Behind the Headlines With Jen Dobrzelecki

In today’s market, competition for your audience’s loyalty is fierce. And if you’re brand isn’t living up to its promises, you’ll lose out on the business that you deserve.

Jen Dobrzelecki, executive vice president at M&C Saatchi PR, says to compete in today’s market, PR is more important than ever.

In this interview, Jen discusses how brands can get noticed by their audience, why they need to deliver on the promises they make and how the lines between marketing channels are blurring.

How did you get your start in PR?

I didn’t even know that PR was a career option until I enrolled in Boston University’s College of Communication. In my required foundational coursework, I was exposed to all fields of communication — from film to TV to journalism to advertising to PR — but I naturally gravitated to the PR offerings. Then, during my sophomore year I landed a PR internship with a local Boston-based firm, and the rest is history.

What do you see as the biggest PR challenges facing brands today?

A cluttered landscape and fierce competition for share of voice — coupled with shrinking marketing budgets — means that PR is more important to brands than ever before.

No longer does launching a product, introducing a new innovation or announcing “new news” guarantee that a brand will generate coverage and conversation. Brands have to work much harder to drive awareness and inspire behavior.

With so much competition in the marketplace, how can brands stand out?

Brands that have a truly distinct voice and story to tell are more likely to get noticed — by media, influencers, consumers and stakeholders. And that doesn’t mean they need to be category leaders or have the biggest budgets.

Take one of our clients, HIPPEAS, for instance. When HIPPEAS — a new organic chickpea puff — was planning to enter the U.S. market this year — it was joining the extremely competitive “better for you” snack segment, which saw 879 new product developments in the first half of 2016 alone.

Being delicious and good for you — which it is! — wasn’t enough. We needed to craft a brand narrative that would be meaningful to all the key audiences we wanted to reach.

So, we focused the story on the parent company’s larger mission, which is to develop products that are not only good for you, but also good for the larger world. And it works because the brand backs it up with a real promise — to give a portion of the sales back to a relevant charity; Farm Africa uses the funds to support chickpea farmers, who will eventually be the source for the main product ingredient.

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What are the key components of a successful brand communication strategy?

The most successful campaigns will start with a strong and actionable insight, which should be the driver for all creative ideas and storytelling opportunities. And once that insight is nailed, it’s important to be laser-focused on delivering against it; too often, it gets watered down and lost in the process.

At M&C Saatchi PR, our philosophy is called “Brutal Simplicity of Thought.” We believe it’s easier to complicate than it is to simplify. We work hard to digest complex briefs and, from them, develop simple strategies and ideas that enter the brain faster, stay there longer and really drive change.

How has the PR industry changed in recent years? What are PR professionals doing differently today that they didn’t do in the past? What has stayed the same?

Over my career, I’ve witnessed and experienced the rise of the “always-on” mentality, which is now here to stay. Yes, years ago us PR practitioners thought about our clients and brands around the clock — if you’re a PR person, you never really turn it off.

But what has changed is the constantly-connected approach — because we are always plugged in to some degree and always reachable, the way we work has evolved a bit. We can — and indeed do — work from anywhere, and the traditional work day is no longer the norm.

How do you envision the future of PR?

The practice and profession of PR get more interesting and more exciting each year, and it will inevitably continue to evolve. As the lines between marketing channels become more blurry, we’ll see more and more people from “non-traditional” backgrounds enter the profession, and for marketers to put less boundaries around what we do.

What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in PR?

Those who are passionate about breaking into PR should treat themselves as their very first clients — if you were a brand, company or organization, how would you market yourself?  Show what you would bring to the table and how it would impact a potential employer’s business, and be creative in how you demonstrate that. I easily receive at least 100 resumes for each entry-level job posted, and very few stand out from the crowd; those that do always receive a response.

In today’s competitive job market, getting in the door is no easy task, but once you do, that’s when the real work begins. Work hard and put your best efforts forward every single day. Be a news, social and content junkie.  Learn everything you can about your employer and/or client’s business.

Show that you’re a problem solver, but one who’s not afraid to speak up if you have a question. Be proactive and always ask how you can best support your boss and other colleagues. Embrace every task — big and small — with gusto. And, above any of those things, a positive attitude, can-do approach and willingness to learn can take you very far.

Rapid Fire Round

1. I always thought I’d be…Like many young people, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be “when I grew up.” Instead of making long-term plans, I focused my efforts and ambition on short-term goals — from getting into a good school to graduating with honors to landing a real job to moving to New York City. It worked for me then, and still works for me today. Being open to possibility and whatever life presents has led me from one exciting opportunity to the other, both professionally and personally.

2. My favorite social media platform is…Instagram — as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

3. My hobbies outside of work include…When I can, I love to travel and see and experience new places. But even when I stay close to home, I’m always on the go in my off-time — one of the benefits of living in New York, the greatest city in the world. Whether it’s discovering new restaurants, going to concerts, checking out cultural events or just kicking back at my favorite dive bar, I stay busy and am rarely home.

4. If I won the lottery, I would…How much money are we talking here? Depending on the size of the jackpot, it could range from one insanely fun night out to retreating to my own personal island oasis.

5. I laugh most at…my friends, my colleagues and the overall absurdity of everyday life.

6. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…that every day presents the opportunity to learn something new.

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