Variety fuels local comms

In the fifth year of its Regional Forums, PRWeek is returning to cities it has previously visited, as well as adding a handful of new regions to the rotation.

In the fifth year of its Regional Forums, PRWeek is returning to cities it has previously visited, as well as adding a handful of new regions to the rotation.

For each event, leading PR pros from a variety of agencies, corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations take place in a roundtable discussion about the issues affecting them and their peers.
PRWeek's Erica Iacono and Ted McKenna were in Washington, DC for this year's fifth Regional Forum.

The Participants:
Don Bates, academic director, GWU's Graduate School of Political Management
Shonali Burke, VP of communications, ASPCA
Scott Krugman, VP of PR, National Retail Federation
Andy Linebaugh, director of PR, National Education Association
Mark Mansfield, director of public affairs, Central Intelligence Agency
David Mould, assistant administrator for public affairs, NASA
Torod Neptune, SVP and US public affairs practice leader, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide
Maria Rodriguez, president, Vanguard Communications
Allison May Rosen, head of Washington, DC operations, Chandler Chicco Agency
Elizabeth Shea, president and CEO, SpeakerBox Communications
Rob Tappan, MD and Washington market leader, Burson-Marsteller
Lon Walls, president, Walls Communications

Ted McKenna (PRWeek): How has communications in DC changed in the past 10 years or so? How would you describe the marketing DC now?

Allison May Rosen (Chandler Chicco Agency [CCA]): There was this notion, I think, that DC was this island over there and what happened within the Beltway stayed within the Beltway, and it was sort of a problem you had to take care of here and only here. Now, just like if something happens on Wall Street it happens on Main Street, if something happens on Pennsylvania Avenue or Capitol Hill, it happens on Wall Street, too. Reporters are covering it that way, clients are seeing it that way, and you can't really separate the two anymore.

Don Bates (George Washington University): I'll tell you one thing, I lived down here in the late ‘70s, and then there were probably a half a dozen PR firms and there were two or three people on their staff. Fast forward and look where it is today; it's grown enormously. Back then, you'd still get a lot of people in New York saying: ‘Who would want to be in DC? That's all politics.' It has grown and changed and evolved, but it is interesting that a lot of PR firms here do a lot of political work – campaign management, grassroots advocacy, public policy. So I think there are some distinctions. It's quite different from New York, where it's consumer, financial.

Shonali Burke (ASPCA): I'm the VP for professional development on IABC's board, and I've seen the perception that this is a town that only focuses on politics change in the type of audience we have for events. In the past three years that we've tried to grow IABC, we've tried to mix is up and not just make it all about healthcare or internal or government. I think there is a growing desire to grow out of the box, and certainly a lot of people in their 20s want to get away from, “Well I can only do healthcare” or “I can only do government.” That's what I've seen, a diversification.

Scott Krugman (National Retail Federation ): I'm celebrating my 10-year anniversary at NRF and I'm thinking what it was like in the beginning. We were a two-person shop and we're now a five-person shop, and that's not a tremendous increase, but it's more than double the allocation of PR for a trade association, and PR doesn't exactly bring in revenue. A lot of our focus 10 years ago was Capitol Hill; now a lot of our focus is thought leadership. By having a voice on issues like banking, we're giving our organization more credibility on Capitol Hill, and that makes our lobbyists' job easier. So it's just a greater awareness and appreciation for the value that PR is bringing day in and day out.

Torod Neptune (Waggener Edstrom Worldwide [WE]): I was thinking from the vantage of someone who's always been in the business of public affairs that the business of Washington is by and large the same, but what has changed is how influence happens or how you influence that business. I think a lot of that is driven by technology in some ways and how that has created more levers, because we all have the same bucket of tools we're trying to use today. For me the seminal difference is that the influence model has evolved, so what were our traditional influence tools 10 years ago have been added to pretty significantly by looking at the social new media and the way that people are influenced today, which has changed dramatically from 10 years ago, when we could all have done our job via fax and press release. Today that's no longer the case, given the social media construct.

Maria Rodriguez (Vanguard Communications): We are 20 years old, and when I think about what we did 20 years ago, I would say 100% of our business was media relations. It was all media relations, and that's what our clients came to us for. Now, it's far more of a broader, integrated marketing approach, looking for marketing, public education. That's the biggest shift I think.

