Interview with a Communications Professional: Gini Dietrich
By Mandy Boyle
As the founder and CEO of world-class PR firm Arment Dietrich, Inc., Gini Dietrich is no stranger to communicating effectively. Her blog, Spin Sucks, has made the 2010 Readers Choice Blog of the Year and the Top 42 Content Marketing Blog (#8.) Plus, she speaks at numerous events and has been named a top public relations influencer according to Klout and Tech Crunch. Gini knows her PR stuff.
Recently, I had the chance to talk with Gini about what it takes to succeed in a communications career as a young professional. (My questions are in bold.)
Hi Gini! Let’s start with a classic question: what made you want to get into communications in the first place?
Communications what?! I have an English degree. I wanted to go to law school and my mom (rightfully so) told me I’d make a terrible lawyer. So I was sitting at graduation with a degree that I could use either for teaching or law school and I wasn’t going to do either. And then I fell into a PR job at the now defunct Valentine Radford that had me making clip books all day, every day. I happened to be in a client meeting about six months into my job and they asked their account team a question no one could answer. But because I’d been making copies of all of their clips for six months (and reading them because it took FOREVER to make a color copy back then), I knew the answer. So I spoke up. And then I got promoted. And promoted. And the rest, as they say, is history.
What about starting your own agency? What inspired you?
I wish it were some great story about my always wanting to own a business or something romantic like that, but the truth is that I have a real problem with authority, especially when I think I’m waaaaaay smarter than the authority figure (I’m a bit too big for my britches, too). I got in a fight with the creative director I was working with for a client and decided I was smarter than him so I quit my job. Not on the spot…I thought about it. And then I had to figure out what to do. I was getting married so I freelanced for a couple of years and then I discovered I was actually good at making rain, but that meant I needed help. So I started hiring. And hiring. And hiring. And now I have my own agency.
What’s the best part about having your own agency?
When I was riding with my team on Sunday, my coach asked me this very question. You think you’re going to build a business to have flexibility and to be your own boss. The truth is, you have less flexibility and your boss is your employees and your clients. But I do love coming to work in my cycling clothes, if I’m running late, no one questioning why I’m late to the office (it’s either because I got in the writing or the cycling zones), changing things we don’t like on a dime, and doing what I think is best both for business growth and client service. We have a pretty strong vision and I know there are going to be great rewards when we achieve it so I keep my eye on that ball every day.
Since you’ve started your agency, what changes in the communications industry have you seen?
Oh my heck! I’ve seen overnight shipments change the way we got approvals from our clients. I’ve watched email go from “how will I make time for this” to “I can’t live without this.” I’ve seen all my reporter friends lose their jobs. I’ve seen the web completely change the way we communicate. I’ve watched my file cabinets shrink. And I’ve seen much smarter people coming out of school because they’re learning public relations instead of publicity.
What do you see in the future?
I think the way we do our jobs will be completely different in the future. I imagine someday telling young professionals that in my day we used this thing called email and the Internet to reach customers. I think we’ll travel less because the technology will be so good that we won’t need to leave our desks. I think most offices will be completely remote. And I think our smartphones will be embedded into our thumbs or index fingers.
So what can a young professional do to stay prepared?
I always recommend using the available tools to connect with the people in your industry. Use Facebook and Twitter to connect with the companies where you think you’d like to work. Connect with the people who work at those companies. Build relationships with them. PRWeek does a nice recap of the top 25 bloggers you should read. Subscribe to all of those blogs, read them, engage with the authors. It’s amazing what happens when a veteran professional feels like they know you…they tend to help you find a job!
Besides taking classes that are in a communications-related major, what other classes should students be taking to get prepared for the industry?
We always like to see young professionals who are already using the social web on their own. This industry is not a M-F, 9-5 job and we like to see that you already understand how quickly the world moves. We like those who use the latest and greatest tools to build their personal brands and we’re big fans if you have a blog that you update consistently.
