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 Eleanor Trickett, Erica Iacono, and Irene Chang were in New York for this year's second Regional Forum.
Erica Iacono (PRWeek): How would you characterize the PR scene in New York these days? Have you noticed any changes over the past few years?
Ty Trippet (Reuters): I haven't seen a huge change in New York. I think what has happened is everything has turned digital at warped speed. Where you get placements has changed. It used to be, in the publishing industry when I was at Time magazine, people used to want placements in Ad Age print edition, not adage.com. But now it's just as important to be on Adage.com and their email newsletters as in the print edition—you definitely want both. I think New York is still the center of media — the most far connecting. This is the only place where you can make those contacts over drinks, lunch or breakfast or industry events.
Cathy Renna (Renna Communications): I actually want to piggy back on that. One of the things that I've noticed is that a lot of the media are closing down their bureaus in places like Chicago and LA. When we decided to start our firm last year, we knew we had to start it here. We were thinking of moving back to DC where most of the organizations and most of the clients that we have are, but for the media purposes, we knew that we needed to be here. What you said is right about the way things have changed in terms of just explaining to clients that you don't want to be in a magazine that 150,000 people read. You want to be on a Web site that half a million people look at in a month.
Gayle Taryn (The Advertising Club): It's not necessarily PR change. It's the mediums, the options of mediums, and it's where people are doing the reading and absorbing the message. That's really the issue. It's not that the discipline itself it so different from the way we grew up, but it's how the information is going out and being taken in.
David Shein (Brodeur): Also, I think the respect factor [plays a part] as well—at least compared from when I first started working in the industry. I mention that I'm in public relations now and I'm a little engaged in a conversation and I don't get glazed over eyes with people asking me "What exactly does that mean? Is that some form of advertising" I think that our industry is in a position now where the sky is the limit and it's exciting.
Bethany Sherman (NASDAQ): I don't know if anyone else has had this experience, but Nasdaq has had more global focus. I find that our team is engaging a lot more with foreign correspondents here in New York and working with the State department. And those kinds of journalists, we've never really courted before they were here. I don't know if others are finding this that the size of bureaus are increasing, but I'm finding much higher level of engagement both in their contacting us and our engagement with them.
Peter Verrengia (Communications Consulting Worldwide,Fleishman Hillard): New York is the headquarters of the global village. The other big change is that, as much as our discipline… may be more understood and more respected, we [also] have more opportunity to take the labels off than ever before. The questions that we're asked, especially by people in marketing are not "What can you do for us in media relations?" but "What can you do for me period?" There's really no better time to be in this business because we're better equipped to address the questions of the uncontrolled dialogue across all the audiences.
Sherman (NASDAQ): Just to jump in on the "what can you do for me?" idea, having been on the agency side for 15 years, and then becoming a client, it really is "what you can do for me." And on the global level—not to dwell on that—I said to the head of my agency in Beijing, "What can you do for me? I want your Rolodex." I'm not just interested in media you can put us in touch with. We're courting clients here. You have connections with top clients, and I called them specifically to say that I'm interested in their Rolodex.
Verrengia (CCW): We are the chaperone for relationships, the way we have always thought we were in this industry. The opportunity to really act in that role is much more prominent
Renna (Renna): Our clients see us not just as "help me get into the New York Times," but see us as "help connect us with a lot of different kinds of people." On the public interest and non-profit side, organizations are finally understanding the value of investing in media relations. It used to always be at the bottom of the list. They would make sure that they had a really good development director, but they never understood just how important it is to have a good media person because that will help the development leverage media coverage for fundraising, something that not-for-profits across the border are finally figuring out. And New York is the best place to do it from.
Susan Magrino (Susan Magrino Agency): I had a completely different reaction to your question. I think of myself first and foremost as a publicist, and when you said that, I thought of myself as an employer in terms of how it's changed. And what I have really seen in over the last two and a half to three years, and thankfully so, is that the business has really back in our sector, as are the candidates. Just looking at the resumes that are coming in, I can say for the first time in about five years, there are more people out there than I can hire after having a real period of time where it was incredibly challenging to find really good people that want to make a commitment, and want to stay and grow. It's such a wonderful feeling for those of us in the hiring and management positions to find that we've got a really strong team. I don't know if it's because the baby boom that's going on right now, but we've got more interns this summer than we've ever had.