Rosen (CCA): There are better measurement tools now, I think. You're better able to track specific programs, specific stakeholders on an engagements or issues — education or technology or otherwise -- that you know must have been successful, and literally track it, through spikes and valleys. There are new ways of looking at message penetration.

David Mould (NASA): Growth probably reflects what you see in the corporate side as well. Ten or 15 years ago, the PR department was a little group over there somewhere. Just as maybe with new measurement tools there's a way to track influence in stock prices, there's an influence you can measure on what the political leaders or the congressional delegations think of you. The PR guy's office is creeping closer and closer to the CEO's suite; I think staff size is growing in proximity to that. The larger business in all aspects in Washington has probably just reflected the growth as a whole.

McKenna (PRWeek): In the government, do you think agencies now appreciate PR more?

Mould (NASA): I do.

Elizabeth Shea (SpeakerBox Communications): You see a lot more spending toward it. We don't work with government agencies but I know from peers I've talked to that all of a sudden agencies that wanted to keep it quiet now want to promote their initiatives —at least around technology initiatives that they're endorsing — to validate what they're doing, how they spend their time.

Mould (NASA): Sometimes you'll see something in the paper on a branding effort by some government agency that you've never even heard of.

Rosen (CCA): There's so much more accountability and everybody's raising questions about where our tax dollars are going, who's spending what, so in using these tax dollars it's really important to show that we've reached these people, because that's what they told us to do.

Erica Iacono (PRWeek): Two years ago, there was a lot of news about the government and use of PR, with the Armstrong Williams scandal and the New York Times article about the use of VNRs by the government.. Do those issues still affect your work?

Mould (NASA): We're careful not to do things that might be perceived as crossing the line. I think that one thing that sets NASA apart from a lot of agencies is we don't have trouble getting media interest. Our triumphs are pretty well established and our mistakes are national tragedies quite often. But we do try to be very mindful of our reputation on the Hill, our reputation with the general public, and more and more our reputation with young people. Since the average age of our workforce is about 50 years old and not as many people are going into the scientific and technical disciplines that we'll need for the workforce of the future, and we're going to try to go to Mars in a couple of decades, we're working on our reputation with people who are kids now who will somehow be inspired to study the hard things so we will have the people to actually staff the agency when the time comes.

Mark Mansfield (CIA) At my agency, when Director Michael Hayden came in and was confirmed, he said the CIA should have a social contract with the American people, and there was nothing that was more important than having an open and honest relationship with the American people. One of the ways we do that, and it's affected all of our business, is Web-based communications. When the director gives a speech, what we'll be able to do is post it immediately on the Web, for anyone to access, as opposed to be subject to reportorial interpretation.

Rob Tappan (Burson-Marsteller): I worked for a time at the State Department, and if you go to the Web site, for instance, you'll see a lot of video that's clearly marked as coming from the State Department. You'll see a lot of live briefings or video of briefings that have taken place archived, and I really applaud the State Department for really trying to embrace a lot of new technologies. With regard to the workforce, it's the same in the State Department as it is in a lot of agencies. There is an aging workforce that is about to retire or close to retirement, and attracting young, vibrant, or second-career people who want to make a difference in government is a very important aspect of the way that the agencies relate to the general public.

McKenna (PRWeek): It's interesting how some agencies hire outside firms while others do a lot of the work in house, for example at the CIA.

Mansfield (CIA): Right, we do not hire PR firms. We do hire advertising agencies that help us in terms of our recruitment ads.

McKenna (PRWeek): But then at the NEA, it had worked with outside firms but then went in-house.

Andy Linebaugh (National Education Association [NEA]): I've been there four years and in the four years I've tripled the budget, I've tripled the staff. We've eliminated all outside agencies. What we've done is gone outside the Beltway. We're 150 years old. Now, we have some focus inside the Beltway; we have to do that. But we're spending a lot more outside; we're doing a lot more political communications outside the Beltway. We've had every debate covered with staff on the ground. We're doing event planning, targeting the social pages of the inside the Beltway publications. These are things we'd never thought to do. We have a huge branding program that's going on; the first time the NEA has done that. When I first got there, within weeks, Education secretary Rod Paige called us a terrorist organization. So we had to turn that around and try to disclaim that. One thing I've noticed at the NEA is that we're now part of the strategic decisionmaking. The advertising dollars we used to spend have shifted over to PR, so we've made an absolute shift to putting money on TV to doing things.

