Alumni Spotlight: Joe Perri, Vice-President MWW Public Relations

You can’t miss the New Jersey office of MWW Public Relations It’s the big building on Route 3, the one opposite Metlife Stadium.   As one of the industry’s elite PR firms, it’s noteworthy when someone is promoted to the vice-president level at the prestigious company.  Earlier this fall, 2008 Montclair State graduate, Joe Perri was named one of MWW’s newest vice presidents.

Joe received his degree in Communication Studies with a concentration in public relations.  And, he jumped right into his PR career directly out of school, thanks to an internship with Coyne PR during the last semester of his senior year, which turned into a job with the agency as an account executive.  Joe worked with the Parsippany based firm until November 2012 when he moved over to MWW as a senior account executive.  During his so far five-year stint with MWW, Joe has climbed the PR ladder, becoming an account supervisor, then account director, and, finally, vice-president.

Joe affirms the notion there’s no secret to his success except hard work.  “Like most people, I started out in an entry level role doing a lot of administrative and support work.  I learned a great deal from various people, and I brought those skills with me along my career.  I was committed to doing hard work and showing my employer I wasn’t afraid of doing whatever task they assigned me – from getting media coverage for a client to filing magazines.”

Perri cautions against impatience.  “It can get tedious.  You feel as though you aren’t making an impact, but as you grow, and I can honestly say this as it relates to my own personal experience, you learn how crucial those junior roles are in various ways. Having junior staff that can compile media lists, are organized, detail oriented and driven makes everything else run smoother and is the foundation to any great PR campaign.”

Throughout his career, Joe has performed public relations in a number industries, including automotive, vitamins, health and wellness, children and juvenile, and food and beverage, to name a few.  “Each industry and each client come with their own needs and challenges. At an agency, you don’t always get to work just on one account or even one industry at a time, so being able to balance the needs of several clients and adapt to how different industries speak, the different messages, target media, etc. can be tough, but it also allows for PR people to expand their knowledge and skills to become more well-rounded and prepared for the next new client.”

Perri thinks back fondly on some more memorable moments, such as driving cars he would never be able to afford at speeds that his mother would not be pleased about.  He’s been to dozens of states, two different countries, worked in London, “wrangled” celebrities and athletes, built stages and signs, had everything go wrong and then everything go right during events, won awards and met or worked with hundreds of terrific people. As Joe puts it, “It has truly been an amazing experience.”

Perri acknowledges his Montclair education was foundational to his public relations success. “There are several aspects of my Montclair State education that helped me in my career.  Most important was the encouragement to have an internship. It is an extremely competitive field, especially starting out, and without having my internship (which became my first full-time job), I don’t know where I would be now. Second, Montclair does more than just teach you what you should or will be doing in PR, they make you do it. This is not an industry that you can just learn how to do from reading a book, you need to get your hands dirty and learn from the experience. Third, having professors that worked in the field and know how it works from their personal experience allowed for more real-life examples and expertise. Lastly, and this wasn’t necessarily part of any curriculum but, I grew my ability to speak to anyone while at Montclair. The Communication department was very tight knit, but we had a lot of students with a lot of different personalities from all walks of life. A huge part of PR is relationship building, and being a part of that department allowed me meet and become friends with so many different people and this has become the bedrock of my career.”

Even though Perri graduated from MSU in 2008, in the world of public relations 10 years can be epochal.  “When I first started in PR, social media was just for college kids (you could only be on Facebook with a college email address and Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat weren’t around – now I feel old) and print media was king. Many media outlets didn’t have websites and if they did, they were low-budget and weren’t frequently updated. Now, social media rules the world – literally – and countless print outlets are now gone forever. Editorial staffs were cut and contributors became the norm. Being able to find the right reporter and build relationships became even more crucial and that much harder. Above all else, the role of PR changed for companies. Today, it isn’t just about generating coverage for brands, even though that is an important part, it’s about spreading their message wherever possible, whether it is driving their social channels, creating compelling content that lives online or working with influencers to spread online word of mouth, PR needs to own all their communication.”

The constant dynamism in the public relations world demands ongoing training, and Perri knows there’s no such thing as resting on one’s laurels.  He is member of PRSA and regularly attends seminars, workshops, and networking events to make sure his skills remain sharp.  “My agency conducts workshops and courses regularly on emerging topics. I also am lucky enough to work with some really smart people both at my agency and as clients.

No spotlight story on a public relations pro is complete without a memorable recollection.  Joe recalls, “One experience that sticks our as memorable was the in fall of 2011 – you may know the time I am speaking about – Snowtober. We had a freak snowstorm in late October and I was supposed to be heading to LA for an event. We made it to the airport just in time for all flights to be cancelled, but were now stranded there. We rebooked to the first flight the next day, managed a ride home for the night where we were met with no heat or power. After heading to the airport at the crack of dawn and 15 hours in the airport due to delays, we finally made it to LA only to have to rush to a fancy dinner (wearing the same clothes we wore for two days). The next day, we set on the next step of the event – a drive from LA to Las Vegas. We were trailing reporters as they drove expensive cars through the desert and as we pulled out of the parking lot, my colleague leaned out the window to take photos and was nearly decapitated by a passing bus. Needless to say – it was a stressful and draining trip, but it ended with fantastic results for our client and a story I never get tired of telling.”

Perri has an interesting take on the kinds of skills students should master. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions! It is something I tell any person that works for me. I would rather you ask a ton of questions and learn so you can do something right the first time than not ask anything and give me something that is a mess. Work hard no matter the task. Media monitoring and research can be painstaking and boring - I get it, I did it too – but being able to do any task well builds a work ethic that will be even more important as you grow and move up. Manage your own expectations; not every day is going to be attending swanky events and taking photos with celebs, there will be a lot of late nights, stress and frankly, bad days, but if you really enjoy PR, it gets paid off by seeing the fruit of your labor, or getting an amazing hit. There’s nothing like it.”

He finishes it all with this pearl of wisdom.  “Just remember that you don’t know it all. You should never be at a stage in your life, professional or personal, where you are too old or wise to learn something new. The people that continuously look to learn more are some of the smartest, most creative and best people I know.”