In my first year working in a public affairs firm I have used many tools acquired during my college education that have helped me to operate effectively as an entry-level communicator. Like reporters, public relations practitioners have to be resourceful in gathering information from clients and writing press releases that will make the news. Below are resources I use to help fill that dreaded white space:
• After reading all collateral from the client, including the client’s Web site, I try to interview the client, preferably at their organization, to get a feel for their business. Using the reporting skills I acquired in college, I probe for the answers to questions that may lead me to the real news within the story. Finally, I compile the information and create the story’s angle.
• I also research the client’s media history in a newspaper database service like Lexis-Nexis and read everything that has been written about them. Additionally, I ask the client if they have prior relationships with reporters. Previous clips may support the current story and can be highly useful.
• In addition to the client’s Web site and online newspaper databases, the Internet offers a variety of sources related to the client or to communication practices. Any given day I use the Internet in some way to research a specific topic for a client.
• One of the best online resources for entry-level practitioners is a Yahoo Group called Youngprpros.com (www.youngprpros.com) founded by Ian Lipner. This site offers a forum for entry-level communicators to meet and offer advice and support on various working topics.
• Consult the old college text book: I keep my public relations writing textbook handy for inspiration. It may not offer ideas for what to write for the specific client, but somehow I always find inspiration in this book.
• Ask fellow practitioners: When I have a question regarding general practices I will often ask someone who works in the field. Experienced practitioners can be a wealth of information and are generally available to share their experiences. I have had the opportunity to work for, as well as meet, some of the best mentors.
Preparing to fully understand a client requires several steps. With help from the client, as well as other online resources, a communicator can find the information necessary to educate and send the desired message.
Scott Winterroth is an account representative at Scofield Communications in Chicago.