PR Pros: Greg Rankin On The 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro

An Interview With Michelle Tennant Nicholson

Michelle Tennant Nicholson
Authority Magazine
14 min readOct 3, 2023

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The art of over-communication: To be in PR, you need to have great people skills and you need to be a great communicator. However, I would argue that this alone is not enough. You need to be an over-communicator. When someone explains something to me, I often turn around and explain it right back to them. Either they will say, yes you got it exactly right or they will realize there was some miscommunication. Maybe they left out a big part of what they were explaining or did not explain it fully enough. In PR, every detail is critical and over-communicating is essential to avoid problems down the line.

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 Greg Rankin.

Greg Rankin is the Founder and CEO of Rankin PR, a B2B public relations agency focusing on industrial and technology clients. Rankin has more than 15 years of experience in PR and has been published in thousands of trade publication news articles. Prior to his role in PR, Rankin was a local TV news anchor and reporter.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was working as a sports reporter at a local TV station in Lubbock, Texas when a professional arena football team came to town. The word went out that they were looking for someone to be the voice of the team and call play-by-play on the radio. Having always dreamed of being a sports announcer like the great Keith Jackson or Jim Nantz, I sent in my tape. I guess they liked it because they offered me the job. The only stipulation was that I also handle the media and all public relations. It turned out that the PR side of the job was my favorite part. After the season, I did go back into TV for a short time, but I always missed doing public relations. So, after my next contract expired, I moved out to Los Angeles and started working in PR again. After I got my 10 years and 10,000 hours, I moved back to Texas and started my own agency. To this day, I still love what I do.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

When it comes to running a business, marketing and PR tend to be the first things to get cut when times get tough. Even though from a strategic standpoint it is been proven to be a poor decision, it still happens regularly. So, you can imagine that during the pandemic I received more than a few calls from clients who were scared about the unknown implications of the nationwide shutdowns and just wanted to hold on to every dollar they had — which was a pretty universal feeling at the time. I saw numerous agencies that had been around for decades close their doors. We were very lucky in the sense that we were able to convince our clients to stay the course and focus on the future. A big part of that came from looking back at history. For a quick example, when the Great Depression hit, the Ford Motor Company — which at the time was by far the largest auto manufacturer in the world — decided to stop all marketing and hunker down. GM decided to double its marketing budget. Fast forward a decade and GM overtook Ford as the world’s dominant car maker, and they held on to that title for almost 70 years. For our clients, it paid off. Every single client that stayed with us through the pandemic is rapidly growing. In fact, several of them made the Inc 5000 list of Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies in the U.S. this year.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, I am not sure how funny it is, but in my first month working in TV, I made a big blunder. First, it’s important to illustrate the frenetic pace in which a local TV newsroom operates. No matter what you do, every night at 5:00, 6:00, and 10:00 (11:00 on the coasts), there is a newscast. Either you get your story done or there is a big black hole in the middle of the newscast. There are no do overs, no “I need more time.” It’s a ‘get it done’ industry. So, having gone out to cover my first housefire, I returned to the station to put together my story. With a looming deadline for the 5 o’clock news rapidly approaching, I was handed a late press release with information about the fire. I included some of that in my story and it hit the air. The problem was that in my haste, I misread the release and it said the home “did have smoke detectors,” but I had read it as “didn’t have smoke detectors.” After the story ran, we got calls from the fire department and the homeowner asking us to correct it. I was so embarrassed and thought I might get fired. The news director called me into her office, but she was very understanding. I was way harder on myself. However, I remember that feeling and what it taught me was that every detail matters. I can say that since then, every fact, figure, and story that I am a part of has been double checked and fully vetted.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

We recently completed a really exciting project working with Lockheed Martin on a story for the F-35. The F-35 Lightning II is an all-weather stealth combat aircraft that is intended to perform warfare strike missions and electronic surveillance capabilities at speeds up to 1.6 Mach. Any deviations in external dimensions can interfere with stealth capabilities, and at supersonic speeds that can be catastrophic to both the plane and the pilot. They were looking to develop a digital system to determine whether the “as built” metrology was confirmed as “near perfect” to the design. Our client developed a drone and robotic system for them that would fly over the plane and collect measurements and then convert those into CAD files which could be further inspected. That story was published in over 30 different publications. It delivered the client more than 1.2M impressions and also helped them secure several other contracts including two multi-year, multi-million-dollar contracts with the Navy and Air Force.

