PRWeek.com Q&A: Ed Skyler, NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg's press secretary

In his short career, Ed Skyler, 31, has worked for two NYC mayors, Michael Bloomberg and Rudolph Giuliani, and Bloomberg Media.

In his short career, Ed Skyler, 31, has worked for two NYC mayors, Michael Bloomberg and Rudolph Giuliani, and Bloomberg Media.

In his current role as Mayor Bloomberg's press secretary, Skyler is often cited for the protection of his boss and his tenacity in dealing with the media. Skyler talked to PRWeek.com about his early aspirations, his relationship with the NYC press corp and the city's plans for the upcoming Republican convention. Q: You went from working in Rudy Giuliani's mayoral administration to working for Bloomberg at his company, Bloomberg Media, and back to politics with Mayor Bloomberg. Do you see any major differences and similarities between politics and business communications? A: I think the main difference is the pace. News is breaking in government all the time. The situations pop up unexpectedly. It's much less so in the private sector, where it's more strategic and more planned out. You might be working on an event or some sort of announcement for a couple months. In government, you're doing announcements sometimes twice a day, so you have more resources at your disposal but the pace is fast and furious. Q: Do you think that that pace leads to being better equipped to handle whatever may come in the public sector? A: There are a lot of excellent PR people who are drawn to the public sector because of the wide range of issues that they can deal with, from public safety to healthcare to the economy and economic development to housing, labor relations and union issues. Part of it is the pace and part of it is the exposure to different [communities]. It's good training for any industry; there are very few industries that you don't come into contact with while working in government. Q: I was reading a Mediabistro.com Q&A where you said that when you started working for Bloomberg Media, you had no idea that Bloomberg would be running for mayor. So was that just a good opportunity for you or were you contemplating giving business communications a shot? A: I thought that Bloomberg was -- and is -- a young and rapidly growing company. I was interested in learning more about finance and economics, and I thought that that was the perfect place to go. I had some [financial knowledge], but it was in the public sector of finance, but not in the private sector. I don't even think that I knew he was considering running, just that one of my friends knew it was a possibility and mentioned it to me because he thought that was why I was going there. I was just going there because I thought it was an exciting place to work with a lot of young energetic people; the company had been very successful and it was an opportunity to learn a lot more about an industry that I was interested in. I felt like I had a great five years in government and it was time to try something new and different. Q: Much as been made of the mayor's somewhat contentious relationship with the New York City press corp. How do you feel about them and have recent journalistic scandals especially with what is considered the "flagship" of the New York media, i.e. The New York Times, changed your opinion or how you see your role at all? A: None of the scandals have changed my opinion, because when you deal with the press up close day-to-day, they are susceptible to the same breakdowns and failures that any industry or government institution is. So I might have been surprised by the scope of some of it but I don't think I was surprise by the nature of it. There are people in any industry who are not going to act honestly or in good conscience. That's just a fact of life. The New York City press corp is aggressive and demands more of its mayors than any other press corp in the world demands of any elected officials. I don't know any elected official in the country at the mayor's level or above that basically demands daily press conferences. The president has a press conference every couple months. We have formal press conferences and then we'll have shorter Q&A's. Governors don't have daily press conferences. In New York, it's almost tradition and there's a whole press corp that basically depends on the mayor's office to get its news out of. That requires a balancing act of management and scheduling to essentially 'feed the beast.' Q: If you were to go to a smaller market and handle the same duties, would you miss the frantic pace? A: I think so. Some of us thrive on it and enjoy it. I think at times it becomes a little much, and need to take a breather, but I can't imagine working anywhere but New York City. It is the most exciting and fun city that I've ever been to. Q: Do you feel at all that journalists react to you differently than they might someone who had a previous life as a journalist? Does that it really affects your job at all? A: I don't feel like it affects my job. I always felt that that was bizarre - there was a bizarre judgment that some reporters come to that they believed your press secretary or public relations people need to have been journalists in the past. I don't think less of any reporter that didn't do public relations work. I'm sure it provides valuable insights into how reporters do their jobs. I think if you pay attention and have an open mind, you learn what real reporters go through and what you need to do to help them do their jobs. I don't think I'm at any disadvantage for not having that experience. I'm not saying it wouldn't be valuable, but I don't think it should be a requirement. Q: It seems that PR professionals can either be faced with a client who accedes to the total direction of their press handler or a client who takes communications into his or her own hands. The mayor seems to be from the later group. What you would you advise to those that have a client that, when sometimes they want to communicate something, communicates it without consultation? A: Stay on your toes. The