Matthew Traub (Dan Klores Communications): Partially inter-related to what everyone else was saying, as the issues we work on and the way we work with our clients or internally in our organizations grows and expands, we also want an attractive field for people to get into. When you're working with higher level people within your client companies, and the CEOs rather than some of the marketing people, it becomes a more exciting environment that will attract people. People made this point about being "Who is looking for PR" and "At what stage in the game are they looking for PR?" At some point, we have all experienced a situation, even internally, where we're asked to be implementers, where someone passes a press release across to you or an announcement and says "Go put this out there." It's happening less and less. People are recognizing the importance of bringing the PR component in the beginning, having us sit at the table, be a part of the creative process. I've been at DKC for about six and a half years, and over that time, the number of ad agencies that call us before they go into a pitch with a client and say "We really need a PR component for this and we would really like to join with us and partner with us on this pitch" has exploded. We're doing this monthly, where we're sitting with a variety of ad agencies who are bringing us into something. That wasn't happening before.
Taryn (Ad Club): It's not like 20 years ago when things were separated, when there was much more separation of church and state, advertising and PR were considered enhancers, complementers, but operating in different ways. I've been working in the advertising community for a long time, and so many things that agencies are doing, are what I feel I would have been doing in a PR agency 20 years ago. So many of the event- driven ideas, guerilla marketing, those to me are memories of things in a purist way in a PR agency a long ago. They're absorbing and taking it in—but one thing, maybe this is going to be controversial— but from my experience, I just find that ad people will feel they know how to do PR. I don't think PR people say "I know how to do advertising."
Traub (DKC): We get obviously calls from both, but more than ever, and with ad agencies, it's where in the process PR gets brought into the overall communications structure. When an ad agency comes in and says "We can't have a successful pitch to a company without a PR component to it," that means something in the PR world. It's an indication of how the stature of PR has grown over time.
Taryn (Ad Club): The educational curve is still there. They still do not understand it in the same way as the reality of understanding it. They simplify it and understand it in some ways, but there's still an educational curve when PR people are absorbed into the advertising environment.
Tony Fox (MTV Networks): I find that mentality still very much exists. Some of the digital companies that we're working with now, they have marketing people but not PR people, and yet they don't have a marketing budget. And I just scratch my head and think, "Why would you hire a marketing person when you don't have a budget to advertise? Don't you think a PR person would be better investment?" It's kind of interesting. I think it still does exist.
Michael Huh (ImaginAsian): I think that's totally true. For us, as a start- up, we completely rely on PR. We don't have the marketing budget to go out and buy ads. All our communications are based on pure PR. We're sitting here trying to come up with creative ways to place the stuff. To go back to the point where you said it's online, for us, our primary target group is Asian Americans. For that group, you have to be in print. Online is important, but Asian Americans in general—and this may be an overstatement— are all online, and stuff that is online, like blogs, fly around in the community so quickly that they're not quite sure what's real or what's legitimate. So if they see it in print, then it's real. So we need to see it in print. Don't forget that side of things. Back to global issue, it's the same exact thing. We have relations with groups all throughout Asia because that's where we source our content, and if it's in print, great, if it's online, they're not so sure. The online community in Asia is very different from the online community here. They're light years ahead of us.
Traub (DKC): Do you think that how someone views something or the credibility with which they view something online—let's talk about here as opposed to Asia or elsewhere around the world— is a function of age more than ethnicity or topic? That's just like the general notion, that younger people are more comfortable online and that they may see that as a more credible source. But when you say it needs to be in print, is that because your audience is a lot older?