Even though we focus only on business-to-business PR, we are always working on projects that are positively impacting the planet and the lives of everyday people. Whether that is better energy storage devices that do not require all the finite critical minerals that batteries rely on or a new air filtration technology that can stop the transmission of viruses like COVID, the flu, and the common cold. One of the best parts of my job is learning about what is possible in the future and then letting the rest of the world know about it.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

1. Curiosity

I think if you are going to be in PR or journalism, you have to be curious. You have to ask a lot of questions and really want to know the answers. Growing up I would pester my parents and teachers with question after question. The desire to constantly learn more led me to read a lot of books and magazines, always trying to quench my thirst for knowledge. Luckily, I am still thirsty after all these years.

2. Creativity

This one goes without saying, but when you have clients that make things like industrial fasteners — screws and rivets — you have to find creative ways to tell those stories. The truth is that even industrial fasteners, while seemingly insignificant to the average person, actually benefit us all. What would happen if one tiny rivet failed on a plane or an O-ring on a space shuttle — which is what brought down the Challenger? So, these things are significant, but you have to be creative to write 10 years’ worth of stories about cooling towers — which I have done.

3. Confidence/ Optimism

I always believe things are going to work out as they should. It is like the old proverb about the farmer. One day a farmer’s horse runs away and all the neighboring farmers come to him to tell him what bad luck he had. The farmer simply replied by saying, ‘Maybe’. The next day the horse returned with several wild stallions. This time the neighbors joyfully say to the farmer, ‘Look at your good fortune.’ The farmer says to them, ‘Possibly.’ The next day when the farmer’s son tries to ride one of the stallions, he falls off and breaks his arm. The neighbors came over to console the farmer whose luck they felt had run out. The farmer refuses to listen. The following day, a commander in the army comes by to enlist all able-bodied boys to go off to war. Because of his accident, the farmer’s son was unable to go. You see, everything has the potential to look good or bad at the moment, but you can only judge a lifetime when you get to the end. Be confident that things will work out for you and in hindsight, you’ll look back and realize that it always has.

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?

PR is a term that almost everyone has heard of, but when I tell people that I own a PR agency, almost no one is really sure what I actually do for a living. That makes sense because there are so many different forms of PR. What we do is referred to as business-to-business (B2B) PR. So, we are not public facing, like a business-to-consumer (B2C) PR agency representing brands like Coke, Nike or Southwest Airlines. We represent companies that sell products to other companies. Our job is to develop stories about industry trends or improved solutions, then get those articles published in industry trade publications.

There are lots of other types of PR as well. For example, public affairs professionals deal primarily with government agencies and regulations. Community relations professionals may look to create events for certain groups of people or even entire towns. Crisis communications, on the other hand, are experts at dealing with a crisis, like after a plane goes down or a chemical fire at a refinery. One of the biggest crisis communications case studies of all time occurred with Tylenol in the early 1980s when a series of deaths occurred due to drug tampering in the Chicago area. PR professionals are all looking to communicate, educate, and often influence a particular group of people. The form of PR is based on who the target audience is.

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?

There is an ongoing debate, even within our own office, about what is the best degree to pursue if you want to be in PR. I am probably a little bit biased because of where I got my start, but I think journalism is by far the best way to get started in PR. The reason is simple, public relations is all about the art of storytelling. Find a hook, get to the interesting part of the story fast. Let your audience know what they are going to gain by reading or viewing the rest of the content. These are the things you learn from journalism. That is not to say that you can’t gain value in taking public relations and communication classes in college, but to be a great storyteller you first have to tell a lot of stories and that is where a degree in journalism is going to set you up for success.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

To me, networking is a lot like dating. You can’t rush into a relationship. You have to do the work, and it takes time to build a rapport with someone. Before I get down to business on any call or meeting, I like to find out more about who I talking to. Where are they from? Who do they know? What do they like to do? This goes back to being curious. I genuinely enjoy learning about people and what makes them unique. You can go to networking events, you can call editors and pitch them a story, but no one is going to remember you if you don’t really care about getting to know them. I understand, people have busy lives and may not always have time to talk. However, I can usually get a few questions out and gauge their interest. Oftentimes an editor is on deadline and that is NOT the time to go in for a chat. However, sometimes they just had a nice lunch, and maybe that afternoon cup of coffee, and are willing talk endlessly about their favorite sports team, their kids, or a great vacation spot. Don’t network to have a big network. Build relationships with people, and you’ll develop a large network of people who would actually go to bat for.

