Join Natalie Brown, APR, and Jena Esposito, APR, to talk about the joys and challenges of both in-house and agency public relations!

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Kathie Taylor  00:01

Welcome to Better PR. Wherever you are in your PR journey you’ll love exploring the stories from your peers about the many faces of public relations. Better PR is brought to you by In Plain Sight Marketing, a public relations and marketing agency in Carson City, Nevada, Renowned Regional Medical Center in Reno and the Sierra Nevada chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. I’m your host Kathie Taylor. Good morning and welcome to Better PR. This morning we are talking to Natalie Brown from Wells Fargo Bank and Jena Esposito from KPS3 in Reno. I’m Kathie Taylor, your host. Ladies, please introduce yourselves. Natalie, let’s start with you.

Natalie Brown  00:40

Hi, everybody. Thanks for having me. Kathie. My name is Natalie Brown, and I’m a Vice President and Senior Communications Manager with Wells Fargo. I work with our auto lending business, our credit card business and our personal lending business on all things communications, internal external and exec calm.

Jena Esposito

Hi, everybody. My name is Jena Esposito, I am PR manager at KPS3 and I work with a handful of fabulous clients, helping them get their stories out into the news through influencer relations, strategic communications plans, and everything in between, and learning from some of the best along the way.

Kathie Taylor  01:28

Welcome to both of you. I’m so excited to have you. And I think this is kind of a cool topic. Today we’re going to talk about the differences of working in agency and working in house. And I will tell you that I joined a fledgling agency without having any agency experience at all, I worked in a series of communications jobs in house throughout my career. So, it was a big surprise to me and learning a little bit about agency life over the years. And Jenna, I know that you went from in house to agency and I’m dying to hear your experience and what was mind blowing to you?

Jena Esposito  02:12

Yeah, so I went from my previous life at Renown, with that wonderful marketing and communications team over there to my current gig at KPS3. And what I think has surprised me most is the encouragement and I’m not gonna say push or have like shoving down our throats that you need, that we all need to take the balance, because we do work so hard, but it is an expectation that you take care. If you take that work life balance and you make it a priority and just being communicative with your teammates like hey, I’ve you know, run well and above over this week, I’m taking the afternoon off, call me if there’s any absolute emergency. So that has been really a pleasant surprise. Not surprised but a pleasant foray into agency life, which has been really nice. And I really enjoy the variety of clients I get to learn and work on it’s, I mean, we have government clients, we have nonprofits, we have tech folks, we have I mean, any business industry under the sun, I think that’s been really exciting. Before joining agency, I was pretty nervous about having to switch gears so quickly but once you get into the swing of things, and you have a team who’s ready and willing to help you learn and answer any question you have, or help you find the answers to whatever questions you have, it’s not as daunting as I first thought it was gonna be coming from in house agency. So, I think it’s all about your people and who you’re surrounded with and the support you have. And your culture. Whether you’re at an agency or in house, you’re going to be happy depending on your team and your culture. So, everyone who’s listening needs to prioritize that culture and that that teams, that teamwork, so yeah.

Kathie Taylor  04:34

100%. Natalie, I’m curious to know you made the jump from agency to in house. Tell me a little bit about your trajectory here.

Natalie Brown 04:49

So, I worked at an agency, an established agency in town, but a local one, you know, not like a big conglomerate or anything like that. And the switching gears that Denna talks about can be really fun. But I think it’s a little bit too about your personality. And not that I don’t switch gears and in corporate communications, because we do a lot. But having all those different clients and all those different industries and feeling like I was a, what’s the phrase, a jack of many masters of none, in terms of all the different industries, those clients were in, I had a hard time with that. And I thought, well, you know, that was very early in my career. And I thought, well, now’s the time for me to try something different. And I don’t want to say I fell into this job at Wells Fargo, but I saw it advertised in the newspaper, and I thought why I can do those things that they’re advertising for literally an ad in the newspaper, you guys back in the day, 20 some odd years ago. And I thought, well, you know, I’ll give that a try. That’ll be the next thing. I give a shot and I’m 20 something at this point. And so, I applied, and I got this job at Wells Fargo. And it was a combination of PR and event management. And so I tried that for a while and realized I didn’t love event management, but I loved being able, and so kind of navigated a little bit more into more of a traditional corporate communications job like kind of what I’m in now and found that even though there were, there was much more diversity to what we got to work on in Corp combat, I expected there to be, at least was getting to sit in meetings where I really understood what was going on. And that was the thing that was missing, like I was sitting at the table with people who were running the business and making decisions and explaining and talking about the doing of the do so when it came time to communicate those things, I had been hearing about them and had been able to ask questions about them with business leaders and program managers and progress project managers for quite some time. And that’s what was missing for me in the agency sort of culture. Because when you’re in an agency, you get a phone call after months of something that’s been happening in a business and they need your help with something you’re like, okay, well, I’ve got like, I don’t know how many billable hours, a couple maybe to get up to speed here. And then I’m going to be expected to write press releases and talking points and I would just always felt like I was missing something in that just sort of prep process that I feel like I get so much more of again, I think it’s personality, but I feel like that works better for me in the long run.