Outside of class, we know there is a ton of information out there on the internet. Where would you suggest students look for more insight and information about communications?
Other than the PRWeek required reading list I recommended, find blogs and print publications that you find interesting. I subscribe to SmartBrief newsletters because I find new bloggers and reporters in there that I wasn’t already reading. Learn how to use a Reader (such as Google) really effectively. And comment on blog posts and articles.
What about portfolio development? When should a student start putting together a portfolio?
I’d start your portfolio as soon as you have something to show. Every time you comment on a blog post or article, save the link to your portfolio. If you have a blog, feed it to your portfolio home page. Create a LinkedIn account and ask for recommendations. Keep feeding your portfolio; daily, if you can.
What sort of things should a student put into his or her portfolio? Should it be digital or printed? Focused or varied?
It may vary by company/agency, but we prefer digital and we want to check it out before you interview. We don’t really care if you’re blogging about tree frogs, we just want to see your writing style, your consistency, and your ability to engage with a community. Something else to note: Even if you’ve removed the body shot photos from your Facebook profile (and if you haven’t do it…NOW), we can find them. So be really careful about what you let your friends post about you online. It can come back to bite you when you join the workforce.
When you look at a prospective intern or employee, what qualities are you looking for?
We look for self-motivation, curiosity, out-of-the box thinking, and someone who has already taken the initiative to understand the social web and who uses the tools to build their personal brand.
On to social media. What can a student do in social media to be prepared for the industry, or better yet, secure his or her first job?
If you aren’t connecting with the people who work at the companies where you think you might like to work, do that now. Build relationships. Read their blogs. Subscribe to their newsletters. Don’t let titles scare you…these are human beings you’re talking to so treat them as such. We will not consider a resume from someone if they’ve not build a relationship with us online. I use Twitter. Connect with me there. I talk to everyone.
Do you have any words of wisdom concerning students and social media? Rules to follow? Things to avoid?
I always tell this story when I speak to students…
I was in Beaver Creek for Memorial Day weekend. The boys were at some beer and BBQ festival and the girls hiked all day. When we finished, we showered and met the boys for a drink. So imagine this, we’re hanging out, having fun, we’ve been hiking all day so we’re physically tired, and we’re at altitude so our tolerance isn’t very high. One of my very best friends is in LOVE with Keanu Reeves and we tease her incessantly about it because he’s homosexual and the whole idea of having a celebrity crush is that, if you happen to meet them, you get to do what you want with them without consequence from your significant other.
So, as is usual, we were teasing her and she and Mr. D had a bet that, if he won, she would have to publicly admit that she can no longer be in love with Keanu. Dumb thing, but huge consequence. And here’s why. I tweeted something silly like, “Mr. D just bet @erinbrumleve that, if she loses, she has to admit Keanu is gay.”
Well, a new client saw the tweet. And he read it as me being homophobic. I’m the furthest thing from it, but that’s not what he thought when he read that tweet. And we lost the business. The moral of the story: Be really careful about what you put online and what you let your friends put online. Or…don’t drink and tweet.
Once a student has that first job in communications, what can he or she do to keep learning?
I never stop learning…I consume as much media as I can in the form of newspapers, books, magazines, blogs, online forums, and eBooks. Do the same. Read as much as your brain will allow.
Finally, what is the one essential thing you think all young professionals in the industry should know?
You are not going to get out of school and plan parties. If you want to do that, you’re going into the wrong field.
Thanks so much Gini!
About Mandy Boyle:
Mandy Boyle is a graduate student and freshly-minted communications professional. As a Search Engine Optimization Specialist for Solid Cactus and published freelance writer, Mandy is no stranger to compelling storytelling. When she’s not at her laptop or in the classroom, you can usually find her in the kitchen. Cupcakes are her specialty. Follow Mandy on Twitter at @mandyboyle or visit her website (http://mandyboyle.com).
From → Social Media