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At this year’s Publicity Club Bell Ringer Awards, SHIFT Account Director Matt Trocchio was honored by the New England PR community as PR Practitioner of the Year. In this part 3 of 4 in our interview series, we talk about what’s working, mistakes made along the way, and 10 years of change.

SHIFT: What tip or trick in your toolbox consistently delivers great results for your team’s efforts, or what recipe is consistently successful? You already mentioned talking to the right people.

Matt: This is one of those things where if I give away the recipe, then the chef is out of a job, so I won’t give away too much. I will share from the time I was an AC to now the most success that I’ve had on the editorial front is really just tying my pitch into something with a broader audience. I’ve always had a lot of success trying to tie things to big movies or TV shows; pop culture never goes away no matter what industry you’re in. That’s the one thing I’ll give away, the rest of the recipe stays locked in the box.

SHIFT: What would you say in your personal career from an Account Coordinator to today has been your greatest career success?

Matt: I was asked this once before and I remember saying “you know,” I think this was a back a couple years ago and I wasn’t yet thirty, “you know, if I had my greatest career success before thirty, I have a long and boring life ahead of me.” Now I’m 33 and I still feel the same way. But, there’s a lot of things that I’m proud of.

SHIFT: What about successes to date?

Matt: There are still a lot of things I’m proud of. From a client standpoint we worked very hard, I will say, with the Christian Science Monitor with their centennial and with their news about slowing down their print model and focusing everything online. And that to me was unique, just because you were taking a story about journalist and pitching it to other journalists and that was a huge win in terms of the amount of coverage and how happy the client was in a very tactful scale. That I was always proud of.

Personally, what I’m proud of when I look back from AC (Account Coordinator) to AD (Account Director) now, in the span of 10 years I’ve stayed at one place that I’m really happy with, and I’ve worked hard at. The reality is, at the end of the day what I’m really impressed by, and I know I’m stuttering over myself here, is that I’ve grown a team of 12 people. I remember sitting as an AE (Account Executive) one day on a 1-on-1 with Todd Defren and saying “you know, in 5-6 years I’d love to be an AM (Account Manager) with a team of 2 or 3,” and I remember him kind of teasing me “that seems like an aggressive goal,” and now I can look at the 10 year mark, I’m managing 12 people with full account loads and, you know, that’s the aspect I love that you can actually work with the team and grow it. That’s what I’m proud of, the team I built and the people I work with daily.

SHIFT: You have a new AC on board who looks at your success over 10 years and says, “I want to do that.” What mistakes and mis-steps did you make on your way to the top that you would tell them “don’t step in that pot hole, avoid these things that I did wrong”?

Matt: So I mentioned one earlier which was falling into the habit of thinking all snowflakes are the same. One thing I would say is make sure you look at every person’s situation differently. I think you can learn from the past but it’s not always going to be the same way every time. I would also, on that same vein, caution yourself to be “well, we can’t do X because client Y will just say no.” I think that’s the biggest piece of advice that it took myself, it was the hardest thing to get over with time.

Our job is to push the client and our job is to always remain creative. I think it’s very easy to fall into “well they always say no, so don’t bother.” That doesn’t help the client. That doesn’t help you learn to grow either, because otherwise you grow very stale and you do the same thing. If you’re doing the same thing every day you probably hate your life, and your client isn’t very impressed with their program.

SHIFT: What do you wish that people outside the PR profession understood most about PR? On the outside looking in they’re like “uh… what do you do again?”

Matt: That’s the answer. I wish people just really knew what we did. I think it’s very funny how many people, even now, equate it to advertising. Because I’ve had friends that I’ve known since high school or elementary that will still be hanging out and they’ll see a commercial and say, “Hey, if you ever make a commercial like that I’d smack you,” and I say, “Well, if I made a commercial like that I’d be in a different industry.”

I think it’s difficult for people to grasp what we do. I think the communication fields – with the adoption of social media – tends to get a little easier for people to understand what you’re doing. Then again, whereas PR’s been blurred with advertising, I think when you say you’re helping people on social sometimes they bleed too much into the customer service realm and they don’t quite understand what you do. Going back to the cobbler comment maybe we need to do a better job in explaining to people what it is we do.

SHIFT: What do you think PR professionals need to learn the most from the world outside PR?

Matt: I think the answer holds true to probably every industry. I think we probably look at it too much through our own lens and might say “this is wrong” or “that’s wrong” or think about it a different way. “That’s wrong” is the silliest thing you could possibly say, because we all come at it from different angles because we all have different skill sets and different priorities. I suppose the thing I would recommend is to listen to everyone else and just see what the middle ground is.

SHIFT: What other things besides the aforementioned have contributed to your success in the last 10 years that have earned you this well-deserved award?

Matt: I’d say there are two things that I’d attribute to success. One is – I always say this to people when I interview them without it sounding like I’m reading from a brochure – the ability to work hard and play hard. I think you can get very lost in the job and taking it seriously; you should take it seriously – there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it and you have clients that have expectations – but I think what’s helped me the most over time is being able to stop and laugh with peers, or joke around with something, or pull a prank, or walk into my office and see it’s been covered with Nick Cage photos – because a colleague did this to me – that does make a difference. It does make you see the world in a more positive light and it also helps you stay creative with the pitches you’re trying to do.

I’d also say use every person you work with as a resource. I don’t mean that in a negative ‘you’re taking advantage of them’ way, but you have so much brain power around you at an agency that if you don’t pick your head up and talk to people and learn from them it’s the biggest waste that you could have. I think a big part of why I’ve grown, and why I’ve succeeded, is because we have a wealth of talent, not just at a VP level, but all the way down to AC and even intern level. As interns might come to us and try to learn the overall industry, you can still learn from folks and what they’re taking out of school. You can learn from everybody just as much as they can learn from you, and I think that’s the biggest take away you can have. Make sure you tap into everybody. I know there are three or four VPs that I kind of consider key mentors in different areas for their peer groups that do that across all three offices. Just never stop learning.

SHIFT: Where do you see the profession going in the next 5 – 10 years?

Matt: You know, I actually had an AC candidate ask me this pretty recently, and I remember thinking it’s a great question, just because we do change so rapidly. And I’m probably the only person who thinks this, but I wonder with all of the advancements of technology and how much, as we said earlier, is put out there and how much you’re in the limelight I wonder if there’ll be almost a regression to how much will go back behind the scenes. Does face time versus social become important again? Is it more video, even if it’s just video because it’s the visual connection vs. the anonymity of twitter or different web pages? I really don’t know. I wish I did, because then I’d be making a lot of money getting ahead of things, but these are the things I think of. As much as we advance, how much of the older ways of doing things will sneak back up in a different format, if that makes sense.

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