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PR Pro Showcase: Shonali Burke

If you don’t know Shonali, she is a PR consultant and incredible PR educator on the faculty of The Johns Hopkins University (she teaches at Rutgers University, too!).

Shonali just launched a brand spankin’ new program called Social PR Launchpad go check it out or see the image below for details. It’s completely free and sounds pretty terrific!

Sign up RIGHT NOW, though, it starts on Friday!

Now, let’s kick off some questions…

Shonali, do you specialize in a specific industry, niche or aspect of PR? If so, what do you love/hate about it?

I’ve always been a generalist when it comes to PR – I have so many different interests that I’d feel very constrained if I had to stick to a specific industry. But I do focus – and specialize – in what I call “Social PR” – where you educate, cultivate, and motivate communities to help you tell your story.

If you do this with an outcome-focused approach from the start, then you set yourself up for success. So I guess I specialize in outcome-based, measurable Social PR.

PR is growing and changing fast. How do you approach continued learning?

  • Never assume you know it all, because JUST as you get comfortable, something else will come along to completely disrupt your status quo!

Hey, we get that. We’re all about rockin’ the status quo here, too!!

  • Play a lot. A LOT. And by “play,” I mean experiment with new platforms, tools, and approaches. Have a sense of fun, because that’s when you learn the most.
  • Work really hard. When you think you’re working your hardest, double that and then sprinkle glitter all over it. THAT’s how hard you have to work.

How do you handle crisis communications?

  1. Have a plan, a scenario for every possible situation.
  2. Do an audit of your assets & liabilities, strengths and weaknesses. How do these factor into your plan or scenario? What do you need to do to beef them (and it) up?
  3. Have a really good listening program & system. This is always important but critical in crisis situations.
  4. Make sure lines of communication are clear, and that flexibility is built into your plan as well as implementation of the plan when the crisis is unfolding. No one has time for lengthy approval processes in a crisis.
  5. Breathe often. Breathe slow. Keeping your head can make or break your handling of the situation.

What is the most hilarious (or successful) PR stunt you’ve ever done?

One of the most fun “stunts” – if you can call it that – was when I worked on “Singalong Sound of Music” in San Francisco, back in 2001. While media pitching was a large part of what I was doing, I really wanted a way to illustrate the premise of the “singalong” bit.

So I convinced my boss to give me a tiny budget for a community-based effort. I looked for people who could sing and cobbled together a small group of students & their moms (I think I found them via a neighbor in the condo complex in which we lived). We’d practice a medley of songs from the movie, and we hired some nun costumes.

Then we sent out a media advisory announcing that the singing nuns would be seen at various locations in San Francisco on a particular day. We walked ALL over San Francisco that day, and were so exhausted! But it was a lot of fun, and we did attract the attention of the local ABC radio station. Looking back, I guess the seeds of my Social PR approach were being sown that day!

What are a few specific ways you work smarter, rather than harder?

A cookie-cutter approach to PR is partly why our profession has such a bad rap. We can fall into the trap of working harder by focusing on the same old, tried, and tested tactics, but without generating better results. That’s what I call PR by Numbers: fit the puzzle piece into the slot if the numbers match.

Here’s how I try to work smarter (though often I’m working harder too!):

  • What am I trying to achieve? Focus on the outcome, and begin at the end
  • In terms of “media channels” – be it actual media, community, influencers – identify what will get you the most “bang for your butt” (because you’re working your butt off… get it?) and focus on those initiatives
  • Have a system of tracking and listening, and actually look at the data you’re pulling to generate insights
  • Adjust & course-correct as needed; this means prioritizing what’s working over what’s not (even if what’s not working is something you really really really want to do) and focus on that
  • Lather, rinse, repeat

Thanks for sharing, Shonali! What I wouldn’t give to see a video of your singing nuns…

Interested in Shonali’s new program? It’s a 3-day mini-learning program that starts…. FRIDAY! Less than 48 hours away!!! So go register already. It’s just one hour each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Click on the image below to learn more.



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