Ed Zitron – one of Adweek’s Top 30 Under 30 Emerging US Communication Leaders – once described a career in PR as “flinging shit into a void and hoping you won’t get shat back on”.
But, despite being dubbed “the world’s most self-loathing PR person” by Newsweek, the ex-UK games journalist – now a PR agency boss in the US – is more than happy to help out PR rookies.
Indeed, he has even written a warts and all book to ease newbies through their first year in PR and, below, Ed chats exclusively about his unconventional take on the public relations business.
No fluff, no jargon, just results – here’s Ed
- What prompted you to write the book How to Kick Ass in your First Years of PR?
I had a really, really bad first job in PR. Verbal abuse, threats to my visa, threats to my well-being, deliberately being kept late on Fridays (and the days before what England calls Bank Holidays – Americans call them holidays). I was told to form pitch, I was told to phone call people endlessly – things that were ethically painful and I hated doing, until I just decided not to do them and focus on knowing reporters, either by reading or by actually talking to them, and focusing on matching up clients with reporters that liked what they were writing about.
PR just isn’t that fun a career at times. I love doing it because I carved out a niche for myself and a business that works for me, my clients and the people that work for me. It’s a really debilitating industry with a lot of middle and upper management problems paired with a strange public persona where everyone is always talking about how great it is. Other industries – sales, journalism, management in general – have a very deliberate group of people who criticize bad practices. PR people actively attack people who attack bad practices like cold calling, despite the fact that reporters truly hate it.
Why should you read my book? I don’t know. If you want to understand if it’s worth being in PR, and if you do go into it, what to expect.
- You once stated that you found the world of PR a place of “passive-aggressive emails, office back-chat and an oppositional, saccharine reporter-PR relationship” Do you still feel like that?
I 100% stand by that statement. PR has become – as an industry – obsessed with covering up its own mistakes rather than creating ways for it to do better. People are obsessed with talking about how smart they are, how great they are, how impressive they are because the substance of much of the work we do is quite dull and focused on…emails.
We want to believe we are the Samanthas of the world, at big events with well-known clients, or White House Press Secretaries. Most of the time…we’re not. And it’s much easier to blame the world, or the journalists, or something else for your failings as a person than to admit that perhaps you’re not putting in your all, or that perhaps your job isn’t that important. It’s not a BAD job, it’s just not that important or fancy! It’s not impressive if you describe it in real terms.
- Does your quote of a couple of years ago – “The career of a PR person is like flinging shit into a void and hoping you won’t get shat back upon” – still ring true?
Things haven’t changed.
Social media has allowed PR people an even larger pulpit to circle around themselves using hyperbole to describe their actions, and places like the Plank Institute and the PRSA have allowed people to continually drum in their own self importance. They need to stop. They corrupt students now – the PR Students Society of America is the most fetid organization, failing to warn students of the actual things they’ll do each day – that their clients won’t be a Beyoncé or a Tesla or a Dell. They will not be speaking to stars or running million-dollar parties. They could say this but they don’t. They post 500 posts a year about “great ways to win over a room” or “ways to manage a team,” useless things that have been written 400,000 times.
- Do you still believe that “Reporters hate PR people, and they should?” If so, why? Is it because some PR people go about things the wrong way – or not your way?
A lot of reporters do, and “my way” is a suggestion I’m not particularly keen on. I’m not suggesting some insane, crack-potted theory about having to inject thetans (soul) into emails. I’m saying email them stuff they want to hear about, get to know them, understand them, don’t call them. Normal human things that people who are desperate and ignorant don’t understand. If “my way” is a problem to anyone, I’ll gladly have it out with them.
- You were described as “the world’s most self-loathing PR person” by Newsweek back in 2014 – is that still the case?
That’s the reporter’s way of putting it, but I loathe how my industry is. Self-effacing jokes are my thing, and I’d 100% say there’re times that I am very down on myself. I do loathe what we are. I loathe a lot of my peers. I really do. I just can’t stand them. They are half-people with personal branding injected into them.
- What are the differences between PR in England and the US?
British PR is generally a lot more forward in person. It’s similar on email, but in person people are more amicable and human.
The presidential campaign was one that was very much proof that the echo-chamber of social media and what people perceive to be popular culture is vastly different to that of the real world. Twitter is no indicator of a real electoral body. Hillary didn’t lose because of the racists on Twitter (I should note I would, if I could, vote democrat either way), she lost because she didn’t campaign in key states and had a genuine lack of charm. Trump won by breaking entire systems of good taste and expected decorum. How the next four years go is going to be very strange and scary.
- What four words would you use to sum up PR?
“Oh no, it’s today.”
- Why do you think that PR has a bad reputation?
PR has a bad rep because it deserves one. There are many agencies, big agencies, small agencies, one-person shops too, all of them spam and are just plain bad. They scam clients. That’s why PR has a bad rep. It’s not the cultural trope of “PR people lie.” It’s that PR people are deceptive with what they offer.
- Do you have any advice for PR students/rookies?
Really look into what this job entails. You won’t be doing big events, or if you do you’ll be doing the very unfun work. You won’t be hosting things. You won’t hang out with celebrities. You won’t work on the biggest products directly. You will, ultimately, have to handle so much drudgery you will have to either accept it or lie to yourself until five years passes. Also, get good at Microsoft Office and formatting emails.
** Ed is the founder of US-based PR firm EZPR and author of This Is How You Pitch: How To Kick Ass In Your First Years Of PR.
Have Ed’s words made you re-think PR as a career, or do you disagree with him? Any comments welcome below.