Krugman (NRF): Is part of that being able to measure PR, the success of it?

Linebaugh (NEA): For the first time in my career we actually had measureables, so it's actually pretty interesting to see if we can get there.

Iacono (PRWeek): How is the upcoming election affecting all your work?

Bates (GWU): I wrote an email to a bunch of agencies with exactly that question, and most of them came back and said it's the same in every election cycle: there tends to be a slowdown in money going to PR work in the final year because the money shifts to advertising. Then soon as the election is over, it jumps considerably; there's a considerable amount of new business.

Burke (ASPCA): I don't think it's going to affect my work. If you talk about animal rights, that's really not going to be affected.

McKenna (PRWeek): Does is it become difficult to get attention for things you're trying to promote?

Burke (ASPCA): I don't think it will because animal welfare itself is such a strange beast, no pun intended. Because the ASPCA is a privately funded organization, we don't get government grants or things like that. But when you look at the entire giving universe, animal welfare and the environment are only about 3.5% of giving in the US, so it's a really, really small piece. I would imagine that things like education, religion are things that are potentially more affected. In terms of the media noise, obviously there will be a lot more to “fight with,” but if it's a story about the first mobile animal CSI unit, how do you beat that?

Rodriguez (Vanguard): For us it just opens up incredible opportunities. There might be issues that are bubbling to the top, so it gives you that opportunity to position that voice around the election, around individual candidates. We have clients who come and say: “How do we get candidates to talk about this issue? We want our issue to be a platform issue.” Sometimes it's not one that's high up on the radar of candidates. That's been the case for every election cycle I've seen.

Rosen (CCA): The interesting thing is that groups or causes are getting smarter about using the milestones of the campaign and the seasons of the campaign to use them as leverage and awareness and breakthrough opportunities. So for example, the obesity issue: We're working with a group at GW, actually, that's put together a coalition of interested organizations who are thinking about obesity. Just last week they held a presidential forum to get the presidential candidates' healthcare representatives to come together and talk about the issues, about what the next president should do about this issue. It's not about reaching the new administration but about reaching the campaigns. It almost doesn't matter who wins as long as candidates help advance your message.

Neptune (WE): Another thing that's interesting is this growing prevalence of social issues that I think are a reflection of this changing social contract that by and large we as a society are seeing, so that again much more what is taking place for our business is social issues, whether they be healthcare or even the technology arena, that clients are either forced to or proactively address. We have to be much more savvy about this social innovation that's taking place around us.

Walls (Walls Comms): From the standpoint of a small agency like ours, where we're targeting a minority audience, multicultural audiences, you talk about financial literacy, healthcare —these are the big topics today and so you've got either political campaigns or organizations saying we want to target audiences with a particular message. I think the advantage that we haven't talked about is the advantage of being in the Washington,, DC, market as opposed to some other market. You've got The Washington Post, you've got other media entities here, so that if you're doing something with a policy issue or a social issue, it resonates beyond obviously just Washington, DC. Sometimes companies or clients come here to establish a policy or an activity. They know it's going to resonate on the Hill, but also it's going to go beyond the Beltway.

McKenna (PRWeek): What is the media market like now? How has it evolved?

Walls (Walls Comms): Jena 6 is a good example, where bloggers started the whole thing, then you have folks in Washington and other markets who helped to perpetuate and move the whole issue. I tell people about African American newspapers, and people say, well the circulation is not that good. But if an African American newspaper in Washington, DC, has got a circulation of 49 people and they happen to be members of the Congressional Black Caucus, that's OK, that's all you need. The same thing goes here for bloggers, YouTube —those things help enhance what we do in Washington.

Mould (NASA): It also gives us a lot more work to do. The stuff that is sometimes unfavorable and often downright inaccurate, you have to beat these things down, and often they have credibility and a reach that they didn't have before because the media that we're traditionally used to working with are accountable to some higher entity and these bloggers aren't. Yet they're out there and they're getting more and more attention and it's a challenge to keep up with them, much less influence them at times.

McKenna (PRWeek): So how do you keep up with them?

