Lessons Learned From 25 Years in the Public Relations Business

Lessons Learned From 25 Years in the Public Relations Business

It’s hard to believe that 25 years have passed since I first started working at a public relations agency. Surprisingly, I bucked the statistical norms for job changes and that quarter century has been spent entirely at Roopco. I credit my longevity with the firm to our outstanding clients who value the power of communications, my hard-working colleagues who roll up their sleeves and bring creative solutions to life for those clients, the excitement of keeping up with evolving technologies for creating and distributing our clients’ messages, and the challenge of adjusting to the shifting landscape of public opinion. Needless to say, there’s never a dull moment.

Over the years, I’ve learned quite a bit from bosses, mentors, colleagues, clients and the school of hard knocks. As we celebrate our 25th year in business, I thought I’d share some of those lessons with you.

1. Wrap it with a bow

This was one of the first lessons I learned from our firm’s namesake, Jim Roop. One of my early assignments was to write a news release. The initial draft I prepared was average, at best. He told me that work I submitted to a client should always be “wrapped with a bow.” In other words, it should be my best work and be thorough, polished and professional. It’s what our clients expect and deserve. And it’s what we strive to give them each and every day.

2. Find a way

When faced with a challenge, ingenuity and hard work can usually lead to a solution. This is probably best exemplified by a situation that Jim faced early in his career. He was preparing for a press conference for an important client. The CEO was rather short in stature, while the hotel podium was overly tall. With little time before the conference started, Jim found a saw and cut off the bottom of the podium so the CEO could deliver his presentation with authority. Crisis averted—although he did have to purchase that hotel a new podium!

3. Show true grit

In the western tale True Grit, the main character Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl, is relentless in pursuing justice for the murder of her father. To help her, she hires an alcoholic deputy U.S. marshal who she believes has the level of grit to match her own. After prodding him every step of the way, she eventually gets retribution. Often, we as communications professionals have to be as tenacious as Mattie to do our jobs—whether it’s obtaining survey responses for a research project, earning media placements for our clients, or securing approvals from a dozen people.

4. Make it right

A month into my agency career, I thought it was over. I had made an error that a client called an “unmitigated disaster.” I can still remember hearing his message on our voicemail. Fortunately, Jim found a creative solution that minimized the issue, and we waived all fees for the project. Despite always striving for perfection, mistakes will happen from time to time. When they occur, you have to accept responsibility and promptly make them right.

5. Hire good people

This is a lesson I learned from one of our original clients, RPM International Inc. Company founder Frank C. Sullivan’s philosophy about associates was, “Hire the best people you can find. Create an atmosphere to keep them. Then, let them do their jobs.” I subscribe to the same philosophy at Roopco, which is why we have such a talented team of communications strategists, writers and designers.

6. Trust in people

Frank was succeeded by his son Tom Sullivan. Over the course of his 37-year career, Tom lead RPM through a number of challenging economic times. Through it all, RPM persevered, in large part, because of his trust in people. Inspired by his belief in them, they would rise to meet his positive expectations. I’ve seen this play out countless times at Roopco, where team members have been tasked with unique challenges or new roles and they have risen to the occasion.

7. Relationships Matter

Early in my career, I discounted the value of relationships. I just figured if I did a good job that clients and associates would want to stay with us. Over the years, I learned that doing a good job was just the price of admission. What creates long-lasting bonds with clients, colleagues and even friends and family are relationships forged in truly knowing, understanding and caring about them as people.

8. Embrace new technology

Over the past 25 years, technology has transformed the way we communicate. Early in my career, I can remember snail mailing press releases, faxing media advisories to news desks, loading slides into projector carousels, setting up our first email address (which was shared by the entire firm!) and developing our first website. Today, thanks to the internet and smart phones, communication moves at a much faster pace. There are always new technologies around the corner—from Tik Tok and artificial intelligence, to the metaverse. The best communicators stay on top of these technologies, beta test them and roll them out.

9. See the big picture, but remember that the devil is in the details

In order to be an effective communicator on behalf of the organizations we serve, it’s important to understand what truly drives their success. It could be generating leads for sales, understanding customer pain points for new product development or demonstrating to employees that their work matters. While we need to have a big picture perspective, it’s equally important to take care of the details when implementing a public relations program. Our overarching goal should be to present our clients in the best light possible. In doing so, the details—accuracy, consistency and professionalism—all matter.

10. Curiosity saved the cat

One of the most important traits of successful public relations professionals is curiosity. By pursuing this curiosity and learning new things, we become better equipped to represent our clients and shift the attitudes and actions of their key stakeholders.

11. Give back

If you’re like me, you have been very fortunate in your personal and professional lives. Many people have contributed to that good fortune over the years. So, it’s only right to maintain the cycle of good karma by using your time, talent and other resources to help those in need. Some of my favorites non-profits that our firm has supported over the years include America SCORES, Beech Brook, Cleveland School of Science and Medicine, Malachi House and Urban Community School.

12. Oh, the places you’ll go

The professor who taught my introduction to public relations course, and later became my advisor at Ohio University, was Jerry Sloan. With a storyteller’s flair, he pulled out a beat-up pair of loafers and propped them up on the podium to open the first class. Before embarking on his second career as an educator, Jerry explained that he had headed public relations at Ford Motor Company. He proceeded to share all the incredible places he had visited in those loafers thanks to his career in public relations. I was hooked. Decades later, my loafers and my career have taken me amazing places as well—from manufacturing plants producing complex machines and inner-city schools that are transforming young lives, to collaborations with marketers worldwide and the bell podium at the New York Stock Exchange. I’m looking forward to where they’ll direct me in the years ahead.

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About The Author

As president, Brad Kostka leads business development, agency management and account services. His experience includes communications strategy, branding, content marketing, media relations, marketing automation, investor relations and event planning. Over his 25-plus-year career, he has worked with organizations ranging from global, publicly traded corporations to local startups.