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?

1. Content, content, content. We are big believers that people are always looking for answers, and if you provide those answers, they will come looking for more answers. The key is where that content is then leveraged.

2. SEO: So, once you have that content, you need it to 1) rank for those common search terms and search phrases, and 2) this one is sometimes overlooked, you need your content to appear in places other than your website. Here’s why. When people visit a company website, they know they are getting biased information. So, if you can instead get your content to appear in trade publications or industry association websites, which are considered a neutral source of information, you are much more likely to generate credibility — which can generate more than just qualified leads. Oftentimes, a lead will come in much further along in the sales cycle, making it easier, quicker, and less costly to close.

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.

1. Where to start — You may be tempted to begin your PR career working for a company that wants an in-house PR person, or maybe like me where I started in sports PR. While it may be more fun and less pressure in the short term, it will greatly limit how high you can climb. When you work at a public relations agency, you get to see how the sausage is made. Sure, at an agency, you are going to be put through the grinder, but by doing so you will obtain first-hand knowledge of how PR experts handle the seemingly never-ending problems that arise. You will also get to create content for a diverse set of industries. Most importantly, you will develop the single most important skill to work in PR: client relations.

2. The art of over-communication: To be in PR, you need to have great people skills and you need to be a great communicator. However, I would argue that this alone is not enough. You need to be an over-communicator. When someone explains something to me, I often turn around and explain it right back to them. Either they will say, yes you got it exactly right or they will realize there was some miscommunication. Maybe they left out a big part of what they were explaining or did not explain it fully enough. In PR, every detail is critical and over-communicating is essential to avoid problems down the line.

3. How to become invaluable — When you are in PR, you are going to need to develop a lot of connections within the media. The best way I have found to do that, beyond what I have spoken about previously, is to always deliver the highest quality content possible. We do PR a little bit differently than most PR agencies in that we actually write the feature articles that a publication will publish. What we have been able to do over time is to build trust in the eyes of editors that our content is ready to run. The best way to get editors or producers to take your calls and read your emails is to make their lives easier. In this way you can sort of serve two masters; you make the client happy getting their story published and you make the editor happy by giving them an article that is not promotional, but insightful and educational.

4. Writing, editing, and more writing — This one is obvious, but if you want to be in PR, you have to be a good writer, and writing is like a muscle; you need to work it out or it will atrophy. So, I would tell anyone who wants to be in PR that you need to be writing every single day. One of the first things I do each morning, and then again in the afternoon, is write. It does not have to be long, but I will write a social media post for LinkedIn, a blog, or work on one of our client articles. I have now been published thousands of times and I still think I can get better. When I am writing a new article for a client, I often begin by writing for several hours without any judgment. Then I step away and come back later and often toss out half of what I had written. Don’t fall in love with your own writing. Be able to see it with fresh eyes and from the point of view of the intended audience.

5. Listen actively and learn quickly — This is sort of a two-for-one, but they actually tie in together. When a new client comes to us after experiencing a bad relationship with another PR agency, they usually have a version of one of these two statements: “I felt like they were trying to learn on the job,” or “They did not deliver what we wanted.” If you look into those two issues, what the client is really saying was they did not understand our business or they did not listen to what our goals were for the project. When you start at a PR agency you are going to be exposed to a lot of new industries and over time you will begin to learn way more than you ever expected and that will allow you to learn more quickly. As for active listening, take it one step further and actually record, with their permission, those big strategy sessions. Then go back and review the transcripts.

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. :-)

My movement would be to unite the world as one people with the goal of peace, prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness. Humans are much more alike than we are different, and yet we spend all our time separating people into groups. Then we demonize the opposite group and self-aggrandize our own group. As a society, this gets us nowhere. While there are quite possibly some in power who stand to benefit from this tactic of divide and conquer, we as a people need to push back against this tyranny. We need to start seeing people as friends, family or neighbors, not our opposition. Save that for sports.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

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

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Michelle Tennant Nicholson
Authority Magazine

A “Givefluencer,” Chief Creative Officer of Wasabi Publicity, Inc., Creator of WriteTheTrauma.org