9.16.2009

Blog 1-on-1: Margo Williams Handy shares PR strategies, business lessons, and what she could bring to the White House

(Blogger's Note: With 20 years of experience under her belt, Margo Williams Handy of Houston is a jewel in the public relations industry and orchestrates plans for her clients with class, impact and efficiency. She is the principal of MWH Public Relations. We went one-on-one with her to discuss her strategies in handling clients, business lessons and what she could bring to President Obama's PR engine.)

Brother Jesse: Who is Margo Williams Handy?

Margo Williams Handy (MWH): I’m a Midwest girl by birth and at heart, but Texas is home. My son is my heart and joy. Good food, walking along the beach and meditation energize and restore me. I’m a professed workaholic and love what we do for our clients. A good challenge, working with good people and companies, and being integral to our clients’ success is “fun” for me.

Brother Jesse: How did you get started in the PR industry?

MWH: I didn’t set out to be in PR. That’s not a field that I even knew the meaning of nor heard of as a little girl. How many of us end up in the field we went to school for or said we’d be “when we grew up?” If we are true to ourselves and to what God has for us to do, we end up doing the opposite from what is expected sometimes. That was true with me. While the power of words has always intrigued me, helping others achieve their passions and aiding the public in receiving needed services and products are where my passions and purpose lie. While working at Conoco, I migrated to the PR function from the Legal Department in an odd way that I didn’t understand or welcome at the time. Once I was there, I wondered why it took me so long. Loved everything about how strategic communications (words) can sell a product, position a company, turn the public’s opinion, create loyalty, shape policy or even downplay a major crisis. Words are powerful tools.

Brother Jesse: What skills are necessary to be successful in that field?

MWH: Great written and verbal communications are a given. Good PR professionals also have exceptional judgment, a sixth sense about human nature and are good at using words (messages) effectively. It’s not enough to throw words on a press release or ad. Words are like a puzzle. They must be arranged in just the right way to motivate the public to act, buy, vote, etc. Other necessary skills are salesmanship (if you can’t pitch a story to a reporter, you’re dead in the water), thick skin (useful when a reporter doesn’t respond or says, “No.”) and the ability to multi-task and respond quickly (crisis management or seizing an opportunity). It doesn’t hurt to be super creative and to stay relevant in the PR field. Learn what’s new…better yet, create your own “what’s new.”

Brother Jesse: Has the PR industry been impacted by the spiraling economy? If so, in what way?

MWH: Of course, the PR industry has been impacted by the spiraling economy. PR is a marketing tool. Marketing is often the first budget line item to get cut in an economic downturn. That’s why it’s important to be good at your craft. Don’t put all of your eggs in one or two baskets (one or two large clients). Have multiple streams of income. At MWH PR, we are a “full service” PR firm. That is, we prefer to manage our clients’ entire communications portfolio, i.e., Web presence, offline media, advertising, marketing, event production and PR. Not only do we ensure the messages are cohesive, but a byproduct is that we have multiple income streams.


Brother Jesse: What is the difference between marketing and public relations?

MWH: If you ask this question to five people, you may receive five different responses. Most PR professionals will agree, however, that public relations has to do with managing messages and information from the client to its market (publics) at no cost and no guarantee of message placement. This type of “third-party” coverage is often more credible in the public’s eyes. Marketing and advertising are generally paid placements with messages entirely shaped by the client and can be less credible. The media is a powerful tool. People tend to believe what they see, read and hear. As they say, “People are going to talk about you.” PR professionals know this and are in the business of shaping the message (telling the story) so the media gets the story right (or closer to right).

Brother Jesse: What are some important lessons you have learned in business?

MWH: While we have had many successes, I learn from the less successful moments. By far, the most challenging aspect of the business is learning who “not” to do business with. I’ve learned three huge and costly lessons:

1. All money is not good money.

2. Discern the client’s motives before signing the contract. If the client has selfish motives for their event, product, service or project – RUN! This sounds obvious, but sometimes it is difficult to discern motives because, on the outside, the prospective client seems to be serving a community need.

3. Keep records, get everything in writing and obtain signatures on what’s in writing.


Brother Jesse: If you received a call to join President Obama's PR department, what elements would you bring to the table?

MWH: The President’s PR department is a busy group for sure! The President has had one crisis after the next to manage. I’m still impressed at how quickly his team responds to most everything. Not only with an official statement, but also in action, i.e., videos, emails, ads and even an “Insurance Reform” cross-county campaign bus in response to the “Tea Party” bus. What could I bring to the table if so fortunate to be part of the team? My expertise (gift) is in understanding human nature and how to couch a difficult topic. I’d help him to package his many agenda items (i.e., universal healthcare) in such a way that the public is educated about the item, “enrolled” emotionally and intellectually and feels a part of the decision.

Brother Jesse: Years from now, when people hear the name MWH Public Relations, what do you want them to say?

MWH: First, I want them to recognize the name because we’re still in business! Seriously, I just want to be recognized for doing great work and the fact that we care and put our hearts into our work.

Brother Jesse: Thank you.

(For more information about MWH Public Relations please visit http://www.mwhpublicrelations.com/)