This week’s Marketer to Marketer (M2M) blog features Jean Ban, CBD’s Executive Vice President and leader of the agency’s award-winning PR, content and social media professionals. With a strong foundation in the field of communications, Jean has an in-depth understanding of what it takes to lead her team, and her clients, into the spotlight.
At first glance, Jean Ban’s career track seems full of twists and turns, with her transition from journalism to corporate communications to agency account services — eventually leading to her current position at CBD.
Nonetheless, it is clear that her diverse work background has prepared her for just about any challenge that comes her way as head of the agency’s PR and social media department.
Q&A with Jean Ban
What do you think is the most important aspect of leading the PR team?
Coaching and training are high on my priority list. Part of my job is making sure that the team is up-to-date on new tools and technologies that are impacting the industry. We have to engage in the best practices, whether that’s for media relations, the wide variety of writing we do, social media engagements, or even our results reporting. Ensuring that PR KPIs are aligned with our clients’ business objectives is key, as is embedding measurement and analytics in everything we do.
How would you best describe your leadership style?
I like to think that I lead with a collaborative focus — more like a counselor, especially for our experienced managers. For our younger team, I might be a bit directive only because they are still building skills and needing specific advice. Overall, I always try to be helpful and act in the CBD way, which is all about building each other up.
Have you ever had to deal with a client situation that involved crisis communications? What did you do to resolve it?
At CBD, we’re more about preemptive planning and avoiding potential issues before they arise rather than after, when it’s often too late. For instance, we were recently asked to prepare a crisis plan for one of our largest clients, with the aim of avoiding any misconception about the safety of their products. We’re about to start another very similar engagement for a professional services client. When preparing these plans, we build out the various scenarios that could happen in a crisis situation, then provide messaging and action plans related to those scenarios.
In your opinion, what is a critical trait that a successful PR professional must have?
Curiosity and diligence. Curiosity [is critical] in that you have to stay up-to-date on what’s happening with clients, their competitors and their industry. Having that foundational knowledge helps you take full advantage of PR and other opportunities. Also, you need to stay curious about our profession. It changes all the time, whether it’s through new tools, new ways to create and publish content, or new sources and resources to tell our stories. Diligence [is critical] in that you need to stick with it — that whole “bulldog reporter” thing.
What is one of the most common PR blunders you’ve witnessed in the industry? Any recurring mistakes?
I think the biggest blunders occur when companies have their head in the sand. In other words, they don’t want to admit or address unpleasant facts to the public. It’s almost always better to have a measured response to negative publicity than to say nothing — especially in crisis situations. Hence, our clients wanting those proactive crisis plans I talked about earlier. It’s better to be prepared because negative things happen at some point to every company.
Another common mistake is when companies think they can only talk about themselves in boastful and chest-pounding ways. When that happens, they lose credibility and it’s tiresome. A good reporter spots it immediately — at which point you’ve lost their respect and their availability to you as a resource.
What advice would you offer to PR professionals looking to make a bigger impact in the field?
There are a few key takeaways for those who want to succeed in the PR field:
- You need to be a good writer. In most areas of PR, solid writing and editing skills are very important. There is still value in learning basic news-style writing and editing using AP Style.
- You have to stay abreast of the industry best practices. The PR industry is always changing, so you have to stay on top of the latest trends, opportunities and potential issues in order to be successful. That includes social media as a channel and the role of self-published or distributed content.
- It’s technology-forward. So, learn everything you can about digital trends and the many digital tools that PR professionals now rely on to do their jobs.
Last but not least, what is meaningful to you outside of your leadership role at CBD?
Of course, I cherish spending time with my friends and family. I love to cook and entertain. But aside from that, I also enjoy volunteering. Through my church, I’m on a team that cooks and serves dinners to homeless folks at Catholic Charities’ downtown location.
Want to learn more about Jean Ban? Follow her on Twitter @jeantban for tips on successful account management. Next up in the M2M series, we’ll be featuring CBD’s Director of Integrated Media and Analytics, Christine Kubisztal.