CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

Q: I was hired six weeks ago as the new PR director of a large

insurance company. So far, I love my job, but I am having trouble with

the PR agency that was retained before I started. The firm's ideas are

stale. The staff is inexperienced. I would love to dump them, but they

were only hired six months ago and I don't want to appear presumptuous.

What should I do?



Mr. L, Hartford, CT



A: Let's not get ahead of ourselves. You may be a hotshot, but I doubt

seriously that in six weeks you have mastered all the challenges that

come with your new job. Tis a wee bit early for you to roll in and start

catapulting agencies. If you don't agree with me, then you may be a bit

fuzzy on the correct procedure for starting a new senior role.



First, give yourself a few weeks to do a personal, informal audit of the

department's staff, vendors, media relationships and publications.



Next, set up a meeting with the CEO and keep your little mouth shut. Let

the CEO tell you what the company's priorities are and how PR fits into

the strategic plan. Then, and only then, can you start redesigning your

department, including agency relationships.



Q: I was assigned to work on an account last year for a new technology

product. At first, I was really excited. The product seemed innovative,

and the company had found an unexplored niche in the marketplace. But I

was wrong. The product is a dud. We are two months away from launch and

I know the trade press is going to rip us apart for trying to market

this piece of junk. How can I preserve my reputation with the media, and

keep my self-respect?



Ms. J, San Francisco



A: My poor dumpling. I know it galls you to promote the non-existent

merits of a useless product to your media contacts. Obviously you can't

offer up the press kit with one hand while keeping your fingers crossed

with the other.



But the press will forgive you if you don't hide. This is good advice

for your client as well, because the company stands to lose the most if

bad coverage now means all its subsequent products will be ignored.



When reporters call baying for blood, pick up the phone, smile and

answer all their questions as fully and frankly as possible. Convince

the company's executives to answer questions directly, no matter how

brutal. If you can pull this off, your reporter contacts will have more

respect for you and will trust that you won't leave them hanging when

they need answers.



Q: I went to journalism school but ended up working in PR. My journalist

friends make fun of my job, but I really like it. I have a lot of

responsibility, it is a really demanding career and I meet incredible

people. What should I say to my friends when they call me a "flack"?



Ms. B, New York



A: My, my, how very 5th grade! My advice would be to discard your

"journalist friends," along with the empty beer bottles and leaky ball

point pens that are so much a part of their trade. (Sorry, that was

wicked. No recess for me!)



Barring that, feel free to employ the wisdom of my grandfather Hugo, who

was a famed PR man in his native Canada. This pithy rejoinder withered

the rhetoric of many a sneering hack. "Yes I am a flack," Hugo would

affirm.



"But you are an idiot. Don't come crying to me when everyone else

figures that out."



- Got a problem that no one else can help with? Try Pandora. E-mail her

at pandora@ prweek.com.



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