May 17, 2021
Amy Summers recalls for us how she came upon public relations, what attracted her to it, and how she built a company from the ground up.
LISTEN TO THE EPISODE
In this episode, we have the talented Amy Summers as a guest. She recalls for us how, as a high school senior, she came upon public relations as a career and ended up doing it professionally after taking it as a major during college.
Listen in as Amy shares the challenges she has overcome with the expectations that come with a career in public relations. She even gives a bit of advice on how to choose a public relations person or team.
[00:00:00]Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Hi everyone and welcome to today's episode of the High-Functioning Hotspot with me, Dr. Chloe Carmichael. Today's guest is Amy Summers, an amazing publicist who runs her own publicity company. She's been in business for nearly two decades. She does Good Morning America, The Today Show, well she gets her clients on there and goes there and supports them.
[00:00:22] I don't think she appears up there as a guest herself. But she's frequently around (with her clients) at really big shows. She really knows how to present herself publicly. She's also a great businesswoman. In addition to having her very successful PR company in New York City, she also speaks regularly at digital voice conferences.
[00:00:41] She has a new product where she actually teaches people through an Alexa. I don't want to say the name too loudly because it will activate my, you know, our home smart assistant. So she has a Flash Briefing, you can tell your Alexa to enable the skill of the Amy Summers Flash Briefing. It's pretty cool, where she'll walk you through some communications and PR tips if you just yourself, want to put your best foot forward in life.
[00:01:05] So speaking of that, what we're actually going to be doing today is just going through Amy Summers’ Digital Guide to “How To Present Yourself on Zoom”. So whether you are actually going to be on a Zoom, to be on TV as I've been doing lately, which is super awesome. I love being able to do TV from my home. Or if you're just doing regular old Zoom meetings, but want to put your best foot forward, then this is the episode for you so that you can get tips from your personal publicist, Amy Summers, going through her guide for video success. So I hope you enjoyed it as much as I do.
[00:01:40] Amy Summers: Hey Chloe!
[00:01:41] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Hi Amy! I know how busy you are and I'm thankful you decided to join the High-Functioning Hotspot today. So I am recording just to state the obvious. Just to go ahead and dive right in, Amy, so you are such an exceptionally high functioning person. I mean, Amy Summers is like the high-functioning person personified.
[00:02:08] You take great care of yourself. You take great care of your business and really of everyone in your life. So I'm just curious if you can share, some of these questions I kind of know the answer to because we've talked before, but people listening wouldn't necessarily know them.
[00:02:24] In my experience, it's kind of unusual for somebody in PR to be as thoughtful and kind as you. I'm curious if you can share how you came to have an interest in PR.
[00:02:42] Amy Summers: Sure. And thank you so much for all the nice things that you said to introduce me. How did I come to PR? Actually, it's very interesting because I didn't know anything about PR. I grew up in a very small town with very limited examples of different professionals to look up to, and I specifically remember in my high school English class, my senior year, our teacher asked us to write a report on what we wanted to be when we grew up.
[00:03:13] I thought I wanted to be a journalist because I was very involved with yearbook at my high school, and I loved writing and telling stories. And this will date me a little bit, but we didn't use Google to do research, we use encyclopedias. I was looking at an encyclopedia and when I was looking up about journalism, I stumbled upon Public Relations.
[00:03:35] And I don't know, I just, as a high school senior, whenever I read the encyclopedia about Public Relations it was very impressive to me. And so, I decided as I was going into college that summer, right after I graduated from high school, that my major was going to be PR, and that totally freaked my parents out because they had no idea what a PR professional did.
[00:03:57] I remember specifically them asking me, “How much money will a PR person make and what will you do?”, and I just said, “I don't know, but I really like the idea of a PR person. I want to pursue that instead of journalism”. So that's how I did it. And I stuck with it all the way through my four years in college.
[00:04:15] I'm still doing it today, which is highly unusual that people get the degree and it’s what they end up doing.
[00:04:21] Dr Chloe Carmichael: Right. And I do want to get to know how it is that you came to be so successful in the field. But before I get to that, I'm curious, so you had this high school experience and it was really appealing to you. I mean, for me, I can imagine that it just feels and sounds like something glamorous or was there something different? What appealed to you so much in high school?