Kathie Taylor  07:11

So, you’re able to do a deep dive into your business. And it sounded like when you introduced yourself, you listed a number of business lines that you work with. So, I feel like in a way, that’s kind of like agency life, because each one is different. I worked at the university, and I had my beat, if you will, were several different schools. And you know, you had to do that same thing. You had to take that deep dive into each of those schools and understand how they work. Would you say that that is true in your day to day?

Natalie Brown 07:49

I think so. I actually call the business leaders I work with, I still call them clients. And my team and I, we call our clients our clients, even though they’re in house, and we all get a paycheck from the exact same company. But what I and we think, sort of think of ourselves as an in-house agency, I suppose in that we know kind of what our swim lanes are right? That the three-legged stool of exec comms and internal comms and NPR, but where we get to come to the table, because we do sit with those business leaders in those meetings is there are times when they tap us and say, hey, can we have your help? And then there are times where we wave our hand and say, hey, we’ve got an opportunity to PR something here either PR with our employees or PR externally.

Kathie Taylor  08:31

Jena, I know you can relate with that working in house at Renown. How did you find it to be with the different business lines? I’ll tell you we work with a Regional Health Care Authority out here and there’s a lot to learn. There’s a lot to learn.

Jena Esposito  08:51

Yeah, healthcare is nothing short of complicated. So, lots of different service lines in healthcare that I got to work with. And getting to sit down. And I would say that maybe because I’m, you know, still fairly early on in my career, maybe I still got brought on later into some conversations, after all of the conversations and the explaining of the doing of the dues as Natalie referred, which I love that I’m going to steal that Natalie, the doing of the dues. But yeah, I think whether you’re in house or agency, you are going to take a deep dive into so much more than you could ever anticipate or expect. And that’s the nature of PR, you have to have a deep, deep understanding of what your client or your service line do and why they do it that way and be able to speak up and say, hey, this is an opportunity, let’s flesh this out for XYZ publication for internal or for wherever it’s gonna go. And what I think is refreshing, a little bit coming into agency is that we have some outside perspective and some fresh eyes on things to just provide new recommendations to our clients and say, hey, this thing you did last year was lovely. But this year, let’s reframe it, let’s ask more questions and get into some of the meat of the story here. So, we can tell it differently, rather than doing that same annual campaign that is wonderful and has served its purpose. But maybe it’s time for a refresh, maybe it’s time to get a new story, get a new set of eyes on it and take it from a different angle. So that’s kind of what I like. I do like understanding as much of the doing and the dues as possible. And I think you need to NPR but being able to come as a third party and a fresher set of eyes for identifying opportunities for your clients, I think is really, really valuable. So that’s what that’s a big change that I’ve actually

Kathie Taylor  11:38

It’s interesting, because that’s such a lovely segue into the APR, which is one of my favorite topics. As an agency, and as a small agency, working with small companies, one of the things that we’re really proud of is our ability to do deep dive research. I won’t sell a contract unless I can do the research into their market and into their business. And I get pretty up close and personal into their business. Because we are a partner. We’re not a vendor, we’re not a contract. We are a partner. Right? So for me having that ability to know what to research and how to apply it to my work, through getting my accreditation and public relations has been extremely valuable. Jenna, you got your APR last year. And Natalie, you’ve had yours for quite some time right a little bit? How do you see that playing into your role? Jenna, you made a point about you know, being able to bring fresh perspective and fresh eyes and a fresh view of the overall market. And Natalie, you’ve been in it so long that you have really great in-depth insight into the company. So how do you guys apply the tenets of the research planning, implementation, and evaluation piece?

