If you’ve been following our Qwoted 100 series over the last month, then you’ve been treated to inside glimpses — and invaluable PR wisdom — from some of our users who have proven themselves heads above the rest.
And if you’re new then we invite you to go back and review our past few posts, which feature Kristin Lisi Buehler of Lipstick & Sweatpants and Alyssa Pallotti of Touchdown PR. We hope you’ll find informative and useful no matter your stripe: journalist, editor or member of the PR workforce. After all, it pays to know how the best in the field, think, act and define best practices.
To the journalists in the crowd who might ask, “So what?” I hear you. But here’s what: Throughout my career, able PRs have helped me nail story after story. The perception is too often that they’re only out to get placement for their clients.
Experience has taught me better: that the very best understand the relations part of public relations. A few minutes after I finish this column, I’ll pick up the phone to talk to one of my besties, a PR person I met through my work at a banking non-profit. (Now there’s a non-sequitur for you.) Granted, it usually doesn’t go this deep — but she was there for me through some nasty deadlines, even when she didn’t represent the source in question. Now I’m hoping to be there for her as she goes through a career transition.
So it’s a select club we’re talking about: PRs with the kind of empathy, grace and intelligence that give perspective to their success. This week, I’m privileged to present Kelly Ferraro, Partner and Chief Media Officer at River North Communications in New York City. Hers is a broad net that covers (deep breath): legal, legal tech, asset management, real estate, traditional/digital finance assets and healthtech.
Here’s what Ferraro had to say about what drives her work, how she defines PR survival in the years ahead, and how she rises above the noise floor while handling the delicate matter of harried reporters ever on deadline.
Qwoted: What do you see as the future of PR—technologically, strategically, or in any category you’re passionate about?
Kelly Ferraro: The public relations industry, as a whole, continues to evolve as businesses continue to dive deeper into technology. Some areas of focus for us and the clients we work with are blockchain, crypto and fintech. We are big believers in tech advancements and appreciate being on the cutting edge and promoting the most innovative solutions.
Coming from a background in traditional finance, I personally see blockchain as enabling our business even more than it does today — much the same way the internet propelled the investments business forward in the late ’90s and early 2000s. I see us eventually utilizing NFTs as a way to share media wins, clips, contracts and more. Additionally, I’m also looking forward to hosting an interview between a reporter and a client in the metaverse in the near future.
Qwoted: What do you think you do that other PRs could learn from?
Ferraro: Our PR firm is a people-first agency. What does that mean? Our clients and employees know they’re valued and will always be treated fairly. Respect is vital and we have a rule that we don’t work with, or for, those who do not align with our values. We’ve seen the darker sides of PR and will never structure our business that way. We’ve also learned from both good and bad experiences and think others can do the same.
We will also never lose our boutique edge, regardless of how much we grow. The close connections we make with our clients and the media are what make our company special.
Qwoted: What’s your toughest challenge with reporters?
Ferraro: It’s not the easiest media environment for reporters to thrive today and we’re fully appreciative of what they’ve had to encounter — especially in the age of COVID-19. There have been staffing cuts and additional pressure put on reporters to continuously deliver with increasingly limited resources. With all this turnover, though, it can be challenging to keep track of where reporters are and who covers what at a given time.
Also, many of our clients are fast-growth startups with major potential. While they have newsworthy stories to tell, sometimes it can be difficult to get the reporter’s attention if they haven’t heard of the company or the executive.
Qwoted: How do you approach breaking through the noise floor to get effective coverage?
Ferraro: There has to be a story to get coverage. Not only does the story have to be good, we also need to come to the table with the right information and readily available sources. Reporters want to meet with and cite people who have the right knowledge and experiences. The pitch has to be compelling and the client has to be willing to make themselves available. We do not take on projects with clients who aren’t passionate about their own story and willing to go the extra mile to meet a reporter’s deadline (when possible). When the passion and the story are there — and it can appeal to the reporter and their readers — then we know that the story will be told.
Qwoted: How does PR in 2022 square with the future of journalism?
Ferraro: We continue to contend with the fact that everyone sees themselves as a breaking news reporter and expert. (Hello to all the infectious disease experts who graduated Facebook U via 2020!) We see the feeds on various social platforms and everyone has an opinion they feel is “the one” that should be heard.
Being a credentialed journalist requires one to separate their emotional opinions from hard facts. It’s one of the toughest jobs, as you need to sift through loads of opinions, including the ones steeped in facts. They not only deal with that noise but also try to find the people with the right pitches and best sources. I do think that “real” journalism will continue to rise above that noise and the stories that showcase the least bias and the most expertise will be seen by those who make decisions. If anything, being a journalist is more important than ever and working with the best PR people in the business is imperative.
Qwoted: What advice would you give to those seeking to find an effective PR person?
Ferraro: It’s important to be very open minded when looking for a PR representative or firm. The company that’s going to put you and your goals in line with theirs should have a leg up. That doesn’t always mean going with the biggest firm or putting out a request for proposal. In fact, the RFP process is very archaic. To me, [prospective clients] gather the good ideas from scrappy PR firms and then hand it over to the big companies to execute — which never gets done the same way.
When looking for an effective partnership focus on the relationship, value and results. There should be chemistry from the beginning and it should click. The clients our firm works with are very important to us and they know that. There has to be a circle of trust. We align ourselves with like-minded people and put values first. We advise anyone seeking a PR rep to do the same.
Qwoted: What is your golden rule of PR?
Ferraro: Hire the right people — people you like, trust and share your values. Also, always maintain perspective. It is PR, not the ER. Being kind and not coming across as an a–hole is as important to our firm as a placement in The New York Times. If you communicate well, anything can be resolved. After all, the core of our profession is communications!
Qwoted: Any parting thoughts?
Ferraro: This industry gets a bad rap and I know why. I’ve personally experienced some “interesting” times in the PR world and it’s a goal of mine to make this industry better than I found it. My partner (Colby Jones) feels the same way. We are a woman-owned business that truly puts people first: our staff and our clients. If we can all just realize that we can accomplish so much more with an effective communications strategy — both internally and externally — then we can make our reputation stronger!
Be sure to connect with Kelly Ferraro on LinkedIn.