With such a crowded digital marketplace, how can your organization cut through the noise and build relationships with your messaging? Amanda Proscia has the answers in this episode of WordBirds.

This week we dive into the world of public relations (PR) and marketing with the Co-founder of Lightspeed PR/Marketing and bestselling author of PR Confidential: Unlocking the Secrets to Creating a Powerful Public Image, Amanda Proscia. With over 30 years of experience, Amanda shares her wealth of knowledge on the intricate dance between PR and marketing. One key take away is the crucial role PR plays in ensuring consistent and newsworthy messaging — and why PR should always have a seat at the marketing table. 

The conversation unfolds into the essence of crafting messages that resonate with your target audience and media outlets. Amanda emphasizes the necessity of creating content that goes beyond mere marketing tactics, underlining the importance of newsworthiness. She introduces her three I’s methodology — Innovation, Impact, and Insight — as a guiding framework to evaluate the likelihood of media coverage. This methodology serves as a compass for navigating the complex landscape of storytelling, offering a valuable perspective on how to engage with the news media effectively. 

Join us as Amanda Proscia shares her invaluable insights, shedding light on the dynamic interplay between PR and marketing in the ever-evolving realm of public image creation and suggesting new PR strategies that go beyond conventional norms.

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Hello Amanda, welcome to WordBirds!

Hi Chris, great to be here.

So fun story, and you know this story because you were in it. We just randomly happened to end up on a sales call a few weeks ago. And Amanda has a PR agency that she started and was just randomly reaching out to people like me. Halfway through the call, I’d noticed a detail on her LinkedIn. And I just said, hey, when did you graduate from Gettysburg? And you said …

1993.

And I said, so did I. We probably only had what like 500 people in our graduating class. So the odds of us not knowing each other is very slim. Lots of connections that brought Amanda to this season of WordBirds: Friends of the Bird makes total sense. We go back to 1989 together, as it turns out. But that’s just a fun story to kick us off. 

Let’s jump right into the quick fire. I think that’s where the fun happens. What’s your best and most successful campaign thus far?

A few years ago, we did a great content campaign for a real estate app that we were doing PR for. The content was just one part of what we were doing, but it ended up being bigger and bigger because it was just becoming more and more successful. So as a real estate app, they were very focused on local geography. So they had my team of writers writing just little information pieces, if you live in this neighborhood or what you should know about these types of things, or five things people never do on the New York City subway.

It was just a lot of news you can use and a lot of, I’d say, color pieces around different neighborhoods and what it’s like to live in them. We were producing three or four pieces of content a week and all of them were just generating tons and tons of engagement and awareness. We were even getting some of these things placed in part of our news outreach. So it became a very big and very successful content campaign.

Fantastic. We’ll come back to that in a second. What’s the worst one you’ve done?

For many years, I was in-house at American Express, and one of the teams I supported was Global Procurement. They were lovely people, but they didn’t tend to put themselves out there as communicators or be terribly visible. They liked to just stay in their job. We had a lot of them in New York, and even though we had a global team, most of the leadership was in New York. So we said, let’s put out a weekly email from one of you, talking about who you are and what you do and your team and just developing some good useful content so that people around the world can know a little bit more about their leadership. 

So if you had invited the PR team into the room for your messaging and asked them: Do all of these things neatly translate into press messaging? They might have given you some edits. Click To Tweet

Well, they were just not comfortable with it. With me writing on their behalf, sitting in their office, begging them for personalized anything. It was just, it was very dry and very work focused and it went over like a lead balloon. So that was discontinued pretty quickly.

So out of the two of those, which one did you take the most learnings from?

Unsurprisingly, it was the less successful one because it really just reinforces everything that I do every day now, which is the more you can make a story human, the more you can make it connectable, the more you can make it like a real person is behind it. And thinking about real people, for example, what we did for the real estate app, giving people restaurants they can try or different ways they can get to different neighborhoods or local highlights or parks. It was all about people. So that was what was missing in the one that went wrong. And it was the key factor in the one that went right. So I think that was the biggest take away for me.