Huh (ImaginAsian): No, our core audience is actually younger. It's the people we deal with on the business side. With the consumers, we're good with them online because that's how we communicate with them through our Web site. We have more people on our Web site than are actually watching our channel because our distribution numbers are not as high as they could be. We have a channel in New York, LA, Hawaii, Dallas—the usual suspects—but it's the distributors or the people in business that we deal with. The content people and other business associates that need to see this stuff in print.
Taryn (Ad Club): They're traditionalists.
Huh (ImaginAsian): We had all this coverage online with all these Asian Web sites and blogs and but then we had a New York Times article, and everyone knows who we are now. But before that we had tons of coverage.
Bonin Bough (Weber Shandwick): I am probably more traditionalist but I think it's category-specific in some respects. Healthcare, for example, people who are more comfortable searching for healthcare information are still a lot older. And I also think it's outlet dependent too. Again, healthcare holds a lot more weight than a lot of other print publications in the states. I don't necessarily think it's that close-cut for having said it's the same thing as print.Iacono (PRWeek): How is the digital and social media environment affecting all of your jobs? A lot of PR agencies have the capability and have that knowledge yet even so when clients are looking for someone to implement the digital strategy, they're not thinking of the PR agency first? How are you adjusting to that?
Trippet (Reuters): From where I'm from, Time magazine and now at Reuters, it's all about traffic. So that's why online component is so big. For me, it was as valuable to get placement in Drudge Report as being mentioned above the fold on the New York Times front page. From a media company perspective, that's where it lies. But I know everyone else has a much different perspective.
Verrengia (CCW): You are incorrect to say that clients are not asking their PR firms for online help first. If you're in a relationship with someone and they know what your capabilities are, they will ask. But a lot of people in public relations who already work in the online sphere label it public relations. So when somebody is sitting down to do what they think is their interactive strategy, they're not aware that they should be asking their public relations resource for things like online editorial outreach, which obviously is simple for someone in public relations to do with their experiences since it's a similar process, but it can also be done very poorly. Or search engine optimization of news content, which everybody is doing or starting to do but doesn't have the history of being done by people on the public relations side.Sherman (NASDAQ): From the client perspective, it's "tell me." I don't want to have to ask you as my agency. One of the ripples I want to bring to the conversation is just utilizing new media, if you will, for internal communications, which again, I think a public relations agency reaching an audience can get involved with. We're been really successful in doing podcasts with our employees and people are listening to them because we track the usage. We're developing a blog for our CEO because we found that there was too much time between town halls and other types of formal written communication. There was a need for more instantaneous, quicker outreach. I want to offer it up to think also about internal communications which is also important to your client. The internal has got to reflect the external message, so it's important.
Fox (MTV): I find so many mainstream journalists who are actually monitoring the Internet looking for news stories. There's so much that happens on the Internet and in digital media first. In fact, I find it's almost impossible to keep a secret anymore. We have a lot of young people working in our company and we're reluctant sometimes to put out an internal e-mail because you read about it on it on Gawker or Jossip in an hour.
Magrino (SMA): The print world is having the hardest time with this. Industry to industry, there are some blogs, even in the wide open restaurant business, particularly in NY where it's really all about real estate, and it's all about the lease and when the lease is coming up. And blogs really start to talk about all of that. There are other print news organizations off record who have had a harder time managing whether or not they're going to cover clients dependent on what ends up on the blogs. And they have to decide, at what point it does it become a legitimate story for traditional print media. Just go back on this subject, New York magazine did a piece maybe three months ago on how it's an age- specific, when you have a younger generation that will feel like they can say anything. I'm 45 years old. I came out of an environment where you spent more time managing things and maybe saying things in one direction and not saying things in another different. Where as now, everything is said and we must deal with everything. There's no way to duck it. That's what's challenging for people in the industry, that it happens at lightening speed, whether it's a crisis issue or we're doing a show.
Taryn (Ad Club): Sometimes it's funny, because blogs are now a sexy thing to have or to do internally, not that this is impacting my particular job. Brands and companies feel it's a cool or hip thing to have a blog. And yet, that goes against the whole ability to be able to control information well. What you're going to put on there, how much you're going to say or won't say—it's very tricky. The control factor is a very big issue. Maybe a lot of them never understood how much we can and can't control things up to a degree in our discipline as well. But the blog thing makes it even dicier.