[00:04:46] Amy Summers: You know, I think that it was the idea that a PR person was more behind the scenes and helping others learn about something versus what a journalist does, which is reporting on stories and news of the day.
[00:04:59] I think I really liked the idea of telling that untold story or helping the journalist even find those stories. That part of the PR profession is not often highlighted, but it's actually a big part of what we do. What we are supposed to do is to assist journalists, help them find story leads, and help them with their stories. And I really liked that aspect of it.
[00:05:22] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: That makes a lot of sense. Now this next question, Amy, we’ll take it like a little bit tongue and cheek, because I know that you're a wonderful person and you certainly don't want to like, you know, slam your colleagues, but I'll say it in my experience, most PR people are really, really flaky. Why is it that most PR people, it just seems to at least seem to be known and certainly not you, which is why I think you're so special and I'm so thankful that I know you. But I'm curious, why does it seem like it's so hard to find a PR person that like a small business owner can talk to and have an accountable conversation? Where what we talk about is actually what ends up happening.
[00:06:05] Amy Summers: Yeah. It's funny, I don't really hang out with PR people. So it's hard for me, a little bit, to comment on that, on the flakiness part of it, because I don't really spend a lot of time with them. Although I have a lot of clients or prospective clients come to me and say what you have said, you know, they express frustration with talking to people that talk a big game, but then it never really happens.
[00:06:28]I know that this is a big problem in the PR industry for sure, because it's something I've had to actually pitch and sell against my entire career. The reputation that PR people don't really live up to what the expectations are. And I used to, in my mind, think well I must be the only good PR person out there, but I also know that that is not true.
[00:06:50]Now that I am later in my career and there's actually a lot of good PR people out there. What I've come to actually realize is that not all PR people are bad. I think that there's probably a very small percentage of them that are actually how you describe, which is flaky. I think the biggest problem in our profession is that we as professionals don't set up boundaries with our bosses, our clients. And so therefore the expectation of what we are doing is very grandiose in some people's minds. And that PR people don't take the time often to educate their colleagues, their bosses, their clients, about what to expect and what they do. And I do a lot of education to my current clients, prospective clients, all the time on this to really set the expectation.
[00:07:41] I don't think that if you don't have the right expectation, then of course you're going to be a failure, you know, because everyone has a different idea of what PR is. In fact, I'll tell you a quick, funny story. Back earlier when I was starting my company, I remember a client specifically came to me and at the time Sex in the City was a really popular show on HBO.
[00:08:02] He got very frustrated with me because he said, “Why can't you just be like Samantha”, and I was actually not even watching Sex in the City at the time. And so I thought, “Oh my gosh, I have to watch this show” because I have no idea what this guy is talking about.
[00:08:18] And she was a character on the show that was this big time publicist in New York, who was always throwing these grandiose events and making things happen. I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, he thinks this is what I should be doing for him every day”. So, you know, there's a lot of things that influence, I think, what people perceive PR is, and there's not a lot of education around what PR is, and that really falls on the shoulders of the PR professional and it's our fault for not setting those boundaries and educating people. And I think when you do, then you have better relationships with your clients, your colleagues, and your boss.
[00:08:55] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Right that's a great answer, Amy. Such a lot of really helpful things there, and towards the beginning, you mentioned something important too, which is that, PR interns and young people going into PR they're not oftentimes really supported, you know? I remember when I was first starting my practice, I don't really work so much anymore with people at a junior level as much, but when I first started my practice, I would work with some junior PR interns and they were just the most abused, nervous group of people.
[00:09:24] So I think that's a good point that maybe some of the drama and chaos that we see in PR professionals sometimes come from their roots. But you're absolutely right and it's certainly not true of all PR people.
[00:09:45] I love PR people, so it's certainly nothing against that. I'm curious though, Amy, for you, and I like to ask high-functioning people this really no matter what career they're in. So in your case, I'm curious when and how did you come to realize, “You know what? I'm really good at this. Like, better than even most good people. Like I'm really good at this.” Did you have a moment of realizing that and how did it come about?
