From the Army to Head of PR for PR Software Giant : Test Drive My Job Frank Strong
Mopwater: Describe your path to PR: How did you wind up in this field? FS: Uncle Sam brought me to DC for a full time gig with the Army — working at the National Guard Bureau (NGB) – soon after college. I decided I liked the area, knew NGB wouldn’t be a permanent assignment and so started considering my options. Given my undergraduate degree in communications, an affinity for technology and the thriving tech PR community in circa 1999, PR seems like a great option; I started planning my career accordingly.
My first gig in PR was working for a boutique tech agency called ProMarc. Ironically, ProMarc was Vocus’ agency of record then and as such, I was also a beta customer. I remember working closely with Kye Strance, who was an account executive back then, and remains as the director of Product Management for Vocus.
About a year after joining that team ProMarc was acquired by Hill & Knowlton. That was a valuable experience on many different levels, for example, exposed me to the culture differences between a large and small PR shops, and also allowed me to experience the process of M&A from the inside. One memory from H&K is indelible: I’ll never forget standing on the balcony of the firm’s old office at the Watergate building and staring in disbelief at the smoke streaming from across the Potomac River from the Pentagon on 9/11.
Mopwater: Describe a pivotal moment in your career. Did you have a mentor or internship that really solidified your interest in this field or helped you hone in on a specific focus area? FS: In 2002, the recession had by then long since taken the air out of the technology bubble. I’d left H&K to join a start-up – a risky venture – and about six months into it the owner decided to shut it down. Times were not good and it took me well over a year to land another full-time position. In the interim, I scraped out a living as a freelancer and managed to score a couple clients of my own, but mostly, worked as a subcontractor to other small shops around town – those with more business than they could handle, but not enough to merit hiring a new employee. While I enjoyed the work and the freedom, financially speaking, it was trying. For a time I pondered opening up my own shop, though I ultimately decided I needed a little more time-in-grade before I could make that work. However, the freelance experience gave me much to think about.
Mopwater: Describe a typical workday including your work hours. What do you do all day? Describe your office setting and workplace. FS: No two days have ever been the same: there’s always something new. On a good day, I get to the office about 7 a.m. to get a workout. Vocus has two gyms for employees on-site which is an especially nice perk, and helps me to avoid the nightmare of cross-town DC traffic. Once I’m desk-side, the first thing I do is check the reports – the news forwards – Vocus sent me the previous evening. I have searches set up in Vocus on the company, on PRWeb and the industry, which gives me a sense for the relevant news of the day in both traditional and social media.
Throughout the day, I can be found on social media networks, especially Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn – or working on media relations, whitepapers, contributed articles and case studies. One area I spend significant amount of time on is interviewing customers: this is the best of both worlds because by extension of my job, I’m also afforded the opportunity to learn from my peers and hear their thoughts on the latest industry trends.
Finally, the marketing shop at Vocus is tightly integrated, so I spend a lot of time with Vocus personnel focused on other marketing functions including campaigns, direct marketing, search marketing, events and product management.
Mopwater: What are your favorite and least favorite PR/marketing/SM tasks and why? FS: As a PR person, for a company that sells PR software…to the PR industry, I literally live, breathe and sleep PR; I love every minute of it. My father used to say to me when I was growing up: do something you love. I’d like to think that I’m living those words. Of course, it’s always easier when you represent a product and a company in which you truly believe.
Mopwater: Who are some of your company’s clients, and what kind of projects do you take on for these clients? FS: Vocus has more than 4,400 customers ranging from corporations including Southwest Airlines to non-profits like the Humane Society and each has a unique story to tell. It’s fascinating for me to observe the news and know a little bit about what’s going on behind the scenes.
PRWeb has upwards of 30,000 customers, and while there are global companies that use PRWeb for online news releases, most are small businesses. What I most enjoy about this aspect is talking small businesses owners and writing case studies. Their stories are both very compelling and inspiring. In addition, it’s often it’s an opportunity to provide a little coaching on the side too – and a little chance for me to give something back to our customers.
Mopwater: Describe a recent project where you produced results of which you’re really proud. FS: One recent project that stands out was the survey of PR professionals that Vocus conducted last fall. It was a chance to learn from my peers, collaborate with thought leaders like Deirdre Breakenridge, and also give something back to the PR community. Let’s face it, we’re all looking for good ideas and Vocus provides me the opportunity to gather information from my peer group, analyze it and share the findings with the PR community – all while adding value to my company.
Another aspect that is exceptional is the opportunity to use the Vocus platform, including all the add-ons, like news monitoring and analytics. It’s a chance to have some fun while also providing illustrative anecdotes of the software in practice. This case study — What Santa Claus Can Teach PR About Media Monitoring – is a good example.
Mopwater:What is your favorite thing about this job and do you think you’ll be in this position in 5 years? FS: Vocus really is a great place to work, I’m challenged every day, have a great boss who pushes me to grow, and despite the cliché, to really ‘think outside of the box.’ I see great potential in the company and feel quite fortunate to be employed at Vocus.
Mopwater: What aspect of the industry are you most excited about? FS: There has never been a better time to be in PR. While I firmly believe mainstream media still matters, there’s a new opportunity for PR professional to help their causes find, cultivate and grow their own audiences. I’ve always viewed PR as being a tool for facilitating the sales cycle, but the speed and ease of publishing content on new media, provides an opportunity for PR to contribute directly to the bottom line. PR professionals are being challenged to adopt and perfect new skills – SEO, multimedia and interactive marketing among others. I believe PR should champion social media efforts, should be the glue for integrated marketing, and lead organizational efforts in creating high-quality content that contributes to the conversation and advances an organization’s goals.
Mopwater: If you could work on any dream project of your choosing, what would it be? FS: Politics and government have always fascinated me – I wrote a thesis on Jesse Ventura’s use of the Web in his bid for governor of Minnesota. That campaign is clearly old news now, but it was very new then, and the first solid example of how the Web is transforming how organizations interact and communicate. I could easily see myself getting wrapped up in a political campaign one day, or perhaps find myself as a press secretary.
Mopwater: What if anything would you have done differently in your career up to this point and what advice would you give someone who is trying to break into this field? FS: The best piece of advice I received when trying to break into the PR industry was from a professor: he told me to find a topic I was passionate about and write letters to the editor. It proved sage advice and I landed letters in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Those samples demonstrated that I was current on trends, had an eye for news, and the writing talent to be published.
Today, I’d offer similar advice, though I think it’s been adjusted a bit – today you have to be a blogger and be active on social media. Blogging showcases your writing and you’ll learn important skills about the Web distribution like RSS, SEO and content marketing. Social media isn’t a fad, it’s not going away and so obtaining experience in the social norms, culture and principles of effective social media evangelism is imperative.