Shein (Brodeur): It's about survival and winning. Online media or big consumer brands and the audience they're targeting a lot of the time they are 18-to-35-year-olds. They're reading their news online. They're on the Internet all the time. They're not reading Forbes nearly as much as they used to back in the day. That's society and that's what we're living in. We have to react to that. It's my job to counsel [my clients] and some of them are aware, and some of them are a bit more naive. It's a matter of fact that we're shifting and we're going that route and product reviews by a blogger. Consumers trust consumers theses days. That's the fact of the matter.
Fox (MTV): There was a great story out this week from the Wall Street Journal talking about how ABC is flying bloggers to be on the set of the show where they're meeting the talent. For shows that are appealing to women, they're inviting women bloggers and of course they're being given the royal treatment, and they don't have the same ethical restrictions that mainstream journalists have so they'll pretty much write the kind of story that the companies want them to write. And again, it does have certain legitimacy because they are real housewives or people that the general public trusts.
Bough (WS): As an industry, we are also out there not only talking about what we do but we have to be very careful. It's not just about blogs. I tell my clients that anyone can hire a technical expert. But strategically, if your dotcom is the center point for your corporate reputation, why are you using anybody other than a public relations agency to do that? Internal communications, I spent a lot of time building Internets and once they see that, they're like we would never put our internal comms in anybody else's hands but in public relations. We just also have to be careful not to be pigeonholed by the technology because it's not about the technology. It's about the strategic value we bring to the table. And the great thing about PR is that, we are the only people that have continuous flow of content. Interactive agencies can't provide that. And the Internet in and of itself is about continuous two-way communication uncontrolled. We understand that and no one else does. So I think it's the dawning age of PR.
Iacono (PRWeek): Are you changing the types of people you're looking for? Are you more willing to look for people who are non-traditional hires?
Magrino (SMA): I think the important word is style. This is a style business. Every single one of us can sit here and think about what we do every day and we all know what would work in respective employers or agencies and what wouldn't. What I've seen from the agency side is that you've got to have people that can talk to the client. It's the bottom line. No matter how good they are, no matter how young they are with the blogs, the client needs to feel when they get off the phone that this is somebody can talk to.
Shein (Brodeur): And also somebody who understands the audience too; people who get the consumer mindset. For me it's important that somebody gets the audience that we're targeting and they're able to think like that person. We need that as well.
Renna (Renna): We've been interviewing folks and we get non-traditional people as you would imagine. It's not about having a certain kind of experience, even if they're just out of college. It's about having a certain skill set and a certain attitude and a passion about the issues.
Bough (WS): When you are looking at the interactive space, so much of the interactive world has turned to paid media so they are all really like a lot of online ad agencies. When you have a conversation, to get somebody to understand that this is uncontrolled messaging that we do, we release messages, some of the interactive folks are having a hard time grasping that kind of transition. Also, how can you apply things like the banner ad in more of an advertorial format which can create and generate conversation from that?
Taryn (Ad Club): I relate to what you're saying, but I've also been on the side of hiring people at an agency. I think that can diverge a little when it comes to working in corporate. I think if you're an internal communications person, your knowledge and your business knowledge is probably a little bit more critical. I think it creates a little more credibility if you're in a certain kind of company and a certain kind of industry that you know a little more about the business side of things and you might have those kinds of credentials from an educational standpoint. I think that goes a little further in those environments as opposed to the agency world where, although we're working with those clients, I think it creates a different demand.
Sherman (NASDAQ): I completely agree with you. You have to have that kind of business experience. People know how to do media, and so, after that it becomes do you understand the mechanics of this business? Do you understand what the key drivers in this industry are? Can you think more globally? Our business has evolved beyond pitching. You have to really be a business person and a communicator.
