Behind the Headlines With Rachel Madden Johnson
Your brand’s effectiveness depends on communicating its story in a way that resonates with audiences. But how do you know what will resonate?
Rachel Madden Johnson, account supervisor at 3rd Coast Public Relations, says brands should invest in unique opportunities, such as thought leadership and research, to cut through the noise.
In this interview, Rachel discusses why you need to build trust with the media, how to create a global communications campaign and how to drive conversations on social media.
How did you get your start in PR?
I was living in Cleveland, working as a production assistant at one of the news stations and quickly realized I needed a job in a more creative and exciting atmosphere. I ended up moving to Chicago and landing an internship at Weber Shandwick.
I immediately fell in love with the fast-paced world of PR. Now several years later, I have been able to grow as a PR professional at various agencies around the country as well as overseas, which is more than I could’ve ever imagined when I started out.
What are you most excited for in your new role as account supervisor at 3rd Coast Public Relations?
I’m really excited about the variety of clients and projects I’ll have the chance to manage. What’s great about 3rd Coast PR is that we work with everyone from a start-up brand looking to launch a new product to more well-known, established brands looking to refresh their image through a year-long campaign.
The diverse client portfolio keeps my work interesting and allows me to keep growing professionally by challenging myself to bring fresh ideas to our clients.
You’ve helped clients land coverage in major publications, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and more. What are the keys to media relations success?
In order to be successful in media relations, you need to start by building trust and an authentic relationship with editors. Over the years, I been able to use these relationships to better understand how each editor prefers to be pitched, the types of stories they are interested in covering and learn how their publications are adapting in the ever-changing media landscape.
Once you have these insights, you’re able to tailor a client’s story so it’s of interest to each journalist. Don’t be afraid to try an unexpected pitch angle or tap into a new media outlet. In the past, some of my clients received the greatest media interest by getting out of their comfort zone to tell a new story to a different, but still relevant, target audience.
What are the biggest pitching mistakes brands make?
I think some brands want to go out with too many stories because they think everything is newsworthy. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and it is important as PR professionals we act as trusted advisors to help our clients identify what story is going to resonate with the media.
Brands can benefit immensely by investing in things that can help cut through with the media, such as thought leadership, third-party research or expert spokespeople. It’s a missed opportunity to not have these types of assets available to support a brand’s story.
How do you create and adapt a global communications campaign for a brand?
First and foremost, it is important that any global campaign supports a universal human truth that is relevant and will evoke emotions among an audience worldwide. A brand’s communication plan needs to be built around a global piece of thought leadership that is also supported by local market insights to ensure relevancy, and also have a universal campaign narrative and messaging so the brand’s story is told consistently in every market.
With any global campaign, you need to adapt the communication to fit different cultures and various nuances of the local media, and tailor any communication tactics to ensure you’re effectively reaching the target consumers.
What role does social media play in your job? What benefits does it provide for brands’ PR strategies?
Social media is inherently part of any PR campaign we create for our clients. Our job is about crafting and driving conversations about our clients, and social media is where this is happening.
The real-time discussions and information sharing on social platforms allows our clients to interact with an audience instantly. Many of our clients are looking to reach a millennial audience, so making sure they are engaging effectively on the latest platforms is crucial.
What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in PR?
Regardless of your job title, be committed to your role and take advantage of every opportunity that’s available. Each task, no matter how mundane, is a learning experience and could lead to bigger and better opportunities. PR is a small world so having a good reputation from the beginning of your career can help you succeed.
Rapid Fire Round
1. My hobbies outside of work include…traveling with my family, experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen and trying out the latest restaurants around Chicago.
2. I laugh most at…any episode of “Friends” – never gets old!
3. My dream vacation would be…a safari in Tanzania during the Great Migration.
4. If I could have lunch with anyone, it would be…Arianna Huffington.
5. I always thought I’d be…an entertainment reporter.
6. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…my six-month-old daughter.
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