“Where You Aren’t is More Important Than Where You Are” Words of Wisdom with Veteran Publicist Cheryl Snapp Conner

I had the pleasure of interviewing Cheryl Snapp Conner, CEO of SnappConner PR and creator of Content University. In addition to her company, she is a leading contributor to the Forbes Entrepreneur channel, a guest contributor to Inc and WSJ, and is the author of the Forbes eBook “Beyond PR: Communicate Like a Champ in the Digital Age.” Current Analysis has named her one of the world’s top 20 Business Thought Leaders to Follow.

Thank you so much for your time. I know that you are a very busy person. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Yes — I got into the PR industry quite by fortunate accident. And became an authoring contributor by destiny or accident as well. My emphasis in college was in writing, and the technology industry I entered was in dire need of people with good storytelling ability (in contrast to just the desire to promote). So that’s the sensibility I entered with and it was a refreshing and needed evolution, especially in tech. As a contributor — I was trying to coach my clients and the best way to do that was to put out bold materials of my own, to prove to them that readers would respond better to information that caught their eye and even surprised them as opposed to what I’ve referred to as the “heartfelt tributes” about their own companies and teams.

How did you get involved in the PR industry?

As a young mom of three little boys and wife to a husband with massive educational debts I needed to find a job. And the technology company my then husband was working for needed to find a communicator who could translate their “tech speak” into non-technology English. The Sr. Vice President of that company, Novell, decided I’d do. I hung on, did my best, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

There are so many. But one that stands out is the time we had a technology reporter show up uninvited to our annual company meeting at Novell. It was his right to do so, but I was nailed to his side like glue the entire event, through a beautiful evening dinner, then dropped him off at his hotel and breathed a sigh of relief. But little did I know, he had grabbed a business card from one of the company’s key programmers on the way out the door.

So before catching his flight in the morning, he gave the programmer a call to “ask a few more questions.” The programmer, knowing the rules, called me immediately. In my frustration I blurted out, “What now? He’s tried everything!” And quickly came to realize the reporter was on the line with us. It was a three-way call.

I was mortified. The reporter was nonplussed and kept on rolling. These kind of things apparently happen to him often and it didn’t phase him. I, on the other hand, have never again blurted anything into the phone without knowing for sure who is on the line.

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

As a PR team, we have created the absolute A team, which is very exciting for me. And we take on only the best of the best clients, which are generally growth companies with a very clear ROI for what they’d like to achieve in PR. But beyond that, my columns and our Content University courses are providing solid input on what small companies and entrepreneurs can accomplish themselves, with little or no PR agency involvement. So everyone can get into the act and improve their business with our help, even with no budget involved.

What are you most proud of?

I’m incredibly happy about having the chance to be a leading voice in the evolution of PR to more authentic, value-add communication and away from the pitch/hype/publicity stunt style of PR that ruled the day in times past.

I know your job is not easy. What drives you?

The chance to make a real impact is huge. Communication is power, and I get the chance to put that power to use every day.

Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?

For young people, hone your writing ability. Work on your speaking and presentation abilities too, but writing is paramount. Especially, learn journalistic writing. Learn how to tell a good story, and to trim your words to the essence. That one skill will put you well ahead of the game in PR, as we are increasingly given the opportunity to tell those stories ourselves (and PR people are classically very poor at communicating concisely, or without promotional hype).

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

The most interested person is, ironically, the most interesting person in the room. Learn to ask good questions and to show your genuine interest in every person you meet. And when you make good connections, follow through. Beyond that, be selective about the groups and events that you enter. You can gain so much advantage by simply making sure you’re in the right rooms.

Which skills do you think are most important to becoming a successful PR professional? A successful PR person requires?

1) emotional maturity. 2) Ethics. 3) A perpetual willingness to learn. 4) A genuine interest in synergizing and partnering with other people. And, of course 5) Superb communications skills that are meant to engage, not simply to grab attention or preach.

You are in a position of influence. How have you used your position and skill to bring goodness to the world?

My columns have been the biggest “give back” for me as they provide free tutorial information every week. Many of them continue to spread and thrive five years or more beyond the time they were written. But conversely, that builds my influence as well. Thanks to the long tail, and that the information was designed to add value, I am able to influence tens of thousands of people a day even if I don’t speak or publish at all. It’s an amazing phenomenon.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Running a company is a different thing than being an ace in PR. I never aspired to be a founder or CEO, but through circumstance, in order to accomplish what I’ve needed to do I have had to. It’s been a long learning process. I have allowed people to linger far too long in positions they weren’t prepared to fill. But no more. These days I move much more quickly to make sure anyone in a key role is prepared to fulfil it, and if not, that we make the adjustments we need early on. It is no gift, in either direction, to have people who are “wrong fits” on your payroll or in front of your clients.
  2. Failures are lessons. The greatest things I’ve learned have all come about as the result of initial slip-ups that I paid attention to and turned into wins.
  3. There is always room to improve. Those who progress — and I’d like to count myself among them — are continually finding ways to learn new skills, do more, be better. Those who resent feedback are stuck where they are and are destined to fail while the rest of the world grows around them.
  4. Where you “aren’t” is more important than where you”are.” This applies to press coverage as well as the use of your time. Junior PR people are jumping at every opportunity, willy nilly, to demonstrate “hits.” Experts are much more selective about making sure their clients are appearing in the most important locations to move the business needle for them. When you see an agency bragging about the list of awards they’ve won for their client (while the client’s competitor is eating their lunch in the market and the meaningful news stories), run. Too many agencies strive to live “downwind from dumb money,” as I put it. Don’t be one of those.
  5. It is far better to run a small and highly effective PR company than a larger one that provides mediocre service and struggles for profit. Those who pursue “growth for growth’s sake” end up with a revolving door of departing executives, frequent layoffs, and an increasingly terrible culture. Strive to make the remark “your reputation precedes you” an increasingly positive thing.

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

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