That’s great groundwork learning to be able to use to move into an agency environment. We’ve talked to at least one other communications expert this season, and I think that the idea of being able to take the people that you’re communicating to, understand that audience, and then understand who you’re communicating from is fascinating to me. I talked about it in the last episode. I’ll talk about it on this one, the idea that on any given day you have to represent and speak in the voice of so many different companies. How do you manage that?

Honestly, it’s my favorite thing about the job. I love ghost writing. It’s been a big part of my career, writing on behalf of so many different types of people, leaders or non-leaders, or everybody you can imagine I’ve written on behalf of. What I like to do is talk to the person for at least a few minutes first, get a sense of who they are and what I call their voice. 

Consistency in messaging is the most important thing. It takes what five, six, or seven times for someone being exposed to your message before you actually push them down the funnel. Consistency is enormously important. Click To Tweet

So it’s something that we actually learned at Gettysburg in a lot of our literature classes: What is the author communicating and how? And that’s just become so much a part of how you write for another person, is making sure that if someone who knew them read it, they wouldn’t know that I wrote it. Making sure that their voice comes through very clearly. So that’s what I strive to do, no matter who it is.

I find it so interesting that in your role, you, and people like you, use the words “we” to talk about the people that you’re writing for and with. You’ve become part of it and you have to know the person, you have to understand the voice that they have, you need to understand the points that they would have. Do you ever find yourself in, I wanna say, arguments with the person that you’re writing for about what that person might say?

Not what they might say, often the argument is about whether it’s worth saying. My agency focuses on tech and I deal with a lot of people who are very passionate about tech, which is wonderful. But they don’t always understand that getting deep into the speeds and feeds and how things work and all the background of what makes up their tech isn’t always as interesting or understandable or as digestible for the general public. Very often I have to push back and say, yes, I agree this is fascinating and I know it’s an enormous part of your life, but we have to make this a little bit more general population friendly.

So you have to tell smart technical people that they’re boring.

Not boring, but that they’re not quite as mainstream as they think they are.

Ooh, you’re way nicer than I am. I get it. There are people that tell me that all the time. I think I’m hilarious and people constantly strip my voice out of content for that very reason because apparently I’m not. But all those years of being a ghost writer and now today a bestselling writer as yourself. PR Confidential: Unlocking the Secrets to Creating a Powerful Public Image was released weeks ago? Tell me a little bit about that.

Yes, on October 18. So in 30 years of doing PR, and particularly in the last 10 years of running an agency, I get the same questions a lot. People just want to know the exact same thing over and over again. Clients, potential clients, employees, potential employees, people inside, outside the business, they always ask me the same thing. 

On a blue background there's a quote from Amanda Proscia in white that takes up the majority of the image. The bottom of the image has a headshot image of Amanda and the WordBirds Podcast logo.

I went to a trade show a few months ago and there were a lot of tech people and they kept coming over to me and saying, my investors are telling me I need PR, but I don’t know what it is. Why should I care? Why should I bother? And I get some version of that question probably every day. So after 30 years, I decided, you know what? I’m just going to write down my answers. 

So the book is formatted in a little bit of an unusual way. It’s letter writing. So I structured it as though I’m an advice columnist, like a Dear Abby. And people are writing to me these questions that I hear all the time and I’m answering them. They’re anonymous, I’m answering as me. So I got to have a lot of fun using my own voice, my own sense of humor, my own sort of world weary attitude toward hearing the same stereotypes over and over again. But I truly hope that it helps people to understand what PR is and how they can use it.

So, it’s like being a comedian and using your first big set on a TV show and now you’ve given it all away. What do you have to do now to reinvent and move forward? Because you’ve answered so many questions, you need a whole new set. What comes next?

Oh, Chris, I wish I could say that the questions end there, but sadly, they don’t. 

Multiple books!