Verrengia (CCW): It's really scary that we hear the traditional definition of publicity people being the most important thing for some people in public relations. There are still people trying to say that pitching is the most important thing. It's a core thing but, if somebody in this business today, with all the opportunities we have, doesn't understand how an organization gets to the end result, whether it's making money or whatever it might be, they're useless.
Trickett (PRWeek): What qualities are important to you when looking at prospective employees?
Fox (MTV): [A degree in PR is] the last thing I look for. Kids coming out of college have five internships in PR jobs. It's amazing how much experience these guys have coming out of college. Working at radio stations, TV stations, all sorts of places, it's astounding to me the level of experience these guys have.
Verrengia (CCW): That's why we have an internship program, and we hire from that program. Ten years ago, we didn't hire anyone from the program. It was just a nice thing to do, it wasn't strategic. Now, we fight for the best people.
Huh (ImaginAsian): We do the same thing. We rely heavily on our interns. And we look for people, not necessarily with degrees in this or that, but it's more about who has got the most common sense. We are a very young company in terms of our status. It's very similar to MTV. The most important thing is that they actually think about what they're doing as opposed to just do what they're told to do. Writing skills, you can improve on that. How does a business work? You can learn that. What's the business aspect or the analytics of this and that, you can learn all that. But you have to have the foundation to comprehend all this.
Bough (WS): Another important factor is [finding] internal communicators. At the end of the day, it's about infusing the digital into the DNA of the agency, internal to the staff. Any person can make friends in the elevator and suggest to people to look at this or that. We're looking for people who are outward.
Shein (Brodeur): It's all about chemistry. The agency environment is all about chemistry. Some of best ideas can come from someone who is 23 and it's OK. You'll roll with that.
Trickett (PRWeek): I wanted to get Peter's opinion because of his specialty being on the research on the consulting side. That's an area where agencies are growing their capabilities or trying to. How do you populate your group and how do you infuse that message to the whole organization?
Verrengia (CCW): It's a little different. We sort of fill up space between management consulting and communications execution, only because there's a lot more to be done in answering business questions through the kind of communications that comes through but the traditional providers of communications services aren't often asked the right question or the right time to be able to provide that answer. The measurement that we do, which will be a lot more widespread and provided by a lot more people in the future, is tying communications or relationship building outcomes, however those are arrived at, with business outcomes. So you can get down as fine as how much media relations produces how much improvement for stock prices, or which messages drive very specific revenue. In the future, it will refine decision making so you will know why you are doing certain things, what more to do of some thing and less for others. Because right now, our biggest challenge as an industry is that everyone is an expert. And we know it works because, in a crisis, if you issue the news, there will be an immediate reaction. So the kind of people who do that work, some of them are very quantitative, like statistical modeling, you don't do public relations training. And some of the people who are giving advice to senior people, and this is in every agency and in a lot of corporate functions, have different backgrounds, like law degrees and MBAs. People who have had a career in law or in business in some capacity get really fascinated by the way relationships are built and maintained in an uncontrolled way through influence and through news. And then they want to do it. And then they can be a provider of that service for others. There are thousands of people who want to do what we do everyday and think it's more attractive than what they're doing now. And they have a very different background. And it's terrific when you can put those two together. That's a whole trend that's going to happen and it's also accelerated by the fact that unlike the past seven or eight years, there's a been a resurgence, and this is especially true in the New York market, of the traditional corporate work of positioning executives— CEO visibility and corporate identity programs that go beyond the advertising side where people are actually going out there to have leadership issues.
Taryn (Ad Club): Well maybe it's to carve out a position because it's so hard after a while sometimes to get press for any given company or brand, especially when you're based here. As many options as there are, it's so competitive that it's trying to own something. When you're owning that, it's giving you something that's proprietary and that hopefully gives you a whole other angle that will be desired.
