Pierpont Executive Counsels George Michael and Terry Hemeyer share veteran industry insights.
Pierpont is blessed to have two executive counsels on staff who, collectively, have more than 70 years of experience in PR and Marketing. George Michael has worked in 12 major industries and helped more than 200 companies achieve their communications and business goals. Terry Hemeyer has served various high-profile companies and has personally advised two U.S. presidents on communication strategies. His career has spanned the globe and led him to work in 16 different countries. Recently, Terry and George talked about the evolution of PR, what skills are most valuable, and how young professionals can get a seat at the table. These interviews were condensed and edited for clarity. Conducted and written by Julia Covini.
How has PR changed from the beginning of your career to now?
Terry: Much has changed but at the same time there is a lot that hasn’t. There are four basic pillars that still hold true that we, as PR professionals, need to answer no matter the situation. The pillars will always be identifying what we are going to say, when we say it, how it is said, and who the target audience is that receives the crafted message. What has changed is that companies need us now more than ever. As a result, our credibility and trust are improving. Work speed and digital tools have also changed. While we have always needed to be experts in digital, now we must be instant experts as more and more companies are seeking PR professionals to address communication issues, both in person and on the world-wide-web.
George: Like all aspects of our lives, it is the digital transformation that has changed the landscape of PR. We can now communicate in various forms, share documents and collaborate from the comfort of our homes. With ongoing digital advancements, we need to closely acquaint ourselves with the latest digital tools to be more efficient and deliver client work seamlessly.
What does public relations mean to you?
Terry: Public relations is successfully presenting accurate and credible information, on behalf of a client, to an audience with the goal of the audience accepting and believing it.
George: Public relations is handling information and building a robust communication strategy to make a message memorable to the audience in which you are trying to reach.
What are the three skills a PR professional must obtain?
Terry: You have to be analytical and able to solve problems, big or small. You must be a great communicator and writer. If you are a good writer, you can evaluate, prepare and think analytically. Lastly, you need to be worldly and well-read so that you are aware of and able to contribute to multiple sides of an issue.
George: Of all the skills you must obtain, you must be a strong writer, listen actively and attentively, and have a genuine curiosity to continue educating yourself. When it comes to listening skills, if you listen hard enough, the client will always give you the answer. And by asking the right questions, you can let the client do the talking so you can take what they say and mold their message in strategic working terms.
How important is networking these days?
Terry: It is critical. You constantly have to be alert and ready to interact with others no matter the time or place. The trouble that comes with networking today is that it takes many different forms. We only networked through face-to-face interactions. But now in the age of technology, we are relying more on third-party platforms through video calls or social media. We must be able to effectively communicate no matter the platform being used.
George: I don’t enjoy using the word “networking” because it seems calculated. I rather use the phrase “building relationships” as it sounds less transactional. After all, our field is public relations. Relationships are extremely important because, in my experience, you rarely lose accounts for poor work, rather it’s a sour relationship that will keep you from reaching the next level.
As young minds are entering the industry, what’s important for them to know?
Terry: Understanding PR foundations are only a fraction of what the job is all about. PR can be very stressful but learning how to manage the stress is key. Everything you present to a client won’t be accepted but you have to keep things moving regardless of action being taken or not. You have to be able to accept and move past failure and know that you won’t always get what you want. If you strive for success and are faced with failure, remember to never give up. You are constantly being watched for how you overcome a setback. Failure will never overtake if your determination to succeed is present. Know that PR is not a typical 9-5 job, it is a commitment, and you must be ready day or night for anything that comes your way.
George: Don’t go into a job thinking short term, instead, think long term and focus on building valuable relationships. Have integrity and treat people fairly. As the old saying “treat people how you want to be treated,” you also need to treat people with the same fairness as you would like to receive. Acting like a real human being that genuinely cares about others will get you far- because it’s a relationship, not an automated service.
How has client-agency collaboration changed?
Terry: I would say it hasn’t changed much because it’s all about you and the client. However, each client is different, so you have to be able to read them and acclimate to multiple personalities. What also hasn’t changed is the importance of keeping in touch with clients so that you can build lasting relationships through trust and confidence.
George: It is vastly different today. Through more remote work, we have become much more distant. In-person meetings or a simple phone call instead of resorting to long email chains are still crucial to strengthen the personal and critical connections of PR.
How can you have a seat at the table when you’re starting out?
Terry: It can be a slow process to build trust and credibility when starting out. You won’t instantly get a seat at the table based on previous status or experience. It’s about what you are doing for the company, its clients and how you position yourself. Don’t be the person that sits at your desk all day, because it won’t do you any good. Instead, get out in the field and meet the whole company, your client’s team members, industry peers and people that have a direct correlation to your work. Leaders and colleagues will start coming to you and eventually add you to their immediate circle. But it’s all about getting noticed for the kind of employee you are so that they develop confidence in you and your work.
George: I think the most important thing you need to remember is to show up. Most of life is showing up; nothing happens when you sit and do nothing. Showing up doesn’t mean something is automatically going to happen, but if you don’t take action at all, you certainly won’t get anywhere. Another important thing to do is prepare. Not many people spend enough time training or mastering the art of PR. An easy, first approach is to prepare talking points- three bullets is a good start, that way if you are in a meeting or on a phone call and the discussion begins to slip, you can always refer to your prepped bullets to steer the conversation back on track.
Terry provides strategic counsel on communications and reputation management, while preventing and navigating crisis situations. Terry guides clients through the delicate world of reputation management while advising them on best communication practices. With over 40 years of branding and communications experience in nearly every industry, Terry has successfully managed projects concerning branding, advertising, litigation, crisis management, media relations and government communications. As a professor at UT-Austin and Rice University MBA Program, Terry has taught and shared his expertise for 25 years in strategic communications and crisis management.
George partners with clients to provide insight and expertise in marketing strategy and business development. He focuses on assisting clients in research and planning to help grow their business. With over 30 years of agency experience, George has worked in 12 major industries and helped more than 200 companies achieve their communications and business goals. George’s integrated communications plans put great emphasis on measurable results for his clients.Contact Us