There are so many more questions. How do you work with social media? How do you transition into other types of PR disciplines like investor relations or public policy? Those types of things. There’s a lot of nuances and PR is changing a lot. It’s very different than it was when I started. It’s different than it was just 10 years ago. So I suspect I’m going to have content for at least a few more books if they’re well received and people want to learn more. I’m here to help.

Well, I know one question that comes up quite a bit that you probably have a take on is: today in our business writing, words like synergy and alignment and all of these buzzwords drop into everything that we read. How do you deal with trendy language? How are you guiding folks that write, and yourself, to build compelling and actionable content that isn’t filled with ridiculous business-isms?

We have a little shorthand in my agency where we ask them for the three I's. Your story has to fit into one of the three I categories, innovation, impact, or insight. Click To Tweet

We just try not to use them. I think being in tech, I hear the word disruptor from every single client who comes across me. You can’t all be a disruptor and the media is sick of that word. They won’t print it because it’s just done. Like you say, these are trendy business-isms. They’ve become so hackneyed that they’ve almost lost their meaning. So in order to capture attention, which is what good content does, you have to come up with something original, something that’s truly just descriptive of what you do. And if we hope differentiating. 

When we start with any new client, we do a messaging session. And part of that session is finding differentiation points, the words we can use to talk about you, how you’re unique, what your competitors are saying so that we don’t say that. We do a whole section on brand voice and personality. How do we categorize you? How do we talk about you? Are you informative and knowledgeable or are you more fun and personable? All those things play into the content that we develop.

Do you use pictures? We used pictures when we did ours. It was well before the AI picture creation software came out, so it became an overlay photo of me and our CEO at the time. And our voice was a direct overlay of us. We apparently just created a corporate voice that was us and we didn’t know. But when you looked at the picture, it was a guy that kind of looked like me, wearing clothes that kind of looked like his, and the descriptors were us. Our team looked at it and was like, mm, I don’t know. 

The interesting thing is, you talk about getting that language out, the idea of the clarity that comes from removing the ridiculousness of marketing language, of business speak, is really the thing that builds engagement. We think that we’re adding superlatives and excitement into our content to capture attention and imagination, but understanding the content builds engagement — well above using ridiculous language. Would you agree?

Absolutely! Think about any good reading that you do. If it sounds exactly like everything else, it’s never going to stay with you. The more something is true of that particular business or that particular author or whomever it is that you’re trying to communicate for, even if it’s a product, if something that’s really distinguishable about that product that can be put into words that are somewhat ownable, that will always drive better engagement.

Make sure what you're saying is news Click To Tweet

Absolutely. At the end of the day, that’s the point, we’re creating this content to educate, engage, and build awareness in an audience of people. It doesn’t work if those people don’t actually accept the content. Aligning your style guidelines with the audience that you’re creating content for builds that engagement, I would think, I would gather.

Yes, absolutely. And then when you have PR involved, there’s a whole second layer of concern, which is that you have to engage reporters and third-party advocates. You have to engage people who have seen it all and heard it all and aren’t terribly inclined to report on you unless you really capture their attention. You have to give them a reason to care. You have to do something that’s different from everyone else. And language is an enormous part of that.

So that’s interesting because I asked the question a couple episodes ago, is the press release dead? And whether it is or it isn’t, I have a goal of getting the media to pay attention to me. I think that’s the thing is how do you take the business and turn it into a message that becomes something that’s interesting enough for somebody to want to talk about. We all think we’re super interesting, but in that world that you just described, how do you get that media to care? How do you craft a message that cuts through?

Well, you have to know the media, certainly. You have to know the people you’re talking to. Don’t pitch a text story to a beauty writer. Don’t pitch a lifestyle story to a health writer. Make sure that you’re talking to the right audience and the right publication. That’s absolutely job one. 

But more and above all that’s making sure what you’re saying is news. So often clients come to us and they give us what’s essentially over ashore and say here’s our company boilerplate. Go get that on the front page of the New York Times. And we say, we can’t, there’s no news here. Ultimately, we still have to give reporters something that they’re going to report on. We can work with you and try to uncover where there might be news in your story, but this isn’t it. So, we’re not going to damage our reputation or our relationships with the reporters that we know by giving them something that they simply can’t use.

