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!

November 16, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , . blogging, public relations, social media. 1 comment.

Confessions of a Social Media Wallflower

If you’re like me, you probably consider yourself a social media wallflower.

I admire many of the social media darlings from afar, like Samantha Baker did Jake Ryan in “Sixteen Candles.” (Big surprise I would identify with the cynical, quintessential Molly Ringwald character of the ’80′s, right?)

But just as Samantha found out that Jake really liked her, I found out that I do have something to contribute to these social media conversations I’d been admiring from afar.

And what’s more, I found a community full of resources that created a more enriching social media experience for me.

Here’s my “Sixteen Candles” moment…

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to moderate the #socpharm Twitter chat, which takes place every Wednesday from 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. EST.

For a little background on the #socpharm chat and its founder extraordinaire, Eileen O’Brien, check out my first PR in Pink Chat post.

When Eileen approached me to moderate the #socpharm chat, I nearly jumped out of my socks!

It was like when Jake Ryan noticed Samantha at the school dance.

I have been a lurker/participator in the #socpharm chat since last Fall when I got plugged into Twitter and quickly noted that many others in the social media-pharmaceutical marketing arena were posting to that hashtag.

If you’re curious as to how a Twitter chat works in the grant scheme of things, Neicole M. Crepeau has a fantastic post on Twitter chats.

But back to my ’80′s movie Twitter moment.

I was hesitant at first to moderate the #socpharm chat, unbeknownst to Eileen. I told my husband about it and was surprised to hear his response -”Why wouldn’t you want to moderate it? Isn’t that a big deal to you?”

Yes, in my little big world of social media, the Twitter chat is a big deal.

Speaking from my experiences, I’ve found several positive aspects about joining or at least monitoring a Twitter chat, including:

  • Finding other people within your profession with which to network
  • Learning about new perspectives and broadening your viewpoint on various issues
  • Getting inspired to write a blog post on a topic of interest (A good illustration is Shonali Burke who often elaborates on and summarizes discussions out of the #measurepr Twitter chat)
  • Inquiring about best practices, tips, and feedback on your work
  • Creating and strengthening an online community

So, like the transformation montage in the ’80′s movies (the ones where the wallflower comes out of her/his shell in time for the big dance), I accepted Eileen’s invitation and moderated the #socpharm chat.

I was nervous; I was scared; I thought I wouldn’t have all the right answers right away; but in the end I had a lot of fun!

Just like Samantha Baker gained confidence at the end of “Sixteen Candles,” this experience also made me feel more confident about my knowledge and ability to contribute to the Twitter conversation.

Bottom line from this story is that it’s worth the effort to put yourself out there and to get involved in a Twitter chat if you find one that’s of interest to you or relevant to your profession.

You never know what you’ll learn if you don’t give it a try.

While I don’t currently work in the pharmaceutical communications field, I still enjoy the community and camaraderie of the #socpharm chats. I hope to find one in my new field of employment also.

So this is just my little reflective post on an extraordinarily positive experience as a result of a Twitter chat.

What’s been your experience with Twitter chats?  Any other moderators want to add their perspective?

Oh, and if you want to read the script and see how nerdy I was at moderating, here is a link to the #socpharm transcript featuring moi.

April 20, 2011. Tags: , , . social media. 7 comments.

PR in Pink Chat with Eileen O’Brien on Tweetchats

This is the start of what I hope to make an ongoing series–PR in Pink Chats with various folks in the know about public relations, social media, journalism, and communications.

Hopefully, you’ll find these people as interesting as I do, as they each have something interesting to share from their experiences and perspectives.

This inaugural chat is with Eileen O’Brien, moderator extraordinaire of the weekly #SocPharm tweetchats.

Eileen has more than 15 years of interactive healthcare marketing experience. As Director of Search & Innovation at Siren Interactive she oversees search strategy, analytics, and social media. She can be reached on Twitter at @eileenobrien and blogs at

I got to know Eileen through her role as moderator for the #SocPharm tweetchat, which takes place Wednesdays at 8 pm EST. It’s a great way to learn about and discuss pharmaceutical marketing and social media issues.

Here is what Eileen has to say about Tweetchats and the #SocPharm chat in particular:

1. How long have you been on Twitter and why did you start tweeting?
I started on Twitter in April 2008 because I had heard the buzz coming out of SXSW and was curious. I was quickly captivated by the ability to gain access to marketing and social media leaders and establish relationships. I read a lot of e-newsletters and was already sharing articles via email with colleagues and friends; Twitter allowed me to easily share them with a larger audience.