[00:10:17]Amy Summers: Gosh, that is a hard question. To think back on something like that, I often don't think that I'm good or better than everybody else. I'm more in the camp of always trying to prove myself.
[00:10:28] I've always felt like I've had to prove myself my entire life and my career and everything. So I really am not one of those people that kind of sit back and say, “Oh, I made it! I've accomplished everything and I'm perfect.” I think that if I ever did that, then I would probably fall off a cliff the next day.
[00:10:46] I would actually be afraid to think those thoughts. I discovered as I've gotten more senior in my career that I'm really wired as an entrepreneur more. So being wired as an entrepreneur, I'm always looking for what's next, what's going to make me uncomfortable next. I actually am not very at ease when things are going great and everything is wonderful. So, for example, this year, you know, this is my 17th year having Pitch Publicity, which is a long time for a small business owner. Honestly, at this point, I feel like I could do it blindfolded. I mean, it's not as challenging as it was because I have it down. I've been doing it for almost two decades now. So I started a new company this year so, I mean I just don't like being comfortable in any situation. And the new company is actually making Pitch Publicity even better, you know? So they're feeding off of each other now, so that’s fun.
[00:11:52] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: That's so true. I just want to say what that new company is, so people can connect after we laid it. It's INICIVOX, right? Which is, Amy has this incredible like, I don't even want to say Alexa cause I don't want my thing to wake up, but like for your smart home device, you can listen to Amy's, it's not even really a podcast, well, I'll let you say, please go ahead.
[00:12:14] Amy Summers: Sure. Thanks. INICIVOX was really inspired by a Flash Briefing that I started doing a couple of years ago with my voice assistant. We'll just call her Lexi so that we don't activate everyone's voice assistance while we talk. But it's considered a microcast because it's very short, all of mine are under three minute tips on communication. And so if you ask Lexi or your voice assistant, I'm also on Google home and others as well, for “The Pitch with Amy Summers” then you can get a free communication tip from me every day that might apply to your work life or your personal life. But I really dive into the interstices of communication and how we can use it to either persuade someone or be empathetic towards someone or lead people. So it's been a very interesting project. And so this year I've actually cumulated all of those microcasts into a company called INICIVOX, which allows what I call “mentorship in minutes”.
[00:13:25]You don't have to have a mentor and go get coffee and have this long relationship. You can actually just kind of get those quick mentorship tidbits from my microcast each day, and really improve some soft skills in communication that could be beneficial again, like I said, in your personal or professional life.
[00:13:44] Dr Chloe Carmichael: Yeah. And I can see that it is enhancing The Pitch because it's related, it's not like you have a PR company and then you started a bakery, you know, this is a totally related and complementary industry. And in fact, isn't it that the University of FloridaI have you teaching PR, and then I think it's a school in India that's actually picking up your microcasts and making it into, I mean tell me high functioning, Amy, what is happening with your high-functioning tips? And they're getting now sent all over the world.
[00:14:19] Amy Summers: Yeah. So you can either go to INICIVOX.com and subscribe yourself to, and just go at your own pace and learn these different communication soft skills and professional skills.
[00:14:31] Or you can do it in a group setting, you know, somebody wanted to do something specific with a University like I'm doing with the University of Florida this fall. I'm teaching a class called Pitching Persuasion,and they're all based on these microcasts. And so the students take one every week as an assignment and I have a pitch challenge in every single microcast and they go off and they do that pitch challenge and report back to me, it's a paperless class.
[00:14:55] So everything is using voice technology and using our voices which I think is really important these days, because we have relied on technology too much, especially in the past decade to be our primary source of communication which has made people's verbal communication really go downhill. So this helps strengthen that.
[00:15:19] And so that's the class I'm teaching with a UF, it can be taught at any university really. And yes, I've had interest from other countries. In fact, I've been talking to a woman in India who's an entrepreneur for about a year now, about putting together something in that country as well. She was telling me that India is very focused on having more entrepreneurship with their young professionals.