Neptune (WE): I think it's required us to be a lot more savvy and aware of where our client issues live, die, and could potentially evolve. Whereas it might before have been the Washington Post and the New York Times, maybe, now it's this ability to think through who are the other 15, including the blogosphere. In some ways it's forced a lot of us to be more aggressive about the education we need to do of our industry and our individual roles, but sometimes it's just impossible to track. Think of all the scandals in Washington in the last couple of years that have begun and ended on the blogosphere.

Krugman (NRF): From what I understand, TMZ, the blog for celebrities, is opening up a branch in Washington. Think what that will do. These are our celebrities. But in terms of how you get your arms around it, you've got to expand your coverage. But you've also got to be willing to be part of the dialogue on the blogosphere, in a legitimate way. They see right through spin. You've got to go in there and be completely transparent of what you represent. The good thing about the blogosphere is, if you disagree with something in the Washington Post you hope to get your letter in. If you disagree with something on a blog, guaranteed you're going to be able to post. You can be a part of that discussion. At the very least it allows you to get your voice in.

Burke (ASPCA): I've found that with the social media and the blogs and all that, yes they're going to keep growing, but there's also going to be a weeding out. Everyone can't be the best blog, the Huffington Post or TMZ or Fishbowl or whatever. There will always be the process of weeding out the chaff as it were, and new influences coming to the forefront. You have to stay on top of it with measurement and tracking. But I think the other thing that's started happening is that because there are so many more channels of communications than before, when it was just traditional media, executives are taking their communications people very seriously, and they're starting to take them into the discussion before they open their mouths. And it's not just to put the talking head on camera and get him to say, “Blah blah blah,” but they want your counsel on what you should communicate. To me that's a big plus for our business.

Linebaugh (NEA): To me it's also managing expectations. I'm a believer that that we should attack somebody who is attacking us. But sometimes we have to say, “OK, this was just on the blog,” and give the advice to our CEO or president that it's not worth the response. That this is not the audience we're trying to reach, these are not the influencers we're trying to get, so please don't ask me to spend time responding time to this.

Mansfield (CIA): The other point is how ephemeral the business can be, where depending on what is going on in the world in any given day, a story can make a page one story or it can page 37 story, more so than ever before in my career.

Bates (GWU): The big irony here, and I keep up with a lot of the social media, is that despite the headlines, it's not as powerful as most of us think. I'll give you an example. You'd think this would be the year that social media would just tear up the territory for the election. But every poll shows that still conventional advertising is the number one communications tool to reach the voter. Email is one of the ones at the top, but blogs are down at the bottom, and podcasts are practically falling off the precipice. But they get so much attention.

Rosen (CCA): I'm not sure it's consistent from industry to industry in terms of what people are going after to get online. Forgive me to be healthcare only, but in healthcare, there are 115 million people that go online for healthcare information. Now that's a third of the American population; that's a lot. So now we have all kinds of questions: What does that mean about how you then engage with that number of people who go online? This is a whole new world.

Iacono (PRWeek): I imagine for technology companies it must be the same.

Shea (SpeakerBox): I was just going to interject that same sentiment, because it really depends on how people get that information. Our audience is people who buy technology products. For us, those people live online. And in our particular industry, the technology publication industry, there has been a bloodbath. Publications are merging, people have been laid off. Our audience is just really changing and online is primarily how our audience gets their information. We have people that are going to be coding at 2 o'clock in the morning and they're going to be looking for information from a blogger. I would say the majority of the programs we do for our clients is strictly online.

Linebaugh (NEA): The result of that is it's harder for us to tell a story to traditional markets, because there are fewer reporters, there's a smaller news hole, and the competition to get your story out there is just so fierce that in some cases the CEOs and presidents say, “Send it out on the electronic newsletter, put it out on the Web site, put it out in a blog.” And they think we've actually effectively communicated, and it may not be effective. But I think for my staff, and I've doubled the number that do media relations, they're working harder to get relationships with reporters and get their stories.

Krugman (NRF): That's what gets lost in all this technology is the good old relationships with reporters. I talk to reporters all the time, but going to lunch seems like a lost art form. Because everyone has their software that targets media, they think they know they're reaching their key audience and they go on to the next issue. When we find a new reporter in a major media market, ideally what we do is fly out there because they need to be educated on our industry. Just going back to the blogging situation, that's something I'm looking at. One, we have retailers looking to create a real community. But also part of that is a lot of retail reporters are reading blogs to get story ideas; I want those ideas to come from me. But there are challenges because then you have to get your CEOs and other top folks to buy into the idea of negative feedback – honest, constructive, negative feedback – and that's when they get scared.