Natalie Brown 13:12

It’s such a good question. And sure, it’s such a good question. And if you have it for folks listening who have their APR’s, or who may be going through the process right now, the closer you get to the finish line, I think the more you find yourself and the more I found myself saying and even to this day saying it’s such a solid and repeatable process. And maybe I was intuitively doing some of it before, but it really changed how I did the do, how I do the do, of my job today. And I write so many more comms plans today than I did before. Getting my APR, I would write more tactical things before. And now I know that if I’m going to really get in there and you know, to your earlier point, really understand the business and the market and the competitive landscape and all of the things frankly, all the things reporters are going to ask to write and oftentimes employees as well, if you miss any of those steps, you’re not doing your work justice, and you’re not doing your topic justice, you’re not doing justice by your client. So, it made a huge difference in how I just daily practiced public relations or media relations or communications. It was huge for me. Yeah, the APR for me being still somewhat, I’m not going to call myself totally green, but I’m still learning still, you know, I’m not a seasoned practitioner and but what it gave me was the context and the terms and the tools have like this is why it is done this way. Because you need to understand you need this research and I you know, I am a Reynolds School Alumna, which I’m very proud of, and they do a great job of teaching you RPIE, but you, that’s only the start you get it and you can grasp it as an undergrad and get your mind wrapped around it, but until you’re thrown in and have to practice it and apply it into real world situations where you don’t have all of the answers available on the internet to you, you need to go elsewhere and seek out some of your research and talk to as many people as you can to gather everything you need to craft some strategy and start crafting a plan. So, I think it gave me the, like I said, the tools and some of the terminology and context. But it also gave me some more of that confidence to be like, yes, I know. Just gonna say there’s confidence there too, right? And this is what we what is, this is the right way to do it. So, I’m gonna go freakin do it. Like I need access to this expert, I need access to this meeting or this person so that I can do the do. I’m already stealing it, Natalie. And, yeah, it’s a good one. I found it good. And I think that presenting to your peers, part of the APR was really good for me as well and getting feedback from people who were not my boss, and who didn’t work at my organization that’s really helpful. As a young practitioner, I think it’s really helpful to get more exposure to more a variety of practitioners feedbacks and their style, because you’re going to work with more variety of people as you grow into your career. So, getting that experience early on, is helpful. And I think it fine-tuned my PR muscles and my PR gut so that I can keep growing and learning.

Kathie Taylor  17:18

I think that’s such a cool perspective. Oh, sorry. It’s a such a cool perspective, because I took my accreditation as a senior practitioner. And it was really intimidating to go in front of my peers, after practicing for a while and having one of my mentors, that I just think the very world of, Jane Torres, if you’re listening, that’s you. But presenting in front of these people was really, really intimidating. And it was humbling. And it was wonderful because it opened up, like you said to your point is vast network of people who are invested in your success, and can give you their perspective of having that experience and having used the process themselves. And Natalie, I’m dying to know what you said, because I just walked all over you.

Natalie Brown 18:19

Oh, I wish. When she was talking about that got me thinking about some other differences that I experienced between agency and house and that is I spend most of my day with bankers, businesspeople, is an in house communicator, I have a one on one weekly with my boss who’s a more senior communicator, I have one on ones with people on my team. But so, I spend, you know, a few hours a week talking to other communicators, the vast majority the day I spend it with bankers, which I think is very different. When I was in house, at the agency, I spent all day long with other PR people and other communications folks. And it was very different sort of culture and atmosphere. And that that was a big shift, sitting you know, in a boardroom all the time, because it’s how many people how many seats you need to get an entire team together to talk about bringing a product launch to life was very different than the types of meetings, we used to have at the agency I was out.

Kathie Taylor  19:15

I work with the Oregon chapter, they do an APR prep course every spring, and I get to teach the business literacy portion of the chapters in the study guide. And one of the things that comes up with this is always working with financial people and how, you know, as a communicator, you need to be besties with your legal team and with your CFO or the finance people in your company. How have you found that to be to build the credibility with those people to be able to answer those kinds of questions and to really deserve that seat at the table when they’re making those kinds of decisions?

