Wendy Marx is the founder and president of Marx Communications, an award-winning B2B PR agency. With an impressive track record of growing small-&-midsized firms into well-known brands, Marx Communications stands out because of their focus on connecting the dots from PR to sales. We sat down with Wendy to get the scoop on her career in PR, overcoming the challenges of rapidly-evolving industry, and advice for the next generation of PR pros.
Joy Welborn: What led you to start your own firm and how did you decide to focus on B2B PR strategy?
Wendy Marx: It wasn't a straight trajectory. Before I started my agency, I worked as a newspaper reporter and in PR and marketing for both AT&T and GE Capital. I've always had an entrepreneurial streak and wanted the flexibility to be on my own. After leaving the corporate world, I initially hung out my shingle as a freelance writer. A lot of companies at the time were downsizing and I was fortunate to be able to write for IBM, International Paper, and Pitney Bowes -- all corporations in my neck of the woods. I also freelanced for media outlets, such as AdAge, Inc., and the New York Times.
A few of the companies and agencies I was writing for asked me for PR assistance and suddenly I was back in the PR world but this time as an entrepreneur. Gradually, I morphed my writing shop into a PR agency, hiring people to work for me.
Given my business writing background, from the start I focused on the B2B side. I've always loved learning about complicated subjects, making esoteric topics accessible and finding creative way to promote businesses. The unsexier the business, in my eyes, the more fun. Over the years, we've promoted everything from water-activated tape to RFID readers. It's been a great 25-year journey.
JW: Up until a few years ago, B2B PR had the luxury of focusing on press releases, trade media, and traditional news. With so many types of media outlets available now, how have you had to adjust your approach to B2B PR?
WM: Ten years ago, you could issue a press release and expect the media to take note. Today, with one journalist for every five PR people, that doesn't happen unless you're a major company. We still issue press releases but do so more as a way to summarize a story rather than expecting that the release itself will get serious coverage.
At the same time, the journalist erosion has opened opportunities. With fewer staff writers, outlets turn to PR people like us for content. We are frequently ghostwriting and placing articles on behalf of our clients in trade and business media. We also create owned content -- eBooks, infographics, white papers, SlideShares, and video.
I've gone full circle in a sense with my time freelance writing standing me in good stead. We also work with influencers, partners, develop social media strategies, "newsjack," and do anything else that will give our clients an edge. Ultimately our operating principle is generating visibility and credibility that build a business.
JW: We focus a lot on PR measurement over here at TrendKite. How have executives’ expectations for their PR changed since you’ve been in the industry?
WM: I've been in the PR business long enough to remember getting hard copies of placements and sharing them with clients. The number of clips as well as the type of publication was the metric for PR success. Heavy stacks of clips meant a successful program.
Today clients need business proof that the PR is working. That might be increased website traffic and leads from a call to action in PR materials. Clients are seeking some return on investment from their PR spend. You can't get away with simply pointing to placements unless they ultimately lead to the phone ringing.
JW: If you could create one product or service to help your industry, what would it be and why?
WM: First off, I always say that the profession could use an excellent PR agent itself. Even today so many clients and prospects don't get that PR isn't something that happens automatically. You don't just push a button and get coverage. It truly takes a blend of creativity and analytical skills to pull off great campaigns. Most people don't realize how time consuming it can be and that reporters aren't stenographers, taking dictation from us.
Second, it can be laborious to create media lists. Of course, software helps with this but we find we still need to review websites, read stories and do thorough vetting. Otherwise, a media list isn't very accurate -- or on point. It would be helpful to have a product using AI to intelligently ferret out what we need.
JW: There are so many skills an up-and-coming PR professional can focus on learning, but not all are vital to success. What abilities are fundamental to cultivate for someone wanting to break into the industry?
WM: Foremost, a PR professional needs to have the right attitude: curiosity, a strong desire to learn, solid ethics, and the ability to be a quick study since every day can be different.
Beyond that, good content creation skills are essential since today so much of PR embodies storytelling and content creation. Hand in hand with that are analytical skills in order to be able to assess what's needed and the work's impact. It's also important that a PR person understand SEO and be fluent in social media.
And lastly, since PR is ultimately a service business, it's important to know how to work with clients, partners, reporters, influencers and any other professionals able to help tell a client's story.
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