Shea (SpeakerBox): Just to talk about the difference in the last 10 years, 10 years ago we had Business Forward, the Washington Post, Washington Business Journal, Potomac Tech Journal, Washington Techway – all these publications that spoke to the business community. And the business community has thrived in the last 10 years, but now we basically have the Washington Business Journal and the Washington Post, and that's it. And the same thing has happened if you look at government technology market – Government Computer News, Washington Technology, Federal Computer Week. They're all one company now, so you have to have a good relationship with them or you're out of luck.

McKenna (PRWeek): There do seem to be a lot of new fashion magazines in the area.

Shea (SpeakerBox): There are a lot of those. But those don't cater to the business community.

Burke (ASPCA): I think the media is also trying to adapt to a changing world, and I don't mean the media in terms of trades necessarily, but general consumer media. At the end of the day, you can't beat media relations; you can't beat pitching the story in USA Today or wherever. But I think they are trying so hard to keep up with changing technologies: They're changing formats; they're going digital; they're scraping their hard copy versions and going only online. They're trying so hard to create their blog community, and they're not always getting it right.

Mould (NASA): The constant here with all these changing technologies is that there are still people behind these things, and it's still the same old one-on-one relationship marketing that we've had to have with reporters all along. Maybe the people are harder to find and track down and get their attention now, but there's still no substitute for knowing who's watching you.

Walls (Walls Comms): You talk about The Washington Business Journal — at one point in time they had a PR/advertising column and he had to go online. The Post attempted to have an advertising column. It lasted maybe a couple of months. There's PRWeek on a macro level, but there's nothing to directly address this market, and it's huge.

Iacono (PRWeek): What is the community here like? Is it cohesive?

Rodriguez (Vanguard): I think it's new. There are a lot more PR firms. My best friend has been in PR and advertising in Philadelphia her whole career and it's the same thing: She knows everyone in PR and advertising in Philadelphia, and every event she goes to — and she goes, I guess — she knows the whole room.

Tappan (Burson): I think in the Washington market we're no longer in the land of the generalist. We've got a lot of very specialist firms, on the government relations side, on the PR side, on the holding side, and advertising of course. So I think there are a lot of pockets of people who know each other. There are a couple of bigger firms that keep a good job of keeping alumni going. I know Burson does that, Powell Tate did it for a long time and there's still a healthy group going on. But, Allison, I would bet that 80% of your PR contacts are in the healthcare sphere.

Rosen (CCA): Yes, and the other thing, too, is, in terms of the evolution or maturation of the industry, I always think the way I know the most people is from my government and political days. Those are the ties that seem to bind here in DC now, so I think about people I work about in the administration. My husband was on Capitol Hill for 15 years. So it's really a circle of people you've worked with so long, and that's the kind of crowd we're drawn to.

Neptune (WE): I think Washington is pretty incestuous. Most of us, by two or three degrees, know the same people, and that's somewhat unique to Washington and particularly if you've been here a while in the industry. It may not be direct, but I guarantee that less than three steps away there is a mutual industry contact.

Bates (GWU): One practical issue in terms of where do we meet is who's got time? I started out where I would start work at 10 in the morning, work until four, have a couple of martinis, and that was it! Today I find myself in the office until 9 or 10 at night, doing a to-do list for tomorrow. At the risk of getting into ancient history, it used to be that PRSA was the only game in town. That was it. Everybody belonged, all the people in the know belonged to PRSA, you'd see all the people you needed to know. IABC came into the game, the Texas PR association, et cetera. Smaller groups formed within PRSA, such as the healthcare group, the tech group. You align to your interests. The corporate guys bowed out of PRSA and IABC a long time ago. Because in a positive way, as business evolved and you become more of a counsel to management, you didn't need to hang around with the tacticians; you could go to the Business Roundtable, you could hang out with the corporate executives. So most of the corporate VPs I know, they may belong to PRSA, but they very seldom come to a meeting. They belong to the Arthur Page Society, the Business Roundtable, the IPR, and it makes sense – form follows function. We're a very eclectic group of people; there's not one way to do PR or one approach. When I was a kid, regional firms – are you kidding me? Who would open up a big firm in North Carolina or Austin, Texas? There are firms that I bet you don't even know in Austin, with 175-180 people, and they aren't political; they do public relations. And they don't care to be known in Washington or New York.

