For a company that usually publishes headlines, Time Inc. has certainly been generating a few of its own during the past year. From the decision to turn over Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper's notes to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as part of the Valerie Plame leak case, to a series of recent layoffs, the company is a regular fixture of the business and media pages.
Helping to make sure that such news is communicated clearly and effectively is all part of the job for Dawn Bridges, Time Inc.'s SVP of corporate communications - and it's not an easy one.
Bridges has been in PR for about 20 years. She began in music publicity with such artists as Bon Jovi, John Mellencamp, and Vanessa Williams before making the switch to corporate communications for such companies as Polygram and EMI.
However, working in PR for a media company, especially in a city like New York, definitely presents a few challenges.
"[Time] gets tremendous attention because the media loves to report on the media business," Bridges says, adding that the fact that Time Inc. laid off a few hundred people last year got more press than news that other companies were laying off thousands.
Even so, it was Time's role in the Plame/CIA leak investigation last year that was the source of incessant coverage by newspapers, Web sites, and blogs nationwide.
In July 2005, after a series of losing court battles, Norman Pearlstine, then editor-in-chief of Time Inc., decided to turn over Cooper's notes to the special prosecutor, who was trying to determine who had revealed Plame's identity to the reporter. The decision was met with disapproval in journalism circles and beyond, which Bridges says provided an enormous communications challenge.
"It was not an easy thing to explain," she says. "There were multiple audiences. There's obviously the legal system and the courts, media, employees."
One key thing to do, she says, was to address those who disagreed with the decision. "It was a case of asking people why they disagreed," she says. "When you got down to it, people didn't really understand all the issues."
For example, it became critical to emphasize that Time Inc.'s actions did not reflect a lack of support for whistleblowers.
"This was allegedly a case of a political partisan breaking a law about national security in a time of war for political gain," she says. "It's a very different thing."
To confuse matters, Time Inc.'s battle was caught up with that of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who ended up going to jail to protect her source. But Bridges says that it was important to point out the cases were different because the Times was not a defendant in the case involving Miller, while Time Inc. was.
That doesn't mean the communications function at Time Inc. is just useful during crises. From the most routine to the special announcements, each one takes a careful amount of planning.
"PR has become a huge part of publishing, in terms of both its offensive and defensive aspects," says Time Inc. editor-in-chief John Huey. "We write about a lot of things that we want other people to read. There are [also] a lot of other people who seem to be fascinated in writing about us. We want to make sure they get it right. She's involved in all of that."
The most recent announcement, that Richard Stengel would be Time's next managing editor, followed endless speculation by columnists, reporters, and blogs.
"It could've been frustrating if we hadn't rolled it out smoothly, and she was instrumental in helping that work as well as it did," Huey says. "She plays a very strategic role in the company."
And for Bridges, it's a role that she truly enjoys. "It's a company that I really admire and love," she says.
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