Behind the Headlines With Sandy Lish
No matter how many new platforms and technologies emerge, the core PR foundation stays the same.
Sandy Lish, principal and founder of The Castle Group, says sending the right message in the right way should be at the heart of your PR strategy.
In this interview, Sandy discusses how technology has transformed communication, the importance of developing a comprehensive communication program and why you should be persistent for stories you believe in.
What drew you to the field of PR?
My love of writing, interest in people and curiosity about the world drew me to PR. I was a journalism major in college, but it was really more about the writing than about being a reporter.
My junior year, I ended up with a PR internship—it was my first awareness of PR as a profession and I was hooked. I loved the opportunity to blend my writing, verbal communication and persuasion skills, and the fast pace was a no-brainer as I get bored easily. I became single-minded in my pursuit of new PR challenges in every position since then.
The Castle Group is celebrating its 20-year anniversary. How has the PR industry changed over the years?
It’s almost trite to say technology, but obviously technology has changed the ways in which we communicate, and also the ways in which we compete for mindshare. That’s a terrific opportunity as a communicator—and because we can create and own more content, it means that better communications rise to the top. Good news for a former journalism student!
Technology has also changed the pace of our crisis communications. Goodbye to “when is your deadline?” Everything is immediate and urgent, which creates constant challenges that keep things exciting.
I think it’s also important to ask, “how has PR stayed the same?” because at the heart of PR and communications, it’s still about crafting the right message and delivering it in a creative, compelling and appropriate way.
How do you envision the future of PR? What are you looking forward to most?
The future will see us using new, more and better technology to target our audiences. For example, Castle client LetsAllDoGood just launched an app that connects nonprofits to their supporters via their smartphones. It’s a perfect example of a new conduit for communications that will require communicators to learn and unleash its power to help our clients and organizations.
It will become increasingly important to deliver targeted messages to the right people in a cost-effective way.
What are some of the key components of a successful PR strategy?
At the end of the day, a PR program is successful if it achieves the client’s business goals. We ask a lot of questions before we begin – we think, we play devil’s advocate and we watch what’s happening in the industry and the world.
I always tell my clients, “You need to be where your competitors are… and where they aren’t.” So we build strategies with open minds, considering far more than traditional and social media to weave in sponsorships, corporate social responsibility, relationship building, awards, events and speaking opportunities.
We consider context, not just content. And when there’s an opportunity to insert our clients into the news cycle, we get creative and move quickly and deliberately.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing brands today?
The common denominator is that every brand is competing for ears, eyeballs and mindshare, and if you don’t move quickly, someone else will grab the spotlight. The upside to that is the speed with which news cycles come and go; there’s always another channel, a new day, a new angle to uncover.
What is the most important lesson about PR you’ve learned through your career?
Persistence, inner drive and resourcefulness are critical, and you’re either born with them or you’re not. Someone once told me that “no” just means ”not right now.” When I firmly believe in a story or client, I know there’s a way to achieve the result we’re looking for. We just have to be creative, persistent and have a thick skin.
What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in PR?
Please, please, please, make sure to hone your writing skills and proofread your work! In a 140-character world, it can be tempting to take short cuts, but you will never have 100 percent credibility in this profession without putting that best foot forward.
Rapid Fire Round
1. I always thought I’d be…a novelist.
2. If I could have lunch with anyone, it would be…last week I would have said Alan Cumming and Martin Short, but then I saw “Hamilton,” so I need Lin Manuel Miranda to join us.
3. My biggest pet peeve is…painful grammar.
4. My favorite social media platform is…Twitter.
5. One thing most people don’t know about me is…I’m a huge Broadway musical geek! (My “lunch” answer may have given that away.)
6. My dream vacation would be… Italy—and I’m making that dream come true this summer. Through The Castle Group’s Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) membership, I’ve also been lucky enough to check off a few of my other dream locations, such as South Africa and Sydney.
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