Yes, I feel like inside an organization, the word press release is used a lot. So we have this new thing that’s coming out, it’s an upgrade to a thing that we did that’s kind of important to three or four customers. Are we gonna do a press release about that? No, no we’re not. I hear what you’re asking. I think you’re asking for a blog article. Like, you wanna post it on the website, right? Oh no, press release. Nobody wants to write about that. Like that’s not newsworthy. Tell me something newsworthy. 

Don't pitch a text story to a beauty writer. Don't pitch a lifestyle story to a health writer. Make sure that you're talking to the right audience and the right publication. Click To Tweet

That’s the hardest part is taking this thing that we’re doing in software businesses and synthesizing that into something beyond thought leadership, something that is worth telling, somebody else telling the story. I think that’s the hardest part of what you do is being able to walk into a business like this and find that angle that somebody at a major outlet cares about. We’re in AI content editorial alignment. So if you got me into AI editorial alignment magazine, okay, but I wanna be in Forbes. I wanna be in the Wall Street Journal. And that’s the hard thing. Like how do you manage expectations with people like me when all I wanna do is have my face as a dot matrix image on the cover of the Wall Street Journal?

That’s something that comes up a lot. We have those conversations a great deal. We have a couple of tools that we use to help people understand what we need in order to go out and get news. First of all, it’s not an advertisement. We can’t just decide we’re going to say this or a blog piece. We can’t just build something we wanna write and make somebody publish it. We can’t do that. It’s earned media and it’s called earned for a reason. We have to earn that coverage. 

We have a little shorthand in my agency where we ask them for the three I’s. Your story has to fit into one of the three I categories, innovation, impact, or insight. If you can give us a story that’s about an innovation, something that’s truly new or solving a new problem or doing something in a different way, an innovation we can generally get news about. Impact is your company having a gang buster year. Are you doing something truly significant in the business world? Are you making big significant new hires? Have you changed the paradigm of how your industry does something? That’s impact, certainly. Or insight, that’s getting back to thought leadership. And we certainly can make news around thought leadership. We’ve had clients that are only thought leadership. We never do any kind of breaking news from their business. We just work with their leaders as expert commentary on breaking news or other news that’s coming out or developing byline articles on their behalf and then we can make news from that. 

But if it’s not in at least one of those categories, it’s very difficult for us. If I still don’t understand at that point, then I usually use my old, say you did get in the New York Times, what’s the headline? And then usually they’ll give me something that’s an advertising slogan and I say, ah, how would you actually see that headline in the New York Times? That’s when I see dawn breaking and they’re like, oh, okay, that’s not news, is it?

Server update number 13.2.6 released. Hmm, no. I don’t think that’s the cover of the newspaper. So we’ve reached the part that I like the best. This is the PSOTD, Provocative Statement of the Day. I’m ready for a fight. What do you got?

This actually came out because after I launched the book, I sent it around to a lot of my friends who are working in PR and quite a few of them are working in-house. They have made the point pretty demonstrably that a lot of their marketing partners, even internal marketing partners or people who have external marketing partners, other ad agencies or whomever they might have on the marketing side, don’t know what PR is.

If it sounds exactly like everything else, it's never going to stay with you. The more something is true of that particular business or that particular author or whomever it is that you're trying to communicate for, even if it's a product, if something… Click To Tweet

Oof. Okay, I’m ready to go. So, I think I do. I mean, I have a fairly solid experience track record working with agencies. So, I feel like I know what I’m up to. But I guess it’s interesting to hear that statement from somebody that actually does it versus somebody that buys it. And so I’ll say, go on, explain yourself.

Well, very often, as your last guest pointed out, the first line of anything being decided on the marketing side is coming from a CMO or someone on the marketing side. Which means that PR is then forced into a marketing filter. We have to bend or rethink our plan, our strategy, or our solutions based on what’s already been devised or developed by the marketing team. And too often, the marketing team doesn’t think about the message that they’re developing or the strategy that they’re focusing on and whether or not those messages or that content even is newsworthy. 

