My Interview with a PR specialist

Kelly O'Dwyer- Manuel

Last weekend I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly O’Dwyer- Manuel, the manager of global communication at Dell in Ontario, Canada. Her insight into the PR world has heightened my excitement to someday do something similar. I put out a request to interview an AOII alum in the PR field on the Alpha Omicron Pi LinkedIn and was incredibly thankful and relieved when Kelly answered. Kelly is a well seasoned PR professional in the Dell world. A member of IABC in Ottawa- Gatieau some of her accomplishments include successfully developing and executing media relations strategy resulting in 200% increase in media coverage from the previous year,collaborating with product marketing and management leaders to develop robust messaging aimed at increasing brand awareness with C-level executives and successfully securing opportunities with key top-tier media including CIO, Network World, IT Business Edge, Computerworld, The Register and InformationWeek.

When asked what a typical week looks like she said “A typical week is completely unpredictable, which is one of the things I enjoy about my job. That said, there are a few things I can count on. For instance, I commit at least 30 minutes per day (I actually try for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon) to review the top industry outlets and get a sense of what reporters are talking about. Some of the ones I read daily include ZDNet, Computerworld, Network World, CIO and eWeek. In addition, because I work remotely (the majority of my colleagues and my boss are in Southern California), there are a lot of meetings. This makes getting my day-to-day activities completed a bit of a challenge, so I practice what I call ‘aggressive time management’, which means I block off time on my calendar to complete activities like writing (press releases, blogs, pitches), strategic planning, checking in on budgets, etc. Time management is so critical and I’ve found this to be a particularly effective method. Like most PR pros, a great deal of my week is spent writing, whether it’s a communications platform for an executive, a plan for a product group, or a press release. I would say that 60% of my week is absolutely devoted to writing. The rest of the week is divided between reading/news monitoring, and general management tasks (managing my PR agency, my direct reports, communicating strategy to regional teams, etc.).” Kelly says that writing is incredibly important whether its an email, pitch or press release. She is constantly using her writing skills.

During our interview I asked Kelly to tell me about a project she was particularly proud of.

“In Fall 2012, I managed the PR program for Dell’s Application Performance Monitoring (APM) group. Though the business’ flagship product, Dell Foglight APM, was widely used throughout the industry, our competitors (smaller, more nimble companies) regularly received a lot of media coverage, making it a really crowded media landscape. Combine that with executives who weren’t clear on what PR does or the value it provides and customers who felt the product was a competitive advantage (and therefore did not want to publicly divulge that they used Foglight), and it made creating compelling media pitches quite a challenge.”

“Working with my PR agency, I developed a market survey focused on creating some timely and newsworthy statistics we could leverage as part of our PR outreach activities. We used these statistics to create a campaign which included a press release, several media pitches, and blog posts. Through careful planning, education of executives (who participated in briefings with media about our news) and aggressive outreach to key targets, we secured nine media briefings and more than 12 news articles (including an impressive feature piece in CIO.com). Not only that, our competitors actually cited our survey (leaving out the names “Dell” and “Foglight” of course)

I am proud of this project because using the findings from the survey, we were not only able to make Dell standout in a crowded market, but we actually influenced our competitors, which is a very difficult thing to do. Since that time, we have continued to see regular media coverage for Dell Foglight.”

I was extremely happy when Kelly said that she stays current in the PR industry by using twitter and LinkedIn to boost performance. In fact one of her tips for someone starting their career is to use twitter to read all the current and newsbreaking PR stories. “I know it feels time consuming, but Twitter really scoops the major news outlets when it comes to breaking news. And if it’s something related to  your industry, those critical minutes between Twitter posting and CNN posting could make a huge difference if you need to develop a crisis communications plan or reach out to reporters to offer a point of view.” Some other tips she shared were as following:

When you’re interviewing with a prospective employer, ask questions to get a sense as to the importance they place on PR. That will give you a solid sense as to whether PR has a seat at the table when it comes to corporate strategy, or whether PR is relegated to ‘order taker’ status with no real strategic value.

One of the things I valued most was the fact that I started my career at a PR agency. That gave me the opportunity to learn about a number of companies and subject matters (everything from healthcare tech to parking meters!) and also really hone my media relations skills. In addition, now that I have to manage PR agencies, I have a good understanding of their inner workings and can work with them so much better.

Kelly’s college career has help prepare her for the PR world in a unique way. She list two degrees, one in PR and another in U.S. History. “My degree, in US history, helped me quite a bit, as I understand the importance research plays in determining an effective PR strategy. In addition, as I work for an American country, having a solid understanding of the differences between the US and Canada (there are a few!) has been quite helpful.”

According to Kelly social media has been the biggest change affecting the PR world and technology is everything in her career. “I work for a tech company, so I live, eat, sleep and breathe technology! I think the biggest impact, though, has been the increased importance on setting healthy boundaries to maintain a reasonable work-life balance. With smart phones and tablets, it’s easy to stay connected and keep an eye on email and news 24/7, but that’s not healthy. So I’ve found it extremely important to be diligent in terms of when I answer emails and, if it’s after hours, what emails I respond to (has to be super timely/urgent). If you start answering emails after hours on a regular basis, people expect you to do so all the time, so setting boundaries is pretty critical.”

Her advice to someone looking to get their foot in the door:

“What we look for is two-fold – first, we look for someone who’s eager to learn and collaborative! Working as a team is always better, and I can say definitively that I learn from my colleagues all the time. Being open to learn and working with others are really key.”

“Second, we look for someone who’s hungry to get things done. If you’re looking for a 9-5 job with breaks, this isn’t the career for you. Our team works really hard and is really proud of the work we do. Don’t get me wrong – we have a lot of fun, too, but it is important that anyone we hire have that same “keener” quality.”

You can connect with Kelly on LinkedIn: ca.linkedin.com/in/kellylm/

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