2. What is your opinion of Twitter? Can it be a resource? How can professionals get the most out of Twitter participation?
I love Twitter and think it’s an excellent resource. Due to time constraints, I no longer visit my RSS feed, but let the Twitter audience choose what’s important for me to read.

I recommend: 1) following people who are passionate about your interests and 2) following hashtags. Professionals should clearly state their focus on their bio and then add the appropriate hashtag to tweets, which is how I find new people to follow. Plus, participate in tweetchats.

Twitter has helped me to establish a tremendous network of people who I respect. I’ve been privileged to be able to support and help them and vice versa.

I’m naturally a curious person so I like asking questions and I’m pretty opinionated – Twitter is perfect for both of those things! Plus, with 140 characters it’s quick and doesn’t take up a huge amount of time.

3. Why did you start to moderate the #SocPharm Twitter discussion?
In the fall of 2009, the FDA social media hearings generated a lot of interest and the conversations in the #FDASM hashtag started by Fabio Gratton were fascinating. Around the same time I attended BarCamp Philly and Phil Baumann, who started #RNChat, gave a talk about running tweetchats.

In conversation, Phil noted that there was no tweetchat specific to pharma and encouraged me to start one. The #HCSM tweetchat focuses on healthcare marketing from a hospital and physician perspective. Having worked in hospital marketing for a dozen years and now with several years experience in pharmaceutical marketing, I knew how different they were. I agreed that a tweetchat with the focus on pharmaceutical marketing and social media in the U.S. was needed.

When I announced it on Twitter, Shwen Gwee, who had started the Social Pharmer network, encouraged me to use the hashtag #SocPharm. The pharma community on Twitter was enthusiastic and supportive, especially Ellen Hoenig Carlson and my colleague at Siren, Frieda Hernandez. We started the first Wednesday in January 2010 and have been going for over a year now!

4. How diverse is the range of participants in the #SocPharm discussions, from your experience and observations?
What’s great about the #SocPharm tweetchat is that we not only get people who work for pharma and biotech companies, the agencies that partner with them (such as interactive and PR), consultants and industry media, but we occasionally get physicians, nurses and patients. It’s nice to get a range of perspectives on the topics.

5. Judging by some of the guest moderators, it looks like pharmaceutical companies have taken notice of the #SocPharm discussions. What value does their participation bring to the table?
It’s essential to the #SocPharm tweetchat that we have people who work in pharma. Fortunately, they’ve been very supportive and even guest moderate. I try to have a guest moderator from pharma once a month.

Recently, I became a board member of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association which is another time commitment for me. So now I’m relying even more on participants from agencies, industry media, and others to guest moderate as well. People have been very willing to pitch in and are generous with their time and thoughts.

6. Do you feel that a discussion helps build a stronger Twitter community? How do you maintain that momentum?
The discussion has introduced so many of us to each other. It’s great because then when we meet in real life at a conference we already have a good sense of each other. On the #SocPharm tweetchat people are very generous with sharing their ideas, opinions and best practices. With each chat I usually learn something new as well as have one laugh. You have to have fun.

7. What are some of your goals for the #SocPharm discussion this year?
The goal for this year is to grow participation. Currently, there aren’t a huge number of people on Twitter who work in the pharma industry, although it is growing. So we have quality over quantity for the #SocPharm chats, which can make it nice and intimate, but I would like to increase our exposure. Thanks for asking these questions and writing this post which will help achieve that.

I know a lot of people listen to the chat and read the transcripts, but don’t necessarily participate. I’d like them all to feel free to say hello and dive in! I think it can be a little intimidating at first but we are nice to newbies.

8. Are there any other Twitter discussions you participate in or hashtags you would recommend following for folks interested in social media and pharmaceutical/healthcare issues?
The previously mentioned #HCSM is valuable, as well as #HCSMEU which focuses on Europe.  Conference hashtags are always good to follow to get the high points of what’s being presented.

9. What is your favorite color?

Thanks to Eileen for participating in this edition of PR in Pink Chat! Be sure to check out the #SocPharm tweetchat every Wednesday at 8 pm EST.

March 8, 2011. Tags: , , , , . social media. 1 comment.


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