A few years ago I was writing a story about old-time radio for the Chicago Tribune. One of my most useful sources was Sean Dougherty. He got me in touch with the right people, understand my deadline, and simply came through at every turn. By the way, this was when I was doing a lot of freelance work but never mixing that with my publicity work (perhaps the topic of a future post?).
At any rate, Sean touched base a few weeks ago and I explained that I wasn’t doing a lot freelance work right now, but maybe he’d be interested in doing a Q&A regarding his work with The Friends of Old-Time Radio. Not only did he agree to the interview, but he also revealed that his publicity work for the group is conducted purely on a volunteer basis as in pro bono, free, no strings attached, out of the goodness of his heart, etc. My hero. You should know that Sean also is group vice president of MWW Group so he keeps himself fairly busy. Here’s the final part of my email conversation with Sean. Many thanks to Sean for participating.
Leslie: As a PR exec in general, where do you see the field going?
Sean: This is definitely the most turbulent period I’ve seen in my almost-20 years in the field in terms of how what you need to know is changing. Most of the playbooks we grew up with have been upended by the Internet, 24/7 news cycle and the decline of both newspapers and television news. That said, most of the people I work with at MWW Group are embracing the change and seeing the opportunity in having so many venues to generate attention and so many new ways for a story to take off if you position it properly for launch. There will always be a place in the profession for someone who understands news and how to frame a story in a way that is compelling to the writer. Keep in mind also that some of the “new” media causing all the fuss are still produced by traditional journalists like Jeff Jarvis or the former Washington Post reporters who founded The Politico. Also, as someone who is primarily a corporate publicist, the impact of the national business media on how business news is reported and perceived is still strong. The Wall Street Journal and its peers still have a disproportionate impact in driving business perception. There really isn’t an Engadget or Gizmodo of business news yet. I love newspapers, so I hope they figure out a way to transition their business models to online and still preserve what they do well.
Leslie: If you were to advise someone interested in entering the PR field, what would your top three pieces of advice?
Sean: Soak up as much experience as you can, as fast as you can. Volunteer for the tough assignments and work the hours. That’s how you build your skill set to prepare for a changing workplace and its also how you discover what about the business is your passion.
Make a commitment to read a major news source every day. Nothing makes you an expert on media relations faster than actually seeing on a daily basis how top publications put their stories together. My WSJ hit for The Friends of Old Time Radio is a perfect example. I never would have found Jeff by researching reporters in a database or even by searching for radio-related topics in the newspaper. The only reason I knew to pitch him that story is because I had read his column when I had no professional reason to do so. He did a second story with me for a paying client, The Christopher Reeve Foundation, right after FOTR, so even though the reason I contacted him initially was for my hobby that connection also paid off for my professional work.
Use your knowledge of social media to start building a professional network right away. Whether on Facebook, LinkedIn or the next new think, get yourself online and connect with as many professionals as possible. There is a great opportunity for the young to network faster and more effectively now than there has ever been and I can tell you the industry is and always will be hungry for talented, driven people. Help us find you.