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Kevin Mercuri is a twenty year veteran of public relations and related disciplines. His experience ranges from the halls of Congress, to Fortune 500 board rooms and basement start-up offices.
Kevin is president & founder of Propheta Communications, a New York based full-service public relations agency. He and his team hold core competencies in media relations corporate communications, start-ups, technology, consumer products, public affairs, social media and more.
MO: Can you tell us about your background in PR and how it led you to creating Propheta? What specific experiences best prepared you to launch your own communications company?
Kevin: The best preparation for launching my own agency was serving as a senior executive for someone else. Each position in a PR agency is important, but working as a senior staffer exposed me to the discipline, the accountability and the logistics of running an effective operation.
Also, I have an unfair advantage when it comes to business development. I started my career as a lobbyist and public affairs specialist in Washington, DC; but most people don’t know that I took a year off to serve as a political fundraiser. Raising money for political candidates is a difficult pursuit, but it taught me how to frame arguments, formulate a proper persistence and persuade prospective clients to sign on the dotted line. These same skills serve me well when I pitch reporters.
Finally, I taught college-level courses in debate and advocacy. You can’t enter into a pitch with a reporter or prospective client without the ability to counter their arguments. Somewhere in America, there are scores of young professionals employing my argumentation tactics. Someday I may sit opposite one of them and get a taste of my own medicine.
MO: What’s the biggest misconception about the Public Relations industry?
Kevin: There are several misconceptions about the PR industry and recent PR-focused reality shows made things worse. The largest misconception is that we lead a fabulous and glamorous life of parties and that we are old chums with the news media.
First of all, the majority of parties that PR folks attend are work-related and they can be dreadfully boring. These days, I only attend parties if I can establish a list of attendees whom I wish to meet or speak with in-person.
The biggest misconception, However is that we are the puppet masters to the media. We may have an excellent network of reporters who know, like (or at least recognize) us, but that doesn’t guarantee coverage. Many clients expect rapid success and fail to understand that PR is process that takes time, patience and persistence.
MO: What are some ways that you ensure that your client’s message cuts through the clutter of today’s marketplace?
Kevin: If you want a client to stand out among their competition, they need to honest about who they are and what they provide. Reporters can sense a misrepresentation from the first pitch, so taking the time to find real differentiators is an important first step in attracting attention.
A reporter won’t write about a client merely because they claim to be bigger or better. Any PR pro worth their salt is going to advise the client to slow down and assist in the construction of a quality narrative – one that acknowledges the competition and provides solid reasoning as to why the client should appear in the news.
MO: What are the critical elements needed to build a successful PR campaign?
Kevin: Most clients won’t like this, but success equals focus-plus-time. Even if an agency garners a splashy article right out of the gate, the ROI for PR doesn’t come about for at least 6 months.
Focus is an unspoken agreement between client and agency. It demands regular input from the client and an almost daily dedication on the Agency’s part toward building the client’s brand within relevant news media. A client that treats their agency as if they were a full-time employee will get far more ROI.
Time is the other element to success. A client may see some success early on in terms of web traffic or a sales spike sparked by a blog post, but placing a brand name at the top of a consumer’s mind takes time. Quick hits and small successes can’t sustain a long term business plan.
MO: What would your advice be to a recent college graduate looking to start a career in Public Relations?
Kevin: First, get the right internship. Interns should be working alongside professionals, writing first drafts of pitches and pitching low-tier news media. If you’re going to make copies & coffee runs, you need to also be learning something.
Second, most of my best jobs were obtained outside of the traditional “want ads” process. Determine where you want to work, determine who the decision makers are and politely pursue them. Don’t wait for a job opening to be posted online. Contact the VP you want to work with, ask for an informational interview, and tell them why they should hire you as soon as they can.
Public relations is one of the few industries where one is rewarded for being strategically aggressive. No one gets an award for waiting.
MO: What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
Kevin: I know I’ve taken risks, but I never look back any of them and shudder. After graduate school, I packed my possessions into a truck, drove to Washington, DC, signed a lease on a luxury apartment and THEN started looking for a job. It was crazy, but I had the determination and confidence to know that I would make things happen.
I started Propheta Communications in late 2008 – just when the Recession was at its worst. I had planned for a few quarters of being in the red, but we turned a profit after just one quarter. Some people look at risks and grow scared. When I consider risk, I view it as a challenge; I consult with my mentors, I plan accordingly and I forge ahead.