By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven® 

PR Lessons from Oprah Winfrey: What an Interaction With The Superstar Taught This Agency Owner

  • Never lose sight of the fact that PR is a business of relationships. Focusing on thoughtful human connection will separate you from the pack with clients and media contacts.

When Jackie Berlowski worked at “The Late Show with David Letterman,” she had the opportunity to have a little face time with a celebrity many of us would invite to our dream dinner party: Oprah Winfrey.

Jackie — who was tasked with bringing guests in through the theater’s back door and helping them prepare for their appearance on the show — will never forget her interaction with Oprah. In fact, that experience continues to influence the way she does business as the founder of boutique public relations firm GreatHerGood.

On Episode 129 of The PR Maven Podcast, Jackie recalls her interactions with Oprah, who — even as a major celebrity — took the time to make a personal connection with her by making eye contact, repeating her name, addressing her directly and being “incredibly gracious and wonderful, more than you could ever imagine.” Jackie never forgot it.

“This is Oprah — she didn’t have to do that!” Jackie says. “But she made it a point to connect with people and to have us understand that the relationship with everybody along the way was important. She really made a connection. That is why she is so unbelievable at what she does. She sent the message that, hey, we’re all human.”

Over the course of her career in the publicity space, Jackie has worked hard to pay that experience with Oprah forward by prioritizing authentic relationships with the media, her clients and everyone in between.

PR Lessons from Oprah Winfrey: What an Interaction With The Superstar Taught This Agency OwnerRemember the human connection: People will notice!

In the hustle and bustle of the everyday work routine, it can be all too easy to dash off emails and make phone calls without taking the time to truly consider the person on the receiving end. But regardless of the size of your business or the kind of work you do, Jackie urges you to keep in mind that there is always a human on the other side of any correspondence.

“It’s a real functioning person who is receiving my email!” Jackie says. “And it’s not just about my agenda and what I need to get done. If you make that person feel like [they’re worth your time], that’s when the deep-seated relationship is made.”

According to Jackie, building those meaningful relationships — which she likes to call her “PR passport” — is one of the things that separates a good publicist from an exceptional one, since it ensures clients will trust you to share their story and journalists will come back to work with you again and again.

Keep scrolling for more of Jackie’s thoughts on how to execute exceptional publicity… and establish solid relationships along the way.

1. Build PR into the business model from the beginning

When funds are tight, PR and marketing budgets are often the first items slashed. Even new companies often don’t include publicity as part of their initial plan at all because they want to save costs and can’t imagine how a PR strategy could be helpful to them so early in the game.

But this isn’t good business. Based on Jackie’s experience, companies of all sizes can benefit from publicity, no matter where they are in their growth journey.

“Any business can benefit from PR greatly,” Jackie says. “It’s a tool that I feel like a lot of businesses should be utilizing, and it’s often underestimated. PR really establishes credibility for your business without spending marketing dollars.”

The beauty of PR, of course, is that it gives you the opportunity to earn media by simply sharing your story or expertise. It’s a less expensive alternative to pricey advertising and can often be more effective too. With that in mind, it’s never too early to start thinking about PR.

New business? No problem! A little publicity magic can help put your name on the map.

2. Get in the trenches with your clients

According to Jackie, another thing that separates the good publicists from the exceptional ones is a deep understanding of their clients.

“You have to know them inside and out before starting to work with somebody or on a campaign,” she says. “[It’s about] really getting in the trenches and understanding their personality, understanding their schedule, understanding what their goals are — even understanding and having a good grasp on what their dreams are, no matter how ambitious or how lofty they may seem.”

When you get inside a client’s head, you can plan more effectively and better deliver results that are catered specifically to the client and their goals.

3. Think differently about ROI

Ideal deliverables will look different from client to client. Jackie — who has often found herself having to explain to potential clients the return on investment they can expect from working with her team of publicists — emphasizes the importance of measuring success in ways that are specific to each person, company or campaign.

For some clients, ROI will be measured based on sales increases. Other clients might look for a boost in brand awareness, social following, a spike in media placement or something else entirely. Regardless of the metric you and your client ultimately decide to use, Jackie recommends having those conversations early on so you can establish a common language about what success will mean in any particular situation. 

“No matter what, it is crucial to establish a baseline before you start,” she says. “I think it always needs to be super measurable. It needs to be clear, actionable items and within a timeframe, so you can see — over that period of time, whatever their goals are — did we hit that return?”

4. Be the right kind of persistent

When building relationships with journalists and others in the media, persistence is key, but mindlessly following-up can send the wrong message.

“Being persistent in the right way is essential. Don’t just overly follow up with the same pitch or the dreaded, ‘Did you get my email?’ Instead, wait about five days and follow up with a timely tip or an educational addition to the story angle. Perhaps tie it into the news cycle. Can you piggyback on what’s happening on a larger scale with a timely event or a seasonal trend? Is there a new product or service that would be valuable to their audience? For TV, make sure not to follow up while that show is airing. Producers or writers won’t look at anything while they are in the middle of taping. Put yourself in the journalist’s shoes…they don’t want to hear a commercial for your business over and over. They want to visualize how to incorporate you in their stories. Make it easy for them, with different story ideas on how to use you. By making their job easier and following up in a persistent but strategic way, you will capture their attention which will allow for you to poke through the thousands of pitches they receive each day.”

When planning your follow-up correspondence to folks in the media, be sure you’re sending emails or placing calls in a timeframe that will feel appropriate — and ideally, valuable – to them. Remember: there’s a human on the receiving end!

This is based on episode 129 of The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.