We are delighted to bring you a chat with Sandra Stahl, distinguished thought leader on PR and Marketing communications, co-founder of jacobstahl marketing communications New York and a highly respected PR professional for three decades now. Sandra is also on faculty in the Brand & Integrated Communications master’s degree program at City College of New York and has been a workshop instructor in the Strategic Communications program at Columbia University. In conversation with Pavan R Chawla
Sandra co-founded the full-service global communications agency jacobstahl marketing communications, in 2003 in New York, and has shaped communications strategies and campaigns for companies of all sizes, from leading multinationals to start-ups, as well as non-profit organizations and academic institutions.
Sandra is considered especially valuable to her clients and colleagues for the creativity and stakeholder insights she brings to communications solutions and her ability to distil the complex into the manageable. She has extensive experience in brand, corporate and internal communications with a distinctive strength in developing narratives that contribute to relationships that matter.
She has authored more than 25 articles in leading professional and industry journals and mainstream media.
Sandra is on faculty in the Brand & Integrated Communications master’s degree program at City College of New York and has been a workshop instructor in the Strategic Communications program at Columbia University.
Her first book, The Art and Craft of PR, which she wrote after 3 decades of illustrious service in strategic PR and Marketing communications, has been extremely well received and is a must-read for anyone working in Public Relations and Marketing communications.
So, stemming from her book, here’s an interesting, thought-provoking QnA with the highly respected and deeply insightful thought leader on Strategic Public Relations and Marketing communications, Sandra Stahl. Read on.
In conversation with Sandra Stahl
Your book, The Art And Craft of PR, as you’ve written, ‘is built around the idea that PR as a communications discipline has no boundaries.’ What have been the most significant changes that are threatening to leave ‘traditional’ PR people at a disadvantage if they don’t learn ‘new stuff’ quickly. And what is the ‘new stuff’ they need to quickly learn?
Sandra Stahl: The holistic purpose of PR – not just one part of it or another – is what distinguishes our discipline and maintains its enduring value. This is our ability to use communications to create meaningful, trusted relationships that contribute to the achievement of larger goals.
To me, there are no ‘traditional” PR people – any trained PR professional knows how to important it is to be facile with new tools, new channels. We know how critical it is to be agile. The “new stuff” doesn’t define us or our discipline but rather how we use the “new stuff” in service of our goals.
What’s not so new anymore but is a challenge in communications today is the 24/7 appetite for information.
Also a challenge is that the information out there may not be true. Anybody and everybody now have the proverbial megaphone. It can be difficult for any consumer or a brand’s target audience to discern the fact from the fiction. It’s no wonder there is a crisis of public trust.
The need for ethical communications has never been stronger and public relations is the discipline to lead the way.
It is sad when some CMOs don’t really value PR enough to give it the kind of budgets it deserves. What can be done to correct this?
It takes an enlightened CMO to understand the value of PR, that the “R” in PR doesn’t stand for Revenue. This is not to say that PR can’t be linked to sales. It can and often is. But CMOs need to realize the PR endgame is different and the metrics used to measure success need to be, too.
For some reason, PR has always been a bit mysterious. Many, including the CMOs you just asked me about, don’t really know what we do, and attach wildly different definitions and expectations to PR.
Additionally, for far too long, our discipline has been linked with this idea of “spin,” which I have always found derisive.
I wrote the book to provide much-needed clarity.
Readers, from students of PR and young executives to seasoned veterans, have found useful information in the book.
It’s also been great to hear that readers from outside our industry but who work with PR teams or agencies, now better understand what we do and why PR is critical.
Some of the skills PR people need today are the same as have always been required: writing, listening, the ability to tell a story, curiosity, message and motive integrity are just a few. Today, the writing and the storytelling needs to be even crisper, given how attention spans have gotten shorter.
We also need to understand and use data, how it can be predictive and sharpen our strategies and messaging.
And, of course, the channels we have available to us keep evolving.
Staying current on the tools and when and how to use them is part of staying nimble.
Today, people across age groups, but especially those ranging from GenZ to the Baby Boomers, are getting increasingly averse to pushed promotions. And with the sustained growth of Social Media, where virtually every active individual is a publisher or definitely a re-distributor of content, how important are native content and earned media? Pull over push…?
I encourage my teams and my clients to shift from the idea of promotion or what you’d call a “push,” to attraction. These are different. What makes your content, your message attractive to your target audience? What do you need to do to make it attractive? Why would it be attractive?
If you start from that premise, you can build a communications strategy and program that will determine the tactics and the channels you use.
Note: Sandra’s book has an excellent chapter on moving from the ‘push’ of promotion to the ‘pull’ of attraction. We shall bring you an excerpt soon
A truth staring everyone today, is that most – if not all – crises break on and spread through social media; in fact, Twitter seems to be the biggest platform, followed by Facebook. What would you recommend for the young PR professional — a very structured Social Media training or just a watch-try-learn approach, to get better at using Social Media for PR?
There is no substitute for deep-dive research. I don’t think this means that social media training needs to be very structured. It needs to be thorough and multi-faceted.
Talk to experts. Read their articles. Listen to podcasts. Understand your target audience and where they are on social media.
What gets their attention? What doesn’t? What kinds of content performs well, gets shared, elicits comments. Who are the influencers? Getting the answers takes time and effort.
PR professionals have always been consultants. That’s the art of the discipline. Crafting a message that has integrity, uses the right words, has the tone that will resonate.
Executing tactics flawlessly and using the right channels – that’s the craft.
For now and the future, PR needs practitioners strong in both, who are able to understand and use advanced data analytics.
Additionally, PR practitioners need to go beyond their own functional capabilities and understand how we influence the business of the brands they are working on.
When you’re evaluating someone, what are the most important values and skills respectively you look for?
I am attracted to PR practitioners who offer the broad perspectives of philosophy, psychology, human behavior and other social sciences. In other words, the best PR people aren’t necessarily the ones who have studied PR in university. I, for one, studied political science and sociology. Others I know have been historians and even economists – especially those with an understanding of behavioral economics.
We need these skills to build the strategies and communications solutions that connect people to each other, to companies, to brands or issues.