Read as Lisa Elia talks about her career as a Publicist. Find her at www.lisaeliapr.com and on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.
What do you do for a living?
I am a publicist, media trainer, and CEO of Lisa Elia PR.
How would you describe what you do?
As a publicist and media trainer, my overall objective is to prepare clients for media exposure and to secure it for them.
What does your work entail?
I create plans to help promote our clients’ products or services or themselves, if they’re experts. I help clients clarify their messaging and prepare them with media training so they’re ready for media interviews. Then, my staff and I arrange interviews in, or coverage in, the media that reaches the target audiences each client is trying to reach. We secure placements with all media types: TV news and talk shows, radio shows, magazines, newspapers, web sites and blogs) .
As the CEO of Lisa Elia PR, some of my time is spent assigning work to each of my three staff members, reviewing press kit materials they write for clients, securing new business and meeting with clients to strategize or provide media training.
What’s a typical work week like?
I work an average of 60 hours a week (not including time for lunch or breaks). I receive hundreds of emails a day that I must address or pass through to a staff member, and many of them are from potential clients or members of the media, so they’re important. I spend around an hour a day assigning work to my staff, around two hours a day answering their questions and reviewing documents for clients. The rest of the time is spent meeting with clients in person, on the phone or via Skype, writing publicity plans for prospective clients, creating new strategies for clients, being interviewed by the media and sometimes speaking on stages or webinars.
At night and on the weekends, I spend time absorbing media—reading magazines, watching TV so I know which TV shows would be a good fit for each of our clients and which to avoid. (Some shows are just not where you want your clients to be seen.)
How did you get started?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in communication with a public relations focus. I took some journalism and communication classes my freshman year in college and loved them, so I chose this as my major. During my junior year in college, I did internships with the Multiple Sclerosis Society and Delmarva Power & Light (a large utility company on the east coast). After working with other firms for a few years, I opened my first marketing communications firm in 1990, when I was 27 years old.
What do you like about what you do?
I love to strategize, problem solve, write, and provide media training, which is what attracted me to PR in the first place. I also love creating systems to do things more efficiently and to help my staff develop professionally, which is why I like being CEO of a firm.
What do you dislike?
I dislike the lack of great systems to manage media outreach and placements efficiently. We’ve used many over the years and even the ones that are supposed to be the best have many problems because the people who created the software are techies and don’t really understand how publicists think, how we want to be able to report back to clients, and how we want to manage information for follow-up. My staff and I waste a lot of time talking to tech support, trying to get systems to work efficiently. After seven months of us asking our current provider for specific changes, they’re telling us that they’re hearing the same requests from other firms, so they’re finally going to implement the changes we asked for. It’s the only part of my business that I find frustrating.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
We charge our clients either a monthly retainer fee or a fee for a specific project. Our monthly fee starts at $3,500.
How much money do Publicists make?
The pay rates vary drastically, depending on the type of PR you’re doing and your level of experience. Starting rates could be $20,000/yr. and it could go up to $200,000/yr. and more for an in-house executive. If you own your own firm, the sky’s the limit, depending on how large you become. Here’s a link to a range of salaries:
How much money did/do you make starting out?
In the mid-80s, when I started out, I earned $24,000 a year.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?
I believe that the study of media and/or journalism is very important to be a good publicist. If you don’t earn your degree in one of these areas, you should educate yourself thoroughly and do everything you can to hone your writing skills and to understand how various media types work: for example, the needs of a TV news producer are very different than the needs of a magazine writer, so understanding them will enable you to pitch them more effectively. Also, understanding the principles of public relations, which encompasses how you relate to all of your publics, is very important when creating strategies and crisis communication plans for clients.
What is most challenging about what you do?
Managing clients’ expectations when they are unrealistic is challenging. Sometimes, even when we explain that media outlets have lead times that can be weeks or months, clients still want to see placements within a week or two of hiring us: it’s just unrealistic, so we often have to reiterate and reeducate clients about the way the media works.
What is most rewarding?
I love that we’re able to change a client’s business and entire life by helping them to refine their messaging and step out into the world more confidently and by providing opportunities to make them much more visible through our publicity placements.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Know that this is a job that requires continued professional development for as long as you’re in it.
Study public relations and news writing. If you hold a degree in something else, take some classes.
Sharpen your writing skills, especially in news writing and journalism.
Read high-level magazines and newspapers and learn from the best.
Study various media outlets to see who they serve, their tone and what they cover.
Stay up on current events and business news.
How much time off do you get/take?
I try to take off one day on the weekend, just for fun and personal time with my husband.
My husband and I take a trip each summer to visit both of our families on the east coast, so we usually take around 10 days for that. However, I do check in with my staff and check some emails periodically during these trips.
We try to take a real vacation for a week in November or December to Hawaii or somewhere delicious like that.
I close our office on all the official holidays, but sometimes use some of that quiet time to catch up on things so I can make time for projects that will move our firm forward.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
That it’s about parties and being social. Most of our work involves writing press materials and pitches that we email to the media, some phone calls and lots of managing details in software systems and databases. I do some public speaking, so I’m out at events a bit and sometimes we work events on our clients’ behalf and my firm has held events, but it’s a lot of phone work and writing.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
I am in the midst of developing some new income streams and programs that will help more people run their businesses more efficiently. Some day, I will write a book on business and PR and my husband and I will start our foundation to help children, especially with basic needs like food, shelter and education.
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
The field of public relations allows for a lot of creativity and requires excellent communication skills, and the area in which you focus should reflect what you want to think about and who you want to be surrounded by every day. Choose your area of focus to suit the life you want for yourself. For example, I didn’t want to receive calls in the middle of the night or to be on red carpets trying to coordinate interviews every night: I wanted to have most of my nights to spend with my husband and friends. So, I chose to NOT go into entertainment PR. Most of our clients are businesses or experts.
Some quick advice: Good manners are free and they go a long way when working with the media, in business, and in life.