PR Pros: Caryn R. Sagal On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro
An Interview With Michelle Tennant Nicholson
Keep up on the latest trends — in your clients’ industries, as well as in the marketing and PR fields.
Have you seen the show Flack? Ever think of pursuing a real-life career in PR? What does it take to succeed in PR? What are the different forms of Public Relations? Do you have to have a college degree in PR? How can you create a highly lucrative career in PR? In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” we are talking to successful publicists and Public Relations pros, who can share stories and insights from their experiences.
As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Caryn R. Sagal, president of Caryn Sagal PR, LLC.
With nearly 30 years of agency public relations experience, Caryn R. Sagal is known for getting individuals and organizations in the news, building brand awareness and connecting with key stakeholders. Continuously placing broadcast interviews, cover stories and feature articles, she has managed campaigns for clients in the health & fitness, non-profit, lifestyle entertainment, retail & hospitality, real estate & design and professional services industries — and everything in between! Baltimore Magazine named Caryn Best Flak (public relations professional) in its “Best of Baltimore” issue and she won a Gold Award from the International Association for Business Communicators-Harrisburg Chapter for leading a national marketing communications campaign that launched an automotive product.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us what brought you to this specific career path?
I always wanted to interview celebrities and newsmakers like Barbara Walters. But, while serving as editor of my middle school and high school newspapers, I met various journalists who warned of the unpleasant assignments they had when starting out. The movie, Broadcast News, reinforced that.
My high school journalism teacher recommended public relations and it sounded interesting. I am from Baltimore, Maryland, the University of Maryland College Park happened to have the #1 PR program in the country and I was accepted as a freshman, early admission.
I didn’t know for sure that PR was the right career, however, until taking an internship the summer before my junior year. From day one, I was writing press releases and pitching stories. It was incredible working with media I had grown up watching on TV and reading in magazines and newspapers. Plus, I’ll never forget the excitement the first few times that I heard broadcasters reading my press releases as on-air copy.
The internship turned into a part-time job with me returning in person the following summer and winter break, and working remotely during the school year. I even organized a minor league baseball team’s press conference from my dorm. When offered the chance to graduate a semester early, I jumped at it so I could start doing PR full time. The rest is history!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Six months after landing a client, I attended their company holiday party as a guest — unaware that the festivities would include an awards presentation. To my surprise, I was honored with the Game Changer Award “for playing a vital role in helping to position and grow the brand!”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
I didn’t make a mistake per se, but the funniest experience was being sprayed by an elephant while leading a media tour.
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Always be aware of your audience — especially if it includes animals!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I coordinate fitness segments, announce club openings/renovations and place member success stories for a growing franchise division with 75 fitness centers in various parts of the country. I also am promoting a law firm, culinary fundraiser, health awareness campaign and walk/run events. Plus, I just started representing an arts & culture venue and already secured five TV interviews, three podcasts and a syndicated article within the first three weeks.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
- Creativity. Thinking outside the box to develop interesting story angles is a must. As an example, I once promoted a charity fundraiser where the honorary chair was a former “Penthouse Pet”-turned philanthropist. I jokingly told an editor about the honorary chair having “a big heart under her big chest” and that led to a feature story.
- Passion. I love what I do and I am 100 percent dedicated to my clients and getting results for them. I never want them to miss out on an opportunity. While it’s important to maintain work/life balance and unwind, there have been so many times that watching TV for relaxation has sparked story angles for me to pursue.
- Integrity. My clients know I will work tirelessly on their behalf. If something is not doable, I will tell them so up front. Likewise, the media know they can count on me to bring good pitches and help them find sources for stories even if that’s going beyond my client base.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you help articulate what the different forms of PR are?
Public relations is the management of communication between an organization and its “publics” — the various audiences it serves. Media relations — working with news outlets to coordinate articles and interviews — is the bulk of my work. Publicity lends credibility to the clients and can help raise awareness, build favorability, generate new business, recruit volunteers and raise money. I’m proud to have been part of all that!
Additionally, I help my clients with community relations — showing they care about and support their surrounding community through philanthropy programs, special events, sponsorships and other goodwill gestures. Other types of PR include donor relations aka “fundraising,” crisis communications, employee relations, investor relations and public affairs for government and political audiences.
PR is just one aspect of the total marketing umbrella, however. Messaging needs to be consistent throughout all outreach channels — articles, collateral materials, advertising, web copy, social media, etc. I assist my clients with copywriting for all the above.
Where should a young person considering a career in PR start their education? Should they get a degree in communications? A degree in journalism? Can you explain what you mean?
A PR major — ideally coupled with journalism degree — provides a great foundation. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to be able to write as a journalist and understand the media’s needs before putting on my PR hat and pitching my clients. But if J school is not an option, be sure to read newspapers and magazines as much as possible and watch news shows to get a feel for how journalists write.
Also, get experience through internships and build up a portfolio. I acquired nearly two years of experience before I graduated college. When I interviewed for my first job out of college, I was told I had too much experience for an entry level position, so I landed an account executive position!
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
- Listen. We have two ears, but only one mouth for a reason. It’s important to really hear what people are saying before reciting your elevator speech.
- Ask questions. Engage in a dialogue where you can get a sense of who you are talking to, what they need and how you can be of value to them.
- Know that the people in the room may not be able to use your services, but they might know others who can. If you establish a good rapport, they will want to send referrals your way.
- It’s not just about meeting new people. Your clients and the others on their team can be your biggest advocates, so cultivate good relationships with them. Through the years, clients have sent me referrals. I also have bonded with their graphic designers, event planners and ad agencies, and collaborated with them on additional accounts. Not to mention, I even got a job with a former client’s ad agency that was launching a PR division!
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Whether talking to prospective clients or referral sources, it’s best to give specific examples of my work. That makes it more relatable than just hearing the broad term, “PR.” In turn, they can envision how I can help them or others they know who need my expertise.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” and why.
- Be a good writer. Know AP Style and the inverted pyramid, and ideally fashion your press releases as news copy. If presented as news, the better the chances are for coverage.
- Be a nose for news. Always be on the lookout for timely and compelling story angles.
- Pitch accordingly. Don’t blindly reach out to media with ideas that won’t interest their audience or work with their format. Know what they want.
- Keep up on the latest trends — in your clients’ industries, as well as in the marketing and PR fields.
- Multitask. It’s a juggling act working on multiple projects simultaneously. You must balance the needs and deadlines of all your clients and pivot when late breaking news or a crisis throws a curve that requires immediate action.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I really can’t answer that because I represent various nonprofits and all their missions are worthwhile!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
About the Interviewer: Inspired by the father of PR, Edward Bernays (who was also Sigmund Freud’s nephew), Michelle Tennant Nicholson researches marketing, mental injury, and what it takes for optimal human development. An award-winning writer and publicist, she’s seen PR transition from typewriters to Twitter. Michelle co-founded WasabiPublicity.com.