We need to be the experts

I appreciated reading the fright-night sentiments in Julia Hood's column, "PR pros should not be so shy," about PR pros turning shy when the camera is on (PRWeek, May 29). Her middle-of-the-night moments with concerns of regret reminded me of myself many years ago.

I appreciated reading the fright-night sentiments in Julia Hood's column, "PR pros should not be so shy," about PR pros turning shy when the camera is on (PRWeek, May 29). Her middle-of-the-night moments with concerns of regret reminded me of myself many years ago.

Increasingly, my colleagues and I, the front-line spokespeople for household brand names, need to pause before accepting a front-line PR position unless we are ready, willing, and able. This often means not being 110% prepared for the call of a journalist who may well know more about a subject than me, the PR "expert," does. How many times has your cell phone rang or Blackberry buzzed with a deadline demand for answers on a Friday at 7pm, and you don't know what the journalist on the other end is even referring to? It is simply not enough to be a gatekeeper for your client's or company's experts. We need to be the experts and command ourselves as such.

My colleagues and I know we can never be 110% prepared all the time. We've learned how to borrow time whenever possible from our speed-dialing media friends and how to temper the comments we do make to avoid corporate malfeasance or, worse, an unanticipated date with legal or regulatory.

Here is a sample of what I've learned in my experience:

First, I'm not a doorman simply "tapping into my company's expertise." I am often looked to as the expert and need to position myself as such because I'm more than occasionally the best (or last) option for a journalist.

Second, to be the expert, I need to do my homework. I must research and study all aspects of my business and prepare for any anticipated - and unanticipated - issues.

Finally, sometimes I don't need to answer questions as they are posed. In the absence of a colleague who might know more, but is unavailable, I can share what I know. It might not completely answer the question, but it will position us accurately, and it will be fact-based.

You write: "The cost of entry to the PR profession is lamentably low. The only counter to that is to raise the bar on thought leadership." I'd add that another area for our future leaders to focus on is doing their homework so they are adequately prepared when the phone rings after all the "experts" have left for the day. Be one yourself. Be ready, willing, and able.

Michael Neuwirth
Senior director of PR
The Dannon Co.
White Plains, NY

Correction

In the May 29 Launch Pad ("ALF uses choice words to tell kids the 'truth' about smoking"), we mistakenly noted that "the truth van" expected to reach 18,000 kids this year, based on reaching the same amount the previous year. In fact, the tour reached more than 800,000 teens in 2005, with the same expectations this year. We apologize for the error.

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