The PR Spotlight: Shonali Burke (Waxing UnLyrical)
Our guest on today's 'The PR Spotlight' is an award-winning PR practitioner and thought leader. Besides being Vice President, Digital Media & Marketing at MSL Washington DC, she is also the founder and curator of the popular #measurePR hashtag and Twitter chat (bi-weekly on Tuesdays, 12-1 pm ET) and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, one of Cision's top 50 Marketing & PR blogs. Please welcome... Shonali Burke!!
1. First question Shonali, could you describe your career shortly?
I started out as an Account Executive, and worked my way up at the agency I joined in San Francisco. When we moved to the East Coast, I joined Ruder Finn (AS to SAS) and was recruited by the ASPCA (New York) to reinvent their PR function. I left the "A" as their VP, Media & Communications, in 2008, and when I didn't find the kind of job I wanted, started consulting. MSL Washington DC approached me late last year to see if I'd be interested in starting up the office's digital practice, and I thought it was be a neat challenge, so I joined them in April.
2. How do you explain what PR is to someone outside of the industry?
I was having lunch with a colleague a couple of weeks ago and said, "You know, when you meet a carpenter, you know what he does. He builds things. When you meet a plumber, you know what she does. She keeps your water running. We in PR still haven't figured out a way to explain what exactly it is that we do to outsiders." And that's despite the best efforts of industry associations such as PRSA to do just that.
So currently, how I explain "PR" to someone outside of the industry is: I help organizations tell their stories in ways that their audiences understand,resulting in the business outcomes they are looking for.
3. What challenges do you see for the PR industry?
The issue of "spin" still dogs the industry. No matter that most of us are ethical practitioners, by and large the PR industry is viewed as one full of spin doctors (which is not true, or nice). To a large extent I believe this is because as an industry, we don't require certification; pretty much anyone can decide they are "in PR" and hang out their shingle. Second, PR measurement, while having made strides in the last decade, is still stuck in the dark ages for the most parts, and it will only be when as an industry we can get beyond impressions and "hits" that we'll really make an "impression." Finally, there are still far too many PR pros (and agencies) that view "traditional" and "social" media as separate worlds. Get with the program, people!
4. How important is knowledge of 'social' nowadays?
To me, it's critical, because "social" is where communication is happening... and communication is what we're about. So if PR pros don't understand (or, worse still, engage in) social media, it puts them at a huge disadvantage. They may be able to get by for a few years more, but I do think the time will come where any professional communicator who doesn't understand social media will be obsolete as far as the industry is concerned.
5. What's the value of being an accredited business communicator?
The value of being an accredited business communicator (ABC) or accredited in public relations (APR) is what you make of it. Since we don't have licensing requirements for our profession, what qualifies a PR professional as one who's up to par is really up for debate. In the absence of licensing requirements, the process of accreditation at least makes PR pros test our knowledge and experience in front of our peers... and that peer validation is huge.
The process of accreditation, in my experience, makes one a more strategic thinker; more decisive (which is critical, especially in crisis communications), and makes you get straight to the point... which is a great asset in our business!
6. What book should every communicator read?
Selling the Invisible, by Harry Beckwith (thank you, Joanna Pineda, for giving this to me).
7. PR sucks because... ?
PR doesn't suck. So-called practitioners who have no clue what it's about, or how to practice ethically, suck.
8. Who, in your opinion, is THE thought leader in the PR industry?
It's not that I think the PR industry lacks thought leadership; there are some extremely bright people around. I was just having a tough time identifying *one* person as *the* thought leader. That said, I'll put my money on Lee Odden. What he has done to bring SEO principles to PR is amazing. I can't get enough of what he says, writes and teaches.
9. What’s hot on your radar right now?
This might sound weird, but I've become (re)fascinated with Edward Bernays, who's dubbed the "father" of public relations, thanks in no small part to learning that one of my guest bloggers, Kirk Hazlett, actually met him before he died. So I'm devouring his early writings and trying to learn more about him. On a more contemporary note, I'm still in love with Analytics and measurement. I don't know where that will lead me, but that's where I'm at right now!
10. Some famous last words?
My last words won't be famous :) Seriously, though... it's very easy to get distracted by all that's shiny and new. Get distracted, but then get over it. Focus on what matters... and if you can't focus on it because you don't know what it is, first figure it out. Then, stay abreast of what's "shiny new," but focus on what matters. Because, at the end of the day, nothing else is important.
Wish to connect with Shonali? You can follow her on Twitter at @shonali and connect with her on LinkedIn. And don't forget to check out her blog: Waxing UnLyrical.
Again, thanks so much Shonali!
More about 'The PR Spotlight'? Check out our other interviews Coopr did with Mark Ragan (PR Daily), Gini Dietrich (Arment Dietrich), Martin Waxman (Thornley Fallis Communications) and Arik Hanson (ACH Communications).