Natalie Brown 19:58

It’s such a good question. And it’s funny because the only class I ever dropped in college was a business class, when the professor told us that, in addition to all of the books that we had to buy, we also needed to go out and get ourselves a subscription to The Wall Street Journal. And we needed to read it every day. And I said, you know, what I’m out, it was the only class ever dropped. And the straw that broke my back was reading The Wall Street Journal every day. And the irony is now I work with reporters there on the regular, in fact, just worked with one this week on a story. And so, if you had told, you know, 19-year-old Natalie dropping that class, that somewhat older version of herself, would be reading and going over quarterly earnings statements with reporters to make sure they were getting their numbers right in their articles. Young Natalie would have thought you were crazy. But that’s what I get to do. And it’s it, I won’t say that I am great at it, right. That’s why we have finance departments, those people get to be great at it. But I can at least be conversant and understand the drivers in the business and the headwinds, and, and also the tail winds and where that impacts the company’s ability to make money and how the macroeconomic climate you know, if you had told 20-year-old me, I could use all of those words and know what they meant, I wouldn’t have believed you. But it took me some time. And I wasn’t good at it at first, and I didn’t enjoy it at first. But now that I have been able to make myself conversant in those areas, it’s a whole heck of a lot more fun. And talking to a businessperson about their business and knowing the numbers behind it, it does add incredible credibility, because you’re not just a PR person swooping in, because you’ve got an angle or adverse or you know, or that you’re a business partner with them now, and what you bring to the table is better communication skills than they have. And once they see all of that, and that you get to them, then they’re going to be a lot more willing to get you as well. That’s been my experience anyways.

Kathie Taylor  21:48

I think that’s a great point. And Jenna, it goes back to kind of what we were talking about as far as digging in and learning. So as a younger practitioner, what are some of the things you do to help get you prepared to have those kinds of conversations?

Jena Esposito 22:04

Um, I really like to I’m a people person, I think most PR people are right. So, I just try to make as many friends as I can and be very candid at first when I when I sit down and I’m like, hey, safety expert Bob, we’ve got an opportunity here, and I have some ideas, but I need your expertise to help me flush this out in a way that will make sense for reporters for audiences. And for me, too. So, bring me along, tell me what this new safety regulation is, as if you were explaining it to your niece or nephew. Because that’s probably how we’re going to have to explain it to most audiences, at least at some level, and maybe to quite a few reporters. So, I frame it that way. And I make friends and kind of be very complimentary of the fact that they have the expertise that we need to tell the story for their organization. And most people really like talking about what they do. I mean, that’s why this podcast exists, right? So nice folks are gonna open right up and be give you a full download, if you get 20, 30 minutes on a phone call with them. So, make friends be friendly. Use your experts and really try and listen to them. And then I try and repeat it back in a plain language way. And if they’re like, yeah, yeah, essentially, that’s what it is. I’m like, okay, great. And then I’ll write it again, write it again, and then pass it through them like, hey, this is what we covered and how I think it can be explained, are we are we good with this and moving forward? So, I use safety expert, Bob, and make as many friends with safety expert, Bob’s out there as possible. But it could be finance expert. I don’t know. Mental health expert Bob and like you said, everybody likes to talk about what they do. So going to somebody and just say hey, could you be professor safety expert, Bob for just a minute and explain this to me and let me you know, like you said repeat it back to you and repeat NPR long enough. We kind of kind of start to think in headlines. And so, if you can take something from someone for 20 or 30 minutes of them downloading with you and repeat back a couple of headlines. That’s some that’s some time well spent. And it just and the more you do it and the more you get to know your safety expert Bob and get their you know, their direct line their cell and just build that trust with them over time, they’re going to, it’s going to be so valuable for you to do the job and do your clients justice. So

Kathie Taylor  25:21

What has been the biggest shift that you’ve experienced? I can tell you, for me working corporate communications, in a very large fortune 10 company. One of the things that I was surprised about and learn to navigate, because of course you have to, but was how siloed some of these companies can be. And I’m trying to bust down the walls. That was that was what was really surprising to me working in house. What would you guys say was the most surprising things that you’ve encountered in your career?