McKenna (PRWeek): Does agency size make a difference? It seems that smaller firms here can do pretty well because they are good at what they do and have good connections.

Krugman (NRF): As a trade association with limited resources, I find that smart, big agencies sell themselves as boutique firms with a lot of resources. They're telling me I'm going to get just as good support even if I'm not giving them as much. But they want to get into your vertical, so they have an opportunity to reach out to your members. When I look for a PR agency, I do look for someone smaller, because I know they're going to pay attention.

Shea (SpeakerBox): Ten years ago there were just a handful of PR firms that focused on business-to-business tech, and I can now probably name 20 now just in their area that have 10 or more employees, so I have a lot of competitors.

Iacono (PRWeek): How would you assess the talent for the industry? What are you seeing in this area?

Shea (SpeakerBox): I'm on the board of the Greater Washington Initiative, which is a public-private partnership to promote this region. It just put out this report this year and had some numbers that were staggering, that they're predicting in six years 7,400 public relations specialists will be required in this region— and they don't live here yet. So that means relying on the education system to produce people. We cannot hire people fast enough. It is so hard to find people.

Bates (GWU): You can find people, but you left out an adjective: Good people.

Burke (ASPCA): There is such a lack of the understanding of the basic tools of the trade. They come from well-known communication schools and programs, but they don't know how to write a press release or they don't know what a fact sheet is.

Iacono (PRWeek): Is that related to use of social media?

Burke (ASPCA): I don't know if there's s disconnect in terms of what works in the real world and translating that to the education field. I was at an IABC leadership conference in January and we had one of these discussions on developing talent. I said there are a lot of great kids out there, but you have to spend six to eight months just getting them up to speed, teaching them things you knew how to do 10 years ago.

Neptune (WE): One of my philosophies is the PR is being taught in the wrong place and schools today. PR is different 10 years ago from what we're trying to hire today. The market is unbelievable tight here. We're competing much more broadly against multiple industries and so we're not looking at generally typical PR people; those skills are much more transferable. Instead of competing with each other, we have added four or five other specialties competing for the same talent. I've always been a big proponent of PR being taught in the business schools. Many of us have evolved as we've grown in our careers, because we got that experience outside a typical PR environment. The people we see are not the people we want.

Burke (ASPCA): Those that come out of agencies are by far the best. They know how to deal with everything.

Mould (NASA): I've had the best luck hiring reporters. They can write. They can get things done quickly. They're the audience you're aiming at, so who knows better how to get into a reporter's head than a reporter?

Rosen (CCA): Sometimes they have a hard time making the leap into PR.

Mould (NASA): There are certain ones; you have to spot them. It doesn't take too many minutes before you figure out if they're going to make it or not. Some of them clean up better than others.

Tappan (Burson): There's also a cross-cutting thing that's generational. For every young or junior person you find who comes out of college or is new to the PR business who doesn't know how to write a press release or maybe lacks some basic skills we'd think they'd have, there are also the other generations or more senior people who are not thinking the same way they're thinking or interacting with new media. If you took a group of five junior people, or people fresh out of college, and you took five people with 15-20 years of experience and gave them the same business or communications problem, they would attack it two different ways. I think the key is to meld the two, and then you've got a real good mix.

Linebaugh (NEA): The past two years I've hired 80 percent of my staff, I have 42 staff positions, and they come from TV journalism, advocacy organizations, the Red Cross, political campaigns, the agency world, and the ACLU. I hired one person in her 50s, and all the rest were under 33. I look at as trying to build a team, and as much as a catcher might make it at first base, I hire to fill the position. I'm looking for people who don't have that preconceived notion of what PR is, and people who are willing to take chances. Getting back to DC, I think we reflect the city, and this city is highly competitive. If an agency calls me up and I say I'm not interested, I never hear from them again. And if I'm at a PRSA meeting, it's, “Hi how are you,” and on to the next person. We do reflect the culture of this city and it's pretty politically ruthless.

