusing on why they are using them. Again, it comes back to what one is trying to achieve, so, in other words, starting at the end.
There are some terrific resources on PR measurement (including social media), such as the Institute of Public Relations and several good blogs. An easy way to find people who are smart about measurement and get to their blogs is to use this Twitter list I created a while back.
How is social media important to the public relations and communications profession? Do you see it (social media) as an asset or as a distraction?
I think social media has become critical to what we in PR do. The very fact that I’m doing this Q&A for you is proof positive. PR is about building relationships and education. Social media is perfect for that. Of course it can be distracting, because it’s also a lot of fun. But just like we learn to manage our time on other activities, we have to learn to manage our social media time – that’s probably the biggest complaint about it that I hear.
Do you have any advice for beginning bloggers? Is there anything that even blogging veterans like yourself still learn?
I’m a little pumped that you consider me a blogging veteran… I still consider myself a newbie! I created a category called “Blogging for Grasshoppers” a while back, which I hope will be helpful to blogging newbies, since it’s where my guest bloggers and I talk about blogging tips we’ve learned.
I think one of the biggest fears “grasshoppers” have is how to get started. So the single-most important piece of advice I could give would be to just do it. Seriously. It’s that simple. As you continue along your blogging journey, you’ll find your voice, you’ll find what kind of posting schedule works for you, and so on. But you’ll never learn any of that if you don’t start.
I typically suggest using WordPress, since it’s extremely user-friendly, and when you don’t know how to do something, do two things: 1) do an Internet search and 2) ask for help. Every single time I didn’t know how to do something, I either found the answer by looking for it, or by asking on Facebook and Twitter (sometimes email to specific people, but mostly by asking on social networks). And I always got an answer.
A couple of my personal preferences: use a self-hosted blog as opposed to a free WordPress blog (it looks more professional). Use a combination of colors that is easy on the eye. Set up Google Analytics and Feedburner as soon as you can. And then just blog!
What is your favorite color?
This is a tough one. I actually love pink, but don’t seem to wear too much of it. So I’d say the colors I gravitate towards the most are red and black (which is weird, since my blog is brown and aqua, but I love it).
As you can see, Ms. Burke has a lot of knowledge and inspiration to share–be sure to check out her blog for more great content. Hope you have a great day!