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What Makes A Great PR Manager?

February 13, 2009

In the first of a series of posts about public relations for the performing arts a couple of weeks ago, I laid out a set of guidelines for writers of press releases. Today, I'd like to devote my attention to discussing what makes an effective performing arts public relations manager from the perspective of an arts journalist.

PR is a subtle art, but many of the people who practice it are not subtle people. Those less adept at their job tend to rampage around repeatedly bludgeoning editors and reporters with information. They speak in loud, bland voices and lack the guts to provide the arts organizations with whom they work advice on how best to approach the media, instead often allowing the artists to dictate how they should run their campaigns.

Every now and again, though, I come across a public relations manager who's terrific. I'd like to share some pointers regarding what I think makes these individuals such a pleasure to work with.

1. Competence: The best PR people know the work of the artists with whom they collaborate intimately and can answer most questions straight away. They can get answers to those questions for which they don't have an immediate answer quickly. They are familiar with the layouts/set ups/business models etc of all the local media from radio, TV, newspapers and magazines to Internet publications, blogs, podcasts and vodcasts. They have a strong network of connections both in the media and the arts world and they know how best to match ideas with people. They keep their press lists up to date.

2. Responsiveness: Effective PR managers only need to be asked once for something e.g. press tickets, a playscript, the answer to a question about the artist, and they get back to journalists as fast as they can. They don't need to be asked twice. They keep on top of their email and voicemail and always provide a means of communication e.g. cellphone when they're out of the office.

3. Understanding of the Journalist's Job: My favorite PR managers understand what a deadline is and don't drag their heels. They also know that journalists are inundated with press releases and don't keep pestering them by repeatedly sending out the same information more than two or three times or hassling reporters on the phone to find out if they received a press release and will be coming to review the show.

4. Appreciation for all media formats: Many PR people still cling to old media -- newspapers, magazines, TV, radio -- as being if not the sole means of communication, at least the most important. But the (arts) media landscape is changing and the best PR people are up on the latest new media formats and actively court those journalists working in the arts field whose blogs/podcasts/vlogs etc are serious and well-created.

5. Ability to Rectify Mistakes: Sometimes things go wrong. Requests for press tickets go missing; a misprint appears in a magazine. Effective PR managers always keep tickets back at the box office so journalists with bona fide press ticket reservations don't get turned away. They gently contact editors to ask for the copy to be amended online / an error message to be published in next day's issue etc.

6. Good press release writing skills: I went into detail about this in my recent blog post on the subject.

7. Ability to stand up to their clients: This is a tricky one as it's the client who's paying the bills. But effective PR managers need to take charge when it comes to media relations matters and persuade the artists for whom they work to follow their guidance on publicity campaign issues in order to keep messaging targeted, elegant and intelligible.

8. Openness: PR managers who don't always put their guard up around journalists and view them with suspicion and are willing to be relaxed, friendly and, wherever possible, open, are much more fun to work with. PR managers who don't always talk in bland "PR speak" but can provide a positive yet frank view on things are more likely to get a fair shakeout for their arts organizations from the media than those who play things too close to their chests.

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