Very often as well, they’re not bringing us into the conversation early enough because they’re not recognizing how much PR can do in those scenarios. They’re not understanding that, hey, you have a team of people who have their ear to the ground on what’s trending, how people’s perceptions are on something, how those perceptions might be shifting, how different channels of communications are changing, how we reach people. So they’re just going back to their tried and true methods and then taking PR and sort of layering that on top of it and saying, okay, go make our thing successful without recognizing all the things in our toolbox that could do the job even better.

Okay, so what I’m hearing is the same type of an argument that without the overview that the communications organization has in the business, marketing is doing what marketing does. They’re doing marketing things and then saying, hey, take my marketing things and make them into something that would make somebody wanna talk about it. And that’s not wrong. 

The idea of the clarity that comes from removing the ridiculousness of marketing language, of business speak, is really the thing that builds engagement. Click To Tweet

So we just wrapped up, or are in the process of wrapping up on Friday, the development of a whole new messaging platform. And what you’re saying is making me stop and think about the job that we did. Did we do marketing things that marketers do or did we tell a story and then back our messaging into the story? I think that luckily, I might be able to pass the test of creating a newsworthy story that we built product into. Because in the age of generative AI, large enterprises can’t, aren’t allowed to use, public large language models. It’s just not a thing. 

So our message starts with the safe and secure use of generative AI. When there’s a news story about the perils of the world of AI, we have a point of view at the very top of our messaging that allows us to tell a story that doesn’t have to be product-based, but would bring people back to find out more about us. How am I doing? Am I doing a good job doing what you’re saying? Or am I doing a “marketing doing a marketing thing” job? You can tell me, it’s okay.

I think you’re doing a good job. I think you could probably do a better job. Let’s always remember, which I’m sure as a marketer you’ll agree, that consistency in messaging is the most important thing. It takes what five, six, or seven times for someone being exposed to your message before you actually push them down the funnel. So if that message changes, or if they see something that’s not quite capturing them the way it might have the first time or they’re not understanding it the same way, consistency is enormously important. 

When we start with any new client, we do a messaging session. And part of that session is finding differentiation points, the words we can use to talk about you, how you're unique, what your competitors are saying so that we don't say that. Click To Tweet

So if you have your marketing team telling one version of the story, and the PR team knows that, eh, that’s really not news, we have to tweak that to make it into something that we can tell reporters, then that story’s gonna change. And you’re gonna lose that level of consistency. So if you had invited the PR team into the room for your messaging and asked them: Do all of these things neatly translate into press messaging? They might have given you some edits.

Amazing. This is valuable stuff. I think the audience is probably gasping right now because this is actually very interesting. I’ve just taken a lot of notes. 

Amanda, thank you very much for being on the show. Very glad that we found each other after several years out of college, just a couple. And great, great luck to you on the book. I know that it’s now a best seller in its category.

It is, yes! We’re thrilled about that.

Fantastic! And if people want to find the book or find you, how would they go about doing that?

The book is on Amazon right now. It’s both in Kindle and print version. I should say it’s a very quick read, only 92 pages. It’s got a lot of humor in it. You won’t be bored. Finding me, I’m on LinkedIn, Amanda Proscia, or you can find my agency, we’re lightspeedpr.com.

Excellent. Thank you very much, Amanda. See you again soon.

Thank you, Chris.

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Charlotte Baxter-Read

is a Communications and Content Manager at Acrolinx, bringing over three years of experience in content creation, strategic communications, and public relations. Additionally, Charlotte is the Executive Producer of the WordBirds podcast — sponsored by Acrolinx. She holds a Master’s degree from the John F. Kennedy Institute, at Freie Universität Berlin, and a Bachelor's degree from Royal Holloway, University of London. Charlotte, along with the Acrolinx Marketing Team, won a Silver Stevie Award at the 18th Annual International Business Awards® for Marketing Department of the Year. She's a passionate reader, communicator, and avid traveler in her free time.