Sara Brady is the president of Sara Brady Public Relations which provides a large bevy of services on everything from crisis and reputation management to corporate communications.
She spent five years in a corporate public affairs leadership role at Bright House Networks, and before that she performed PR for Wragg & Casas as well as aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin. Sara got her start in the communications industry as a staff writer for the Orlando Sentinel.
What made you pursue the news industry?
“Until the day I die, I will always consider myself a newspaper girl.”
Sara’s parents were big newspaper readers and her father was a writer. Every morning, a young Sara and her dad would read the paper together. When she was nine, she read a book entitled “Byline for Josie” that was written by her father’s friend, and it was about a girl becoming a newspaper reporter. It was that book that inspired her to become a journalist.
How did you end up in public relations?
Sara needed a change and at the time, it wasn’t difficult to leave a job and get a new job fairly quick. She gave her notice to the Orlando Sentinel without lining up her next gig. At the advice of her father, Sara shotgun-blasted her resume to about 50 companies without a clear strategy. She got noticed by the VP of public relations at Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) and he hired Sara as the editor of the company newspaper. It was her experience and understanding of the news business that made her a valuable addition to the PR department. In her new role, she wrote speeches for the company’s president, learned media relations and was introduced to many other opportunities thereby expanding her skill set. It was also that job that Sara learned the impact and the value of public relations.
Sara explains when she was a reporter, like many, wasn’t much interested in talking with PR people who weren’t pitching stories with substance and hadn’t done their research. But after being on the inside and seeing how an organization such as a defense contractor that’s always under scrutiny, it was clear how an inaccurately written news story can have a big impact on a business. Companies can be taken down and people can lose their jobs which then affects families and the economy.
“There’s a very great, legitimate value and need for strong communications people in a business… so that’s where I had my epiphany and learned to value public relations”
Journalists, especially, call public relations “the dark side.” Having been in both worlds, what would you say to that?
“I would say to all those journalists that are still struggling in the newspaper business to come to the light.”
For that person considering the transition to PR, speak to the idea of leading with your inherent experience.
“It’s great if you can admit you don’t know something.”
While Sara didn’t have PR experience before working at Martin Marietta as editor of the company newspaper, she did have the skill set and knowledge of working in the newspaper business. The intricacies of the defense industry could be learned on the job much like a reporter who is assigned a new beat. Many aspects of her previous job applied to the PR industry: ask questions and then ask more questions, and to break down information in a way for the masses to understand. Along the way, she received media relations training and had the opportunity to write speeches for the president. Over time, these skills and more were added to her tool kit.
“No one can ever make me feel bad about my ability to write. Ever. And some people have tried. That is the one thing you cannot shake from me.
Public relations is unique in that people from multiple disciplines have made the jump. What your thoughts?
Sara says that public relations and communications in general are underestimated in the amount of skill and strategy involved. It’s more than sending out a news release and calling it a job well-done. Sara believes that most people think it’s easy but is actually harder than what many people may think.
With the advent of social media, the ever-changing ways people receive information and the evolution of how people connect, a great deal of thought is involved from beginning to end. So without the understanding that you do it differently depending on the method, audience and situation, you won’t be successful.
How can people best prepare themselves for a transition into the PR industry?
Sara suggests starting with what you’re passionate about. PR isn’t exactly what you might see on TV which is to say it’s not always exciting and flashy.
“The reality is [public relations] is really hard work. It’s really stressful. You have to be able to help people in highly emotional moments, and that’s a skill.”
It starts with what you like doing (event management, social media, crisis management), what you’re willing to tolerate, asking yourself how hard of a worker you want to be, what’s your commitment.
It’s important to note that if you don’t like to write, public relations is not going to be your field, Sara says. It’s also vital to have a natural curiosity especially as it pertains to your community. Keeping up on current events and who the power players are is everything. If that isn’t exciting for you, Sara explains, you’re probably not going to enjoy PR because it will be much harder. And if it’s more difficult, it won’t be fun. If it’s not fun, you won’t like your job and you’ll ultimately find yourself doing something else.
What mistakes have you seen applicants make?
Resumes that have grammatical errors and typos including spelling her firm’s name wrong, indicates to Sara that the job seeker was lazy and didn’t do the research. She does not excuse it and will throw it in the trash.
“If there is one typo, you have lost it with me.”
Not only is this a chance to demonstrate a keenness for writing, but by not doing so in the first interaction, who’s to say it won’t happen when the firm’s credibility is on the line.
But Sara also takes the time to email a candidate who may be seeking his/her first PR job to provide constructive criticism. She advises that a typo will not help someone get a job in the communications industry and hopes that this message is taken as it is intended which is to help.
“The rule is everybody needs an editor. I need one. Print that puppy out; look at the hard copy because it looks different. … The death is in the details.”
And don’t lead with “I am perfect for your team.” That’s impossible if you’re just graduating from college because a job in high-level crisis communications is too hard. It’s too grandiose a statement.
“Show me that you are creative. Show me that you think differently.”
Put some effort into your cover letter. If you’re not going to put forth care in the cover letter and resume, you’re not going to put it in on the job.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
It was provided by Sara’s husband and it was “never let a job own you.” That translates to Sara as “always have integrity.”
“I have been tested time and time again, and my integrity has won every single time.
Any final advice for journalists thinking about breaking into PR?
Be open minded, Sara says. It is not “the dark side” as it’s been said to be by news media. And be sure to do your homework. It is the transition journalists have traditionally made and it can be very rewarding.
For those who get “stuck” in a job or career no matter the industry, Sara relates that when she left the news business she learned there is a whole world out there, so don’t walk away from an opportunity if there’s an interest.
“You’re only going to be on the planet for a limited amount of time, and I want to experience a lot of things so I think career transitions and changes are a good thing. To stay in a job for 30 years… I think you’re going to miss out on a lot.”