Verrengia (CCW): When you're trying to make an organization more attractive as an employer or an investment, and you say you want to be seen as a leader, the biggest problem of being a leader is, you have to lead. People want to be known as knowledge leaders, or CEOs or other senior executives want higher visibility, but in our department it's content dependent. You actually have to have an idea. That's the work we all do. We're dealing with people and we're saying here's the business word. What's the most important differentiation we have, the kernel of the idea that really separates us? Some of the conversations we've had are really about the way the business works or the programs. Last week at the terrific PRWeek event in San Francisco, Target Green, all the companies that came to talk about what they're doing and environmental initiatives were saying that they're doing this and this and this and all trying to differentiate themselves by the fact that their roofs had grass growing on them or they were using special water in their cafeterias to wash their dishes or whatever it was. But it was all content- based. They were actually doing things. You can't just say the dialogue without evidence. That's what we're all good at. But we're not really good at packaging it.
Iacono (PRWeek): Just to go back on the idea that businesses are becoming more global, New York has always been the center of the PR industry. Do you think that's still true?
Bough (WS): For some things, like in Asia, our practices in interactive social media, how do we start putting messages at the epicenter of the digital lifestyle? That emerging space isn't happening in the States by any stretch of the measure, it's happening in Asia. So for our center of that kind of thinking, that's true in Asia. Even for execution, we see a lot of execution in Europe. So from my perspective, it depends on what the leadership in certain spaces are.
Traub (DKC): I agree with that. There are industries that are driven in large parts in other markets. There are technologies that are driven in other markets. But New York is the capital of the media world. Period. We talked about this before when we talked about international publications. Just about every major publication around the world has a bureau in New York. Just about every major US based media outlet has their base in New York. New York is the capital of the media world. As a result, not withstanding all the other aspects of PR, New York is the capital of the PR world as well.
Iacono (PRWeek): You talked a lot about the media and New York specific publications like Gawker. Are there other New York-specific media outlets that have become more important recently or more germane to the NY PR experience?
Traub (DKC): Sure, just to take an example from the media business world, the New York Post is a paper that serious business oriented companies and PR firms may not have seen as particularly credible five or 10 years ago. It has developed a really strong business section that drives other media around the country and around the world so especially for media business, it's gone from being a small hometown New York paper that has gotten a really stronger imprint beyond New York.
Verrengia (CCW): I will say that as a representative of a firm that's not headquartered in New York but is one of the largest in the world, our industry location and headquarters has nothing to do with success. It's how people collaborate. We happen to have in New York City, the center of intellectual capital and financial capital coming together. And that's part of the reason New York will always be a desirable place to work and a terrific place for clients to come. We have many multinationals who want to know that there are people from New York on their team even if the New York accent isn't sitting there. They want to hear a New York accent on the phone. That's true of clients all over the place. New York retains the ability to attract great people. People want to live and work in the city. I'm a little concerned that the murder rate is down so low. It takes the edge off the city.
Trickett (PR Week): What about the free sheets, just going back to Erica's questions about the media. We've had for two or three years, two or three newspapers competing in this market. What kind of affect or complications does this have on your work? Do they mean anything to you? How do you use them?
Magrino (SMA): Definitely, we had a signing last week for a client who makes candles and did something for the Duchess of York and did an ad on the NY Metro back page. And there was a line around the block. That is something that I learn from my staff. I don't ride the subways as often now. I was amazed at how that drew [a crowd]. We told the clients that we would do a story but put the ad in there too to support that. We're finding that those publications have been really terrific. Especially for events, they need to get people to turn out. We see it instantly. It's a great measurement.
Traub (DKC): I'm finding that, like some of the discussion about the online world it's right for some clients and businesses and not for others.
Shein (Brodeur): Another news organization that is awesome is NY1 television station. When we had the transit strike, they covered that better than the other TV stations out there. For people in New York who are always on the go—all my friends turn on the station for eight to 12 minutes every morning to get their weather. It's an incredible organization and it's run by a bunch of hungry folks who are aggressively trying to sink their teeth in this business.
Traub (DKC): It's about serious repetition.
