This interview of John Cook by Michelle Tennant Nicholson originally appeared on Medium.
Have you seen the show Flack? Ever think of pursuing a real-life career in PR? What does it take to succeed in PR? What are the different forms of Public Relations? Do you have to have a college degree in PR? How can you create a highly lucrative career in PR? In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” we are talking to successful publicists and Public Relations pros, who can share stories and insights from their experiences.
As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing John Cook.
John Cook is a co-founder and Managing Partner at Rally Point Public Relations. John has built PR campaigns and full-spectrum marketing strategies across North and South America, Asia, and Europe; his industry experience includes financial services, technology and cryptocurrencies. John started his career in journalism, where he worked as an editor at NBC News, a producer at CNBC Asia in Singapore, and was on Maria Bartiromo’s team at CNBC HQ.
Launching Rally Point wasn’t an obvious path for me when I started my career. In fact, I had never worked at a PR agency until I founded my own. I started as a journalist — first as a researcher and assignment editor at NBC News, then to an Assistant Producer role at CNBC Asia in Singapore and finally back to CNBC in the U.S. as a segment producer. I gained so much valuable experience from that part of my life — how to move quickly, learn on the fly, and operate under tight deadlines. I also got to know the importance of telling a good story. But I knew I couldn’t stay in media forever. After earning my MBA and spending time in management consulting, I reconnected with a former CNBC colleague, Dorian Langlais, and we knew we had to do something entrepreneurial.
The foundation of Rally Point was built on our experiences as journalists and we launched with a handful of clients who we had worked with as sources at CNBC. More than nine years later, we’ve built a great team and worked with incredible clients.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
As an agency, we’re always looking for emerging businesses and industries. Whether it’s cutting-edge AI or being on the forefront of Web3, this is where we live. More recently, my co-founder (Dorian Langlais) launched a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) practice and we’re making a meaningful difference in advancing diversity initiatives in several large companies.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Ambition, transparency and empathy are three traits that underpin my philosophy on leadership. In terms of ambition, I’ve always taken calculated risks when they make sense. The firm has taken on projects that stretched our abilities or pushed into new industries without having an extensive background — but that builds a foundation for future success.
Transparency is important for both client relations and our team — it builds trust even when the truth isn’t always positive news. Finally, empathy is at the core of understanding what my team needs, what my clients need, and what any other stakeholder (like the media) may need. If you can’t understand another person’s perspective, you’ll never be able to achieve mutual goals.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you help articulate what the different forms of PR are?
PR is difficult to pin down. Is it media relations? Is it crisis communications? What exactly does all that mean? At Rally Point, we stress the concept of “integrated storytelling”. In other words, it’s not enough to simply pitch an idea to the press. Every single idea should represent a branching set of opportunities through owned and earned media channels (and each concept has a different set of storytelling options.) For example, a Web3 client may have a particular take on the crypto market downturn. First we sharpen that idea, then develop it into a targeted media pitch, an opinion piece for an outlet, LinkedIn or a blog, and additional content for owned channels like a newsletter.
Where should a young person considering a career in PR start their education? Should they get a degree in communications? A degree in journalism? Can you explain what you mean?
I don’t find that any one degree in a communications-adjacent field is a deciding factor in hiring. Instead, it’s more important to get hands-on experience with internships in as many industries as possible. I also think that anyone considering a PR career should at least have a minor in business. Understanding business strategy is a core part of what we do as communications professionals and you must speak the industry language of your clients as well as journalists covering them.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
First, you have to find the method of networking that works best for you. Enjoy working the room at a cocktail hour? Go for it. Prefer to chat people up at a tradeshow? Great. Neither of those methods are where I excel personally. I prefer to have one-on-one conversations in a number of settings — in-person, over the phone or on a video call. I find that I’m best when I can dig deep rather than a brief conversation.
Second, be persistent. If someone doesn’t reply, don’t give up after the first try. It’s critical that networking is a regular part of your workday.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Business development has to happen across all channels. Referrals are always the best, but there has to be significant work put into relentless networking to keep contacts warm and engaged. Social media, email marketing and newsletters, awards, and doing your own PR are all musts for generating quality leads.
Also, it’s a group effort! We make sure that the entire Rally Point team is part of the business development process so that we’re using our collective network to its fullest potential.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Public Relations Pro” and why.
- Learn Your Industries — Focus less on being a “PR person” and more on understanding how the industries you represent actually work. Are you in health and wellness PR? Dig into the drivers of how organizations are influencing health lifestyles. Working with heavy industry? Immerse yourself in commodity markets and supply chain issues.
- Stay Current — News and information move at a lightning fast pace. It’s up to every PR pro to be an information sponge. Soak it all in, live it and breathe it, and make sure you always know the latest developments.
- Client Service is Paramount — This covers a range of attitudes and activities, but you must understand the world the way your client does. What drives them? What’s important to them? After you understand that perspective, a successful PR pro is responsive to clients needs and constantly communicates clearly.
- Always Be Proactive — Our industry is one that runs on ideas. Step up and share — anyone in a senior leadership role will be grateful for your input, no matter how junior you are.
- Take Risks — Don’t be afraid to push yourself by taking on different types of clients, living or working in new geographies and trying a range of different industries. Each step along the way will build a better career.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We’re already working on it! We’ve developed and are actively executing a public commitment to increase the number of diverse spokespeople in the media. Media has long struggled with diversity and we think that we can make a meaningful difference as an organization by cultivating underrepresented voices.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
About the Interviewer: Inspired by the father of PR, Edward Bernays (who was also Sigmund Freud’s nephew), Michelle Tennant Nicholson researches marketing, mental injury, and what it takes for optimal human development. An award-winning writer and publicist, she’s seen PR transition from typewriters to Twitter. Michelle co-founded WasabiPublicity.com.
Want to chat with John? We’re happy to offer a 30-minute PR introductory call at this link https://calendly.com/jcrp