Friday, September 27, 2013

PR pro offers advice for journalists entering public relations

PR authority shares secrets of the trade with part 2

Earlier this week, I interviewed Katherine McLane, Vice President of Communications and External Affairs for the LIVESTRONG Foundation to try to glean some PR secrets and best practices.

 Today, it's Gene Grabowski's turn. Grabowski will deliver the luncheon keynote address, “Communicating with a Global Platform,” at the upcoming Houston PR Day Conference.

Mr. Grabowski has been named PR Week’s award as Crisis Manager of the Year for his work on numerous issues including the Kuwaiti detainees in Guantanamo, Roger Clemens’ Congressional perjury case, the series of North American pet food recalls, and the Chinese lead-paint toy recalls. He is also a former White House news reporter.

Mike McGuff: How was the transition from journalist to PR world? Any advice for those looking to make the switch?

Gene Grabowski: My transition from journalism to PR was relatively easy, primarily because I was immediately able to translate resourcefulness and writing ability into marketable services. It also helped that I liked people and I’m a talker by nature. The transition to PR is often hardest for those who have been journalists the longest, however. That’s because while journalistic instincts like curiosity, tenacity and skepticism are helpful in PR, the field now demands a higher degree of flexibility and the ability to sell at all levels – characteristics that dyed-in-the-wool reporters sometimes lack.

My advice for those seeking to make the change is as follows:
- Develop good presentation skills to support your writing ability. Otherwise, you may not get the exposure to clients that is essential for moving up in the field.
- Be flexible and open to learning new skills. Just because you can write and report doesn't mean you have the necessary skills for PR today. For example, you will want to learn as quickly as possible how to manage clients, manage teams, sell new business, strategize on digital media issues and make presentations.

In your opinion, what is the secret to good public relations/communications?

The secret is to understand that there is no secret. Everyone has different talents and skills that must be applied at different times to different clients and audiences. Understand that clients are seeking business partners and good counselors; they are no longer seeking order-takers. That means you have to learn to confidently counsel clients based on solid talent and skills. You cannot fake it.

How much is storytelling (something good journalists develop a skill for) a part of a good campaign?

Story-telling is perhaps the most essential skill in communications. Stories are what every audience responds to, no matter what age, profession or location. In fact, even if you have data, a logical argument and indisputable facts, you will still fail to persuade your audience if you cannot tell a story.

While your work is extremely high profile, what advice would you have for someone starting on the local level?

Act right from the start as though the work you are doing is at the highest-level. Apply the same attention and effort to a simple store opening in a small town as you would managing Fashion Week in New York City and you will always be in demand. To a true professional – especially one starting out in a field – there is no small assignment.


The Houston PR Day Conference will take place a The Bayou City Event Center on Wednesday, Oct. 2.

Gene Grabowski bio

Gene Grabowski is a distinguished crisis communications counselor and former journalist with a background in litigation issues who leads crisis accounts for high-profile individuals, global corporations, trade associations and government agencies.

A 30-year veteran in the communications field, Mr. Grabowski has been named PR Week’saward as Crisis Manager of the Year for his work on numerous issues including the Kuwaiti detainees in Guantanamo, Roger Clemens’ Congressional perjury case, the series of North American pet food recalls, and the Chinese lead-paint toy recalls.

Before joining Levick, Mr. Grabowski served as the Vice President of Communications and Marketing for The Grocery Manufacturers of America – the world’s largest food trade group representing brand-name food, beverage, and consumer-product companies. In addition to developing and implementing GMA’s media outreach programs, he was the organization’s chief communications strategist, spokesperson, and liaison with industry analysts. He led the industry’s strategic efforts on recalls, biotech foods in Europe, obesity, and global food safety.

Prior to his service at GMA, Mr. Grabowski served as a Director in the Washington office of Burson-Marsteller, where he developed and managed national advocacy and media relations campaigns. As part of his responsibilities at Burson-Marsteller, Mr. Grabowski managed issues for companies including Perrier, Motorola, Philip Morris and Unilever, and worked on discreet matters overseas for governments including Kazakhstan, Tanzania, Uganda and Russia.

For more than six years, Mr. Grabowski served as Media Relations Director for the American Council of Life Insurers, working on major issues ranging from company solvency, industry investment regulations and agent sales and performance standards. A highlight of his tenure at ACLI was his work on the “Harry and Louise” healthcare campaign along with the Health Insurance Association of America.

A former White House news reporter, Mr. Grabowski is an authority on a variety of issues, including crisis communications, food and consumer product recalls, financial regulation, and media training. He also reported on Congress for The Associated Press, specializing in consumer product, health insurance and manufacturing issues.

A Pittsburgh native, Mr. Grabowski earned a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and History at the University of Pittsburgh, and has done graduate work in Management at the University of Michigan. Mr. Grabowski serves on the board of International Social Service USA, an organization dedicated to heLping children, families, and adults whose lives have been disrupted by migration and international crises. An avid chess player, he holds a rating with the U.S. Chess Federation.

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