advantage that I have working with Mayor Bloomberg is that he is his own person and he doesn't owe anybody anything and he's not a career politician. There are people in politics that have been doing it all their lives and just want to take the easy way out and not upset anybody. I think the mayor bring an honesty to it and is realistic and not phony. I guess that creates certain challenges for him because he's a straight shooter and tells people like it is. I think also earns him credibility and the public trust, which is invaluable. So I think 'telling them like it is' and being honest are valuable traits, and anybody that is working for someone who exhibits those traits should see it as an advantage. Q: A situation that came up recently that I thought was really interesting that the mayor talked to some of the protesting firefighters in a normal conversation about the differences that they see. Was that something that made you a bit nervous? How do you feel that small situation went over? A: He's not a person who runs away from problems and he doesn't run away from confrontations. People are striking on the steps of City Hall all the time and he talks to them. He deals with people respectfully and directly. As long as people just aren't throwing eggs, he is happy to talk to anybody and hear them out and explain where he is coming from. I think he comes from a world where people do that, where people express the way they feel and lay out their position and they try to find a common ground. Sometimes, in politics, it's just bomb throwing and no listening. Q: The mayor came into a situation where the city had financial issues to say the least, and I think that the public sometimes is a bit wary of someone who comes from a business background and someone that is affluent. Do you feel that the mayor by taking a dollar-a-year salary and other things, has communicated the message that this is something he is doing because he believes in this city and that he's taking the cuts that he needs to do for himself to see the city on the right track? A: If you look at any poll, people believe he's honesty and trust-worth. That means they trust what he's saying and that he's doing things for the right reasons. They may not agree with what he's doing or they may object or would prefer different solutions. But they know that his heart is in the right place. I think that means that New Yorkers appreciate the fact that this is somebody that who has sought this job because he wants to help, not to stoke his own ego or his own financial standing. But he's done it and he loves doing it because he wants to help a city that has been good to him and that he loves. And I think that people understand that. Q: The mayor is characterized as a private person. Do you think that has changed the way at all that journalists react to him or pursue stories or is it something that has changed over time? A: I think he's had to adjust to becoming a public official. He was 59 years old when he became mayor and he never had to deal with press scrutiny that he dealt with as a candidate as a public official and as an elected official. He's adjusted to it and understands that now he is someone that people want to know about, be it professionally or personally. He protects his personal life; a lot of elected officials do. I think we hear a lot about President Clinton and President Bush shielding their children from the media and I think every elected official draws some sort of line between their personal life and their professional life. Q: With the Republican convention coming up, is the city going to do anything different communications-wise to handle whatever may come from that? A: We will be setting up an information center with the federal and state governments to make sure that we provide the most up-to-date information to the media. We will have people at the convention helping the media cover the city. Everyday in New York City, we are on our toes and we know that anything can happen here and we are always prepared. Q: As far as the mayor's office is concerned, the communications will handle just as it pertains to the city? A: Yes, the Republican National Convention has a press operation to put up messages for the convention. That's the way it should be. And the host committee or the mayor's office through City Hall will put out the message to how the city is functioning and if there are any traffic jams, where they are, and how people should avoid them, or what transportation they should take or where protests and street closures are, and the variety of things that occur when there is a big event. And the mayor will be out enjoying the city, enjoying this great week, which is going to be a $200 million shot in the arm for the city's economy. It's usually a slow time in the summer, but we'll now be selling New York to the world. Q: Do you foresee that the upcoming election will affect your job? A: No. There are always events and there are other state elections and national elections, there is other news; there are different things that might be more relevant that come in and out of our spheres but you know that's the way it always is. Q: What advice would you give some who is looking to make the transition from business comms or even NGO comms to government comms? Is there any sort of preparation a person should think about while still at their current position? A: Look before you leap. Government is complicated. Sometimes you get are differing stories from differing parts of government that you need to reconcile. Play devil's advocate so that you understand the pros and cons of any argument you need to make. Remember that unfortunately or fortunately the press is suspicious of government officials and you need to take that into account. Just because you say something doesn't mean that the media is going to write as fact. You need to support it, and you need to support your position. If you need to make an argument about something, make sure you can back it up with the facts to prove it.

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