Renna (Renna): It also exemplifies one of the things I love about being in New York, which is that a local story can be a national story. Because the national media here- if they want to do something exemplary of a trend, you got to have some version of it here in New York. We've done that a lot with local clients. To go with Metro and NY AM, they have these short, condensed stories. They're great for people with short attention spans, and reaching young people a lot. And also really useful for reaching the Latino community because they can get it for free. We reach a lot of different audiences otherwise that we don't target as much.
Iacono (PRWeek): Do you find that it's hard to get into them?
Renna (Renna): It's definitely getting harder.
Huh (ImaginAsian): The ad rates are cheaper, but they're more than you would think. A lot more people than care to admit read those things just because it's just there and you have nothing else to do while you're waiting for the train.
Trippet (Reuters): And you read it in 20 minutes, so by the time you've come to work you've read all the news.
Magrino (SMA): And in waiting rooms too. They've captivated the target audience market.
Trickett (PRWeek): You talked about reaching the Hispanic community. How many people around the table are satisfied that within their own companies they've achieved a level of diversity that they feel is representative of the audience they're trying to reach? What is hiring like? Who handles multicultural specialty? How are you reaching these audiences? What is it like in New York specifically in terms of diversity within your companies and multicultural outreach?
Taryn (Ad Club): I think that everyone has been reading that there was been a lot of pressure on the advertising community and its been a conversation for a long time but once legislation and the government get involved people will be feeling a little bit more heat which is all probably a good thing. The Ad Club is in fact involved right now in a group called Ad Color which is a combination of other advertising organizations and agencies which are trying to push along initiatives in a little bit more of a timely fashion at this point because it's been a major issue for the Ad community. So I think they still obviously have a ways to go.
Magrino (SMA): On agency side, you certainly try to match the client to the talent I think it's really important that there is that great relationship. Again I said we do a lot of restaurants and we do a lot of liquor we need young people around you that want to go out at night that's really important. But then there are people that I meet that are fabulous that I know sometimes we aren't going to have enough business to support that position. And they have amazing talent and they have been working in organizations and they know how to do things that we may not know how to do, I don't have the luxury of forty people to hire somebody and then to go out and look for the business to support them, its sort of the chicken and the egg scenario in an agency our size.
Huh (ImaginAsian): In terms of diversity it's pretty bad. For us we deal with a lot of Asian ad agencies who have PR arms to it. We try to get them to move along as well because they are in antiquated times also, because their reason for being is the language, which should not be the case. In our situation it should be all about lifestyle. Like the African American community. Why are there African American agencies? They don't speak a different language, its lifestyle. In Hispanic community you see another big section, there's the in-language people, but there's also, as Si TV tagline says "live Latin, speak English." It's this huge Hispanic population that speaks English, but they live Hispanic. So you're trying to communicate to these people that you don't exactly have to be a carbon-copy of them but you have to understand their lifestyle. There's plenty of non-Asian people that understand the Asian lifestyle than someone who is Asian, because there's a lot of Asians in the US who don't think that they're Asian, and then there's a lot of non Asians live live more Asian than they do. So does the person have to look like that person? I don't necessarily think so. They have to understand who they're trying to reach and what they're trying to communicate.
Bough (WS): I have to agree. We have a big multicultural practice. If you look at how people try and reach Hispanic communities, they make a Spanish version of a Web site and there's like five pages of translations. We're saying to the clients is that you need to create a unique Hispanic experience. It doesn't even mean that it has to be in the Spanish language, that is part of it, but there has to be involvement and a sign that we understand.
Verrengia (CCW): As a big agency that has separate practices for distinct groups that have already identified themselves, one challenge is finding enough people to populate those practices because our industry has not created a talent pool, as of now, that reflects the diversity of the audiences that our clients are trying to reach. We also have clients who themselves are not personally familiar with those groups and so they are much more comfortable seeing people from those groups in the room advising them, whether those people are the best advisors are not. And that's OK; you have to start somewhere.
Iacono (PRWeek): You talked about the media not being diversified and there's a little bit of education that needs to be done. Does that fall to shoulders of PR people?