[00:15:42] But a lot of their young professionals don't have those skills because they're not learned in university there, or even here in America on how to close the deal, network, communicate, motivate someone. These are not skills that we typically learn in a classroom, they're skills that we typically learn when we are out and about, and learning from others and being mentored by others.
[00:16:10] With the pandemic this year, it's made it even more difficult because now we have to be socially distanced from everyone. So even finding a mentor or going to a networking event, like how we met Chloe, is more challenging. So I think INICIVOX is even more relevant, you know, as ironic that I launched it a month before the pandemic caused a lockdown.
[00:16:32]But I think it's very relevant in today's age that we can still get that mentorship from people that have been there and done that without having to be in a coffee house with them or at dinner with them or at a networking event.
[00:16:46] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: That's so true. I mean, I think that we are the product of the people that we spend time with. I personally find listening to The Pitch to be almost like spending time with you and I listened to it and I feel myself sitting up straighter and like, you know, making sure that I'm ready to be on camera. It's almost like having Amy there, like helping me to focus, which is so awesome.
[00:17:10]Now I have to ask you though, Amy. You are obviously a very poised and polished person. I mean, you are in PR and that's partly what you're helping people to do. I have known you, I don't know how many years now, and I don't think I've ever discovered a sloppy side. So I just have to know, is there, like, I mean, you're never late, you're never don't have your hair done.
[00:17:38] Like, are you ever just kind of like schlubby?
[00:17:41]Amy Summers: Oh, sure. All the time. And I think I was late to your podcast today.
[00:17:45] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Oh, for like one minute.
[00:17:46]Amy Summers: Yeah, I mean, I definitely I wouldn't say that I'm schlubby in the sense that my house is unkept all the time or something like that, but when I'm not on, when I don't have to be turned on for a client or an event or doing a podcast with you, of course, I'm not putting on full effort every single day just for myself and my dog. So Winnie, my puppy, can just see the hair-messy side of Amy, I guess.
[00:18:14] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Well, I'm glad to know it exists. Now I'm going to ask you one more question and then I'm just going to give you the floor to see if maybe there are things that I haven't asked that you want people to know or anything like that. And we'll definitely be putting links in the show notes to INICIVOX and to Pitch Publicity as well, and your social media so that people can find you. But before I give you the floor to share whatever you may want to share, I wanted to also ask you. I know a lot of business people we're always trying to figure out exactly how do you really vet a PR person? Because per our earlier discussion, PR people can almost be good at doing PR for themselves. And so you talk to them and it's almost like they seem great, but then when it actually comes down to brass tacks, business owners can just sometimes feel a little bit deflated or even at the worst case, even sometimes misled. So I'm curious if you were a business owner and you didn't know anything about PR, what should that business owner be doing or asking or putting in contracts when they're signing with a PR person?
[00:19:24] Amy Summers: This is a great question. I actually wrote an entire article about this. So I'll share that with you so you can put in your show notes too for your listeners. There are several things. I think whenever you're unfamiliar with anything, and I love using the example of taking your car to the mechanic, if you're not a mechanic, you kind of just go with whatever they say because they're the professional and I mean, what do you know about engines and hoses and tires and things like that. So you're hoping that they're not pulling past, went on you and that when you get in your car, everything works right. I think this the same way in any profession and even PR, you know, people can get what I call razzle dazzle.
[00:20:05] I love that scene in Chicago, the broadway show, where the lawyer is talking about how you razzle-dazzles everyone in the courtroom. And so PR people can be perceived that way too. So if you are looking to hire a PR agency or even a PR professional, it's really important to ask tangible questions, just like you would for somebody that you were interviewing to work for you. You want to ask for references, you want to call on these references and you want to ask them, don't just trust a quote or something, go and actually call the person and talk to them, ask them, “What did you enjoy working with this person the most? What was difficult?”. Ask those hard questions so you get really good at answers. “Were you pleased with the service? Why are you not working with them right now?” Those types of questions. And when you ask for references, ask for current clients and past clients, don't just ask for the people they're working with right now, ask for previous clients as well.
