Jane Owen shares the truth about Public Relations and the PR skills we all need in the modern age

From Anna Paquin in Flack to Richard Schiff in The West Wing, Hollywood has brought us many examples of what a publicist or communications director could be. From the authentic to the ridiculous, PR people have been portrayed as masterminds, crazy people, and everything in between. So to set the record straight about what is real and fiction, we sat down with award-winning publicist Jane Owen of JOPR and asked her the tough questions. 

First of all, do publicists control the media? 
Thats a good question, the answer is Yes and No. We definitely don’t control the media but we can definitely influence it. I have personally been responsible for preventing some press from ever happening and also for bringing press attention to things that would never have seen the light of day. However mostly is a collaborative effort between the publicist and the reporter to bring the press to publication. For example we can work with the journalist to make sure they have all the information on the client they need for the story they are writing and we present it in the way that is most beneficial to our client. We arrange the interviews and we do our best to make sure our clients feel comfortable answering questions. However after that it’s up to the press to ask the questions and craft the article. We respect freedom of the press as long as it’s the truth. We also know how to protect our clients. It’s definitely not controlling press, its more just knowing how to work with the media. 

What is the difference between Publicity and Public Relations? And what is it that you do? 
Publicity is just relating to Media and generating Press. Public Relations is anything that relates to getting your clients message out to the Public. These days that can be a whole host of other services on top of getting press coverage. For example JOPR produces events, we help with social media strategy, we work with hundreds of celebrities and influencers to organize campaigns for our clients, we work with Film & TV companies to arrange product placement, we arrange for our clients to host podcasts, have their own columns in magazines, start podcasts…and we seems to be coming up with new ways to get exposure for our clients everyday, as quickly as the technology advances we do our best to keep up or even anticipate it. 

What are the biggest changes you have seen in your 20+ years in the business? 
When I started working in PR it was back when models were on the cover of magazines. Very quickly however celebrities took ove, becoming the face on every magazine in the world. I quickly learned that I was going to have to have an equal hold on both relationships with the media and press, as well as with celebrities. Both were equally important if I was going to be able to maximize coverage for my clients. 

When I started working in PR print publications and TV were the number one goal for all of my clients, online press was basically ignored or considered useless. Nowadays the number one request I have from clients is to make sure that we get quick results and huge numbers of impressions which are largely driven by online press. There’s not a single large magazine or media outlet that doesn’t have an online version that clients want to be included in. 

Addtionally the advent of social media means that although we are the publicist everyone including our clients has the ability to put out their own messaging to the world. So everyone essentially is their own publicist, for good or bad. We often have to clean up PR disasters caused by social media mistakes. People don’t always understand the power of what they say and do and the skill required to know how not to make those kind of mistakes. Also they sometimes don’t know how to use it to their advantage either. 

You said “everyone is their own publicist” what tips do you have for the average person trying to navigate their own social media? 
I’m actually working on a book about this very topic so I won’t give too much away here. However, I will say that the most important thing to remember is to think before you post. So many people google you these days, and check your social media. It can be someone you are just starting to date or a prospective employer or a new friend or the parents of a friend of your kid, almost everyone “looks up” people they meet. It happens without your knowledge and leads to immediate judgment. Take a look at your social media and think “what would I think of this person if it wasn’t me?” Maybe the silly joke you made in college should come down from Twitter before that job interview? Maybe the drunk post from 2018 might not make the best impression to the cute girl you just started dating? Etc 

How does somebody know if they need a publicist or public relations expert? 
The general rule is that if you would benefit from more people knowing about you or your brand or company then you would benefit from a publicist. The misconception is that you need to be a celebrity or a big brand to have a publicist. There are obviously big PR firms with equally big fees who just work at that level but there are also smaller boutique PR Companies and individual publicists who often work at the regional or local level. They can promote your business to local press, bring local events to your restaurant, market to your local audience, even target local tastemakers & micro-influencers in your area. 

Our company is a hybrid of both, we have offices around the world and we have clients that are corporations and governments (we just finished a job for the government of Chile who we work with regularly), but we also have small regional clients, who we work with on targeted local campaigns or specific online press for. When I started the company 10 years ago I made a promise to only work with clients I knew I could be successful for, and also to work with any client that was exciting to me, regardless of the budget. It’s been a great way to work and live, and I attribute our awards and success to that mantra. That as well as making sure to have the right team. 

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of getting into PR? 
Experience is key. I would get an unpaid internship straightaway so you have that on your resume. No amount of degrees make up for real-world experience. A short internship is extremely valuable, it can lead to work almost immediately. We only ever hire new assistants who become junior account executives, from successful internships. 

More information is available about Jane and her company at www.janeowenpr.com