Renna (Renna): That's like 75% of my job! Any person who works in media relations, public relations, communications, that works with a group who is not a bunch of straight white men, is going to have to do some education. We have to help our clients understand what we're doing is not just getting their name in the paper. We're having to educate journalists about how to cover a diverse community in a fair and accurate way. That's why what I see what we do as activism and education as much as it is public relations.
Verrengia (CCW): If we go back to mainstream journalism, there was a time when balanced journalism was finding the middle of a story. Now balanced journalism is extremes of both sides being represented in an equal amount of space.
Trickett (PRWeek): How is the upcoming election campaign involving New York characters affecting your work?
Traub (DKC): For those of us who have public affairs oriented clients, it can really help us because people are focused on issues that they may not have been. It can hurt because people are already so focused on the presidential campaign that it can be hard to break through other national, political issues. You can exploit it or lose out to it. It is funny though, whenever they talk about the presidential election media, they talk about a presidential election year; we're still a year and a half away.
Magrino (SMA): You really have to watch the news cycle during an election year because I don't think there's one of us that can't figure out an angle to work off of for any of the candidates. I'm thrilled that it's evolving so early— where they're going, what they're eating, their spouses, opinions, there's a lot there that you can leverage. Obviously, you don't want to be too opportunistic but I think it's really exciting in the fact that New York has got connections to so many of them.
Trickett (PRWeek): What about for the larger agencies here and the people who are with more globally focused organizations. Has the news hole affected you yet?
Verrengia (CCW): In the Fleishman-Hillard family, we have two agencies that represent four of the presidential candidates, so that's good business. We have a lot of clients… especially clients with large corporations outside the company who want to start planning "what if" scenarios based on who might be elected and what the issues would be. Sometimes they're more in the Congressional elections because the implications of law-making and connections to regulatory acts. But there are a number of public healthcare issues for a lot of the industries that are really going to be resolved. They're in healthcare and you're looking at the cost of healthcare. If you're an employer, you're going to be looking into healthcare, but for people in the pharmaceutical industry and health insurance industry. Will this come around again? Yes, it has to. What happens when they stop spending money in defense, and spend money in other things. Where will the money go? So many people are government contract holders or want to be, because the government spends a lot of money.
Renna (Renna): For our clients, it's a mixed bag. You're kind of excited because you know they're going to be talking about gay issues a lot but you're kind of like "oh no, they're going to use us again as the red herring." You know "don't pay attention to the war. Gay people want to get married." We're already working with all of our clients for strategic ways to work with journalists. The organizations we're working with, we're trying to help frame stories that don't do so at the expense of other issues. We have to have educational talks with these people and really think about getting ahead of the curve in terms of what issues are going to come up during the elections.
Iacono (PRWeek): I just want to close with one point that was brought up in the beginning about how a lot more people are aware of what PR is or what it does. Is that a good thing or is that a challenge to you as practitioners?
Renna (Renna): The general public is so much more media savvy now. They know how to work the system a bit too, or they figure out how to do this. We actually have to deal constantly in sort of a crisis communications way. The organizations are constantly being attacked at all different levels, and it's not always by Focus on the Family. Sometimes it's just a person from South Jersey who doesn't like that a gay family is being portrayed on TV and suddenly I find myself driving to South Jersey to having to speak with the Philadelphia Inquirer because he placed one story on a local TV station and the media smelled blood and it became a big controversy.
Bough (WS): In a lot of respects, the public[is] the system now. Regular people too have become opinion leaders now. They're pitching bloggers now.
Magrino (SMA): PR gets respect but I still find that definition is really different. [PR] is still is a [term] that is hard to define from industry to industry. So it still needs more explanation and education
Shein (Brodeur): It's certainly headed toward the right direction. And it's an exciting time.. When I started out, I worked for a company that was strictly media relations. I thought for the rest of my life I would just be talking with editors. I got out and saw that I can actually produce an event, counsel somebody on speech-writing, or whatever. There are so many different areas, and that's what makes this job fun. One minute you're doing x and next minute you're doing y. And we're getting paid for it, and better than ever. There are so many folks opening up their purses for this, and that's a good thing.