Another Exit

Call it symmetry, or call it a good news angle for the PR trades, but the same week my PR career hits an iceberg, another PR guy calls it quits — for the best reasons.

San Francisco's Blake Barbera started his blog, wet feet pr, in March 2005 to document the start of what seemed likely to become a highly successful PR career. In his first post, Barbera said this:

…I recognize that a majority of the PR blogs are written by PR professionals. I also recognize that there are a lot of blog readers that are at the entry level stages of their PR career. I am one of them. I am the guy on the team who scans blogs for trends, company coverage, or just basic insights. I put two and two together and created a blog that is written by the entry level PR guy for the entry level PR guy/girl (got to be politically correct).

(snip)

So, are you ready to get your feet wet? Ready to climb up the PR ladder? I am, so I hope you are too. Just remember, you can't get your feet wet unless you stick your toes in. Lets go!

In the intervening 14 months, Barbera documented personal milestones like his first press hit, his first news release, and various lessons learned along the way. To pick one of many examples, last December he described an in-house exercise called "Media Blitz Day" in which points were awarded to players for getting a reporter on the phone (1 point), for getting some kind of "next steps" indication from that reporter (2 points), and for getting the reporter to agree to a date and time for a briefing (3 points).

(T)he game gets you out of the routine of email contact only, allows you to update your target list as necessary, and gives you some insider information that may be of use to you when approaching that specific reporter in the future. While it is always good to know what your reporters are writing, practicing this exercise is one way to help you keep tabs on them. In addition, it's nice to approach your target list once in a while when you don't have something to pitch them on, but rather just to say hello.

But then, somewhat unexpectedly, this week Barbera announced: "Wet Feet PR retires."

After nearly two years of working in PR and another year spent writing this blog, I have decided to move on from it all. I’m not sure how else to put it, but I’m following what my gut feeling is telling me and it’s leading me in a completely different direction that the one PR has been taking me down. This decision I have made involved many nights of deep thinking and was not easy, especially after investing so much time and energy into this profession. I had every intention of staying in PR for the long haul and I gave it everything I could, but somewhere in-between it all I became more aware of what I wanted out of my life and what I wanted to achieve. With that said, I’m taking a risk – starting from scratch – and pursuing an entirely different career path. To be honest, I don’t think that there is a better time in life for me to make a move like this than now.

So what’s next? Well, I’m off to pursue work with at-risk youth. From there I plan to continue to play a role in the field of Corrections, either as a Probation Officer or as a Psychologist. The decision to pursue a career in this field came from personal experiences that I went through in my younger years – in which I have now come to realize that working with people in the same situation I was once in, and helping them see that they can lead a better life, would be a profession I know I would enjoy. This is a very exciting step for me and I hope to have your support.

And:

My words for the next generation of young PR professionals are this: PR is a very fun and rewarding career and there couldn’t be a better time to be in this profession than now. As Eric Eggerston noted to me a while back – you (younger PR people) should be aware of the huge bubble of managers who are nearing retirement age. Within the next 10 years a bunch of management positions that have been hoarded by aging baby boomers are going to come open. While picking a middle-aged person with lots of experience is the obvious choice to fill these positions, other companies are going to be looking through their ranks of up and comers. You can either think of yourselves as a rank amateur, with very little to offer the company, or you can think of yourself as a future leader who just needs to get a nice wide range of experience and accomplishments under their belt over the next 5-8 years in order to be ready to grab a senior position.

If I had to pick only two things I liked about working in PR, mentoring younger, entry-level professionals would be one of them. Since I didn't start out in PR, I was always fascinated by the kids who did so, and tried to do whatever I could to keep them inspired while introducing them to the realities of the business and helping them sharpen their skills. A guy like Blake would be just the kind of guy I'd have felt privileged to manage. And I'm sure he would have made me look good — another thing managers look for in younger staff!

From listening the recent trial, you'd think PR was all about billing. The fact is, most PR people are like I was: Completely focused on clients, issues, strategies, expanding your contacts and knowledge base. Upper management was where the focus shifted to profits, projections and what Wall Street needed to know about your business. My story is a cautionary tale, to be sure, that at every level, you need to pay more attention to the billing process, no matter how confusing your particular company's system might be. But absorbing the excitement of the young man or woman for whom everything is new — and channeling that excitement into results for clients — was what made me want to come to work each morning.

I'm sure Blake's colleagues and clients will miss him, but I have no doubt he will bring his thoroughly professional attitude into the field he's now chosen. In the meantime, his blog is still up, and I recommend that everyone in PR, young or, uh, "aging baby boomers" should read it.

3 thoughts on “Another Exit

  1. I should be so lucky. Unfortunately for me, Blake’s going to be a youth-at-risk counselor, and I’m far out of his age segment. Imagine how different things could have been if I’d met someone like this when I was younger!

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