McKenna (PRWeek): Do people you hire have to have specialized knowledge of the organization?

Mansfield (CIA): Not at all. My office, and I've got about 25 people who work for me, some of them are communications professionals with backgrounds in journalism, others have purely intelligence backgrounds, whether it be in analysis or even clandestine operations. What I'm looking for in everyone I hire is someone who can write effectively and clearly. Because that is not easy, and that's what I look for more than anything else when I hire, across the board, whether they're speechwriting or dealing with the media or giving tours.

Rosen (CCA): What are you finding? They all say they love to write.

Mansfield (CIA): Some people can and some people can't. What you look for, if they're right out of college, is did they work for their college newspaper. Or have they worked as a reporter somewhere. Have they written speeches for someone. Those are the kinds of questions I ask, even if it would not be a purely writing position.

Rosen (CCA): This is an interesting thing to say, and I'm kind of old compared with the people who are now on our team, but I find that IM has helped me become a better writer, because I talk out loud when I write that message. There's something about the fluidness of using that to talk to someone; it's actually made me a better writer because I'm writing more like I speak.

Krugman (NRF): I actually have the opposite concern about the texting generation. They don't write full sentences. My concern is they're growing up and the next people who take these entry-level positions, and if we think it's tough pickings now …. Second Life – that scares me, to think people are living in virtual worlds. No one's learning to communicate. Just getting on the phone and pitching people. We're salespeople as well and that skill set is going away.

Burke (ASPCA): A lot of my staff are fairly young as well and we're fairly aggressive in Second Life and the whole Web 2.0, because we've started to figure out how we can convert those online communities into registered users and can predict who will become donors. We use IM a lot, and I have two of my staff who share an office, and they will IM each other. They're sitting right next to each and they IM each other and it drives me nuts. Can you not turn around and talk to this person?

McKenna (PRWeek): Maybe they're talking about you.

Burke (ASPCA): Well, maybe. But I'll ask them, “Have you asked so and so about someone?” and they'll say, “We'll I sent and email, I haven't heard back,” and I say, “Can you not go talk to them? You're in the same office.”

Walls (Walls Comms): It's funny, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I'm from Ohio and went to Ohio journalism school. I'm hearing some of the same things as when I started out, about the quality and the ability to write. If you don't have that, everything else is lost. If you don't have those skills, it doesn't matter how well you can master the technology, at some point in time, there's interpersonal skills going on, you have to talk to a reporters, a senator. As a small firm, we've got to have people who can do multiple things. If you can't write, you're probably not reading and absorbing enough information, which is another problem.

Rodriguez (Vanguard Comms): We often do projects for youth, and I have to tell you there are things that come forward that I don't understand. I find that I have a 23 year old managing the development of this youth product because they can communicate with them in a way that I can't, certainly, or some of the more senior managers. So even some of that shorthand writing or writing online that we see that makes you cringe at times is important if you're trying to reach that audience.

Bates (GWU): There does seem to be a shift. The younger generation is willing to tolerate spelling errors. It something we have to concerned with. But there are people who may not be able to write, but they are damn good PR people and they can sell like crazy.

Linebaugh (NEA): I hired a kid who was ADHD and dyslexic. He could write but it would require twice as long to edit his stuff. But the perspective he offered was visual. He got me to shift a whole department to think visually. So the strength that he brought to me was not with his writing, but with his eyes and what he wanted the audience to see. While I don't disagree that some people can't write the way we would like to write, they don't like the way we write.

Iacono (PRWeek): How is diversity figuring into hiring?

Linebaugh (NEA): The NEA has 555 employees. It has a history steeped in human and civil rights. Our department is the most diverse department in NEA: We have Asian-Pacific islanders, American Indians, Hispanics, African Americans, and Caucasians. We also have lesbians and gays, so we're committed to diversity.

Burke (ASPCA): But shouldn't you just be hiring the people best for the job?

Linebaugh (NEA): If you don't recruit in those areas, you're not going to get people applying for the job.

Rodriguez (Vanguard): Plus it comes back to the audience. We do a lot of work with youth, so I try to have those people working on those projects. We do a lot of Hispanic outreach, so that makes Spanish language requirement. It completely depends on what's your client base or the audience your targeting and do you have people who look like and talk like that audience, because it's just going to enrich your marketing outreach.

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