[00:21:09]If they're not willing to give you that information, of course, that's a red flag right there. Because they're trying to control their own message. I'd ask to meet the team members. Ask who you are going to be working with. I think that this is a big question. I think most people assume that whoever is selling them, which is usually the partner or the owner or the person in charge, the one giving them the pitch to get hired, a lot of times in the PR world that is not the person you're going to be working with on a day-to-day basis. So I would ask who are you going to be working with on a day-to-day basis after the sales transaction is done? In my agency, I personally work with every single client.
[00:21:49]But that's not typical of a PR agency, which is one of the reasons why I do it this way. Much of the time you will, like you said, work with somebody who's more junior. And sometimes it depends on the size of your company. So if you're not Coca-Cola or Pepsi Co, and you're just a startup, you might be working with not the A-team at a PR agency.
[00:22:11] So you want to meet those people and you want to know who they are, and if they're not forthcoming with letting you meet those people in the sales process, that's also a red flag because, of course, you want to meet whoever you're going to be ending up working with.
[00:22:24] Dr Chloe Carmichael: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense, Amy. And I know that you got really great people working under you in part, because I think probably, you have such great relationships with universities and with PR programs that you're able to attract such high quality support, but then you're saying that you personally also touch and manage each client that you have. It's not like you just pass them off. So as I mentioned, I was just going to also throw you the floor, if there's anything that I haven't asked that you want to share.
[00:22:58] Amy Summers: Sure. I would just, you know, encourage your listeners to just embrace the possibility of what communicating can do.
[00:23:08] I know that you work with a lot of high functioning professionals and there's probably a lot of people in your world that try to do everything on their own. And one of the things that you have to learn as a professional is that you can't possibly do everything on your own and be a success.
[00:23:24] So I would say surround yourself with other people that are like you, but that are specializing in something that you cannot do as well. And then I think you'll find that you will be more successful when you release and you let somebody else help you out.
[00:23:43] Dr Chloe Carmichael: That sounds awesome, Amy! And speaking of somebody else helping you out, Amy has actually created her own tip list for just everyday people that are going to be on Zoom calls and that need to look and sound and act as professionally as if they were on network television. And so in an upcoming episode, Amy's actually going to go through that very list with me. So we're going to wrap up this particular interview here, but Amy's going to stick around because we're going to be getting ready for a future episode where you are going to be able to have Amy Summers, owner of Pitch Publicity, personally walk you through what she thinks that you need to be doing on camera if you're on Zoom. Thanks so much for joining us, Amy!
[00:24:29] Amy Summers: Thanks Dr. Chloe!
[00:24:33] Dr Chloe Carmichael: Thanks so much for joining Amy Summers and me, Dr. Chloe Carmichael, on today's episode of the High-Functioning Hotspot. High-functioning people do usually like to put their best foot forward, in psychology we call that Impression Management. And it is true that when we look and sound our best, that's when we come across and make our very best impression on people. So why not do ourselves a favor and make sure that we got Zoom put together nicely for ourselves. As a psychologist, one other benefit I would say about that is that when we're looking at ourselves on camera, which you are in Zoom, you usually see yourself as well. It actually boosts your own mood and you feel better and more confident when you see a nicely lit version of yourself on screen and it's looking good and feeling good to you. I think that's much better than when you see kind of a dark, shadowy image of yourself, or maybe you're not really looking your best.
[00:25:26] I don't mean to say we have to look our very best. It's not a beauty contest. But we at least do want to make sure that we look poised and professional, and like we're really focused on the meeting so that we can put our best foot forward. So thanks again, everyone for joining me. And I hope to see you either at the next episode, or you can catch me on YouTube.
[00:25:45] If you like watching these types of videos. I have all of my, not all of them, but a lot of my blogs made a video log in my YouTube channel. So you can go there or I'm all over social media or by all means you can pre-order my book, Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety through Amazon.
[00:26:02] Or if you happen to be single, my book, Dr. Chloe’s 10 Commandments of Dating is already available through audio as well. Some people have even said that they found the book helpful for other types of relationships too, because it's just a lot of guidance about how to have good boundaries in your relationships. Either way it's great to see you. Thanks so much for joining today's episode and have a great rest of the day.
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