Natalie Brown  26:10

Well, Kathie, you might be sad to hear this. But I don’t think corporate America has changed that much. While two people are just either trying to do the do of their of their jobs. But what’s surprising to me sometimes is how often it’s the communications function that connects between things that are happening, right either because you are working on a comms planning, you need to do some of your research, or you get immediate inquiry. And as you’re doing your research on and putting a statement together, you start to learn things and not connect things that might have taken longer to connect, you know, the comms folks hadn’t been involved. So, I would say that’s something that continually surprises me. And I don’t know, I’d love to talk to somebody who feels like their company has figured that out. I think we get better at it. And sometimes it just takes a minute of working with a team, right? And you start to build some muscle memory with everybody on getting better at communicating things and heads ups and stuff like that. But yeah, I don’t think corporate America has changed all that much, Kathie, on that front, because that’s still something that surprises me. And I’ve been at this company, like I said, for, you know, 20 years, and I still occasionally go, I’m really surprised. I’m the one who figured out that there was an inconsistency in A versus B, or even sometimes, you know, just how we characterize something. It’s like over and one part of the business, we say it this way, but actually, I was just talking to a finance director yesterday, because I was looking through our earnings report to work with Wall Street Journal reporter and I said in the in our auto business, we talked about our originations per quarter, but our personal lending business we talk about, we refer to it a different way. But it’s exactly the same thing. And so why don’t we use the same language? I don’t understand why he didn’t either, which made me feel a little bit better. But you know, is anybody else kind of going through this stuff with that I going other people look at these things, not just investors, reporters are looking at them. And anybody who has an interest he was looking at him and are we making them easy to read?

Kathie Taylor  28:10

That’s so cool. Because as a beginning, corporate comms person in that role, I asked so many questions that they launched an investigation into how to silo these products that were packaged together under one umbrella, but because they were individual products. They were, you know, in their own business line, like you said, they’re doing the do right. So, it was really interesting to note that there was there was this corporate investigation launched on how we could work together. And it was like you said it was a comms person just asking questions. So, Jenna, tell us about your aha moment.

Jena Esposito 28:49

I think, I guess it would be an aha moment, not really a surprise once you come out on the other side of it. But just realizing that your comms and PR people are usually your master translator and advocate for an audience. And whatever organization you’re working for, whatever client you’re working with, they have they have a lot going on. And like Natalie said, they’re focusing on the doing of the dues, and they’re not necessarily all talking to each other or coordinating with one another. And so, you’re connecting the dots so that you can take what they’re producing and working so hard at getting right to be usable and understandable by whoever it’s designed for. Right? So, you are the master translator for your organization and you’re taking their sometimes gobbledygook explanations of a why things are done the way they’re done or why mortgages work, how they work. And you’re, and you’re translating it for that homebuyer, you’re translating it for that investor, there’s a lot of translating, and your comms and PR professionals going on all the time. And without us, I don’t think your business or organization is going to be able to land with their audiences, they’re just not. So that’s why we’re there. And we make people have the conversations together and get on the same page and, and hopefully do it with a smile and maybe sometimes a nudge, but we’re there to do the translations and, and get people to talk to one another so that the product or the service can, can really work for the audience. I love that I’m gonna go to business cards that say master translator and master simplifier too, right? We distill things although we probably shouldn’t call ourselves distillers because that’s a whole other thing. I would love to learn how to distill my own my own brews, that’d be great. And now we’re officially off topic.

Kathie Taylor  31:26

Well, I’d love to leave it with communicators as dot connectors because I think that’s really powerful because we do we connect the dots not only internally but also externally. And being able to give the information to the people who need it the most, in the way that they can receive it, whether it’s by channel or by words that we choose. I really feel like the powerful thing that we do is to connect those dots for all of our stakeholders All right, ladies, well, we’re gonna call this a day and I would love for you Jenna to let people know how to get a hold of yourself.

Jena Esposito 32:13

Yeah, you can email me anytime Jenna dot Esposito and it’s je n a, just one a please, dot e s p o s i t o at KPS3 dot com.

Kathie Taylor  32:27

Wonderful. And Natalie, how can people get a hold of you?

Natalie Brown 32:31

Well, you can. I’m on LinkedIn. So, feel free to message me from LinkedIn. I’m also on the Wells Fargo newsroom. So, if you just Google my name and Wells Fargo, you’ll get my email and my phone number there.

Kathie Taylor  32:41

Fantastic. Thank you both so much. This has been really fun.

Kathie Taylor  32:51

Better PR is brought to you by In Plain Sight Marketing, a public relations and marketing agency in Carson City, Nevada. Renowned Regional Medical Center in Reno and the Sierra Nevada chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. I’m your host, Kathie Taylor.