Tuesday, June 14, 2005

PR Face2Face:
Julia Hood, Editor in Chief, PR Week

Julia Hood is editor-in-chief of PRWeek, the leading publication for PR and communications professionals. She began her career in publishing, and subsequently held positions in corporate communications for such companies as Mobil and BAT Industries. Hood has been at PRWeek for four years, first as a reporter, then as Bay Area Bureau Chief. She was promoted to her current position in September of 2002. Hood has an MA in journalism from New York University.



What changes are in plan for 2005 for PRW US?

Well, we are actually going to be conducting readership outreach to find and address the needs of readers. We are looking at becoming more of a mix of marketing, public relations, communications content. There are no plans for layout changes, no specific changes this point.

The main focus for us is to continue to use our Website to amplify and increase coverage as a whole. We do have Web exclusives, new daily content. And, while the Website has had some technical issues in the past, it is part of the rebuild of the site and being taken care of.

As PR seems to be under the microscope more and more to provide results – especially from the CFO perspective – how do you believe that PR should be measuring its results for companies?

There are a number of different methodologies that agencies and independent companies are developing. The biggest bar for methodology measurement is setting specific parameters with the client. If you don't know what you are measuring when you start the campaign, it is hard to agree what measurement tools should be used.

For public relations, education has to come in the front end. The client and the agency should start with what the client wants to measure, then figure out how to measure it. Too often, the decision of measurement comes at the end of the campaign. Sales figures, media – both can be used for measurement, but there is no idea how to measure that against PR. It's hard to find that middle ground.

Measurement is a function that is a result of not understanding PR, and agencies need to set goals before the campaign starts.

What do you see changing with public relations, as marketing and new communication forms push to the forefront?

There is an opportunity and a challenge for marketing and PR people with new communications.

Companies and reputations need to be protected. There needs to be an understanding of where the reputation is at risk - citizen journalism, blogs. PR needs to have astute measurement and tracking, in the real world and in the online, blogosphere world.

It is just getting to grips on the fragmentation of the universe. It's about reaching the diverse communities.

The goals and expectation settings are now more critical than ever. It is not just mainstream media, but the impact for the company and clients on all the different platforms.

By setting the goals first and foremost, a potentially neglected part of the planning process, agencies can help clients

With the issues that have affected PR in the past year, do you think the PoweR Girls program on MTV is getting an undue amount of attention?

I have not watched it, I don't know who has. It doesn't cross into my life, and people getting too wound about the program are wasting their time.

What it's like covering a notoriously press-shy industry, an industry that does not like to be interviewed or profiled?

I haven't found that to be true. It's not that shy, but it's recently learning because of bloggers, PRW, and the media to become more articulate in what it does.

That's the most difficult part of covering the industry. Agencies are restricted by clients, but the whole industry has suffered from talking about itself in general terms, not the value it brings to organizations.

It is improving, though.

Does your publication differentiate between public relations and publicity? What do you think are the differences?

Publicity is a tool of PR, it's one tool among many. We don't denigrate, nor do we give it undue significance. There are people that do amazing publicity work, and that's important for the particular segment, such as entertainment.

It's not giving a greater or less significant exposure than it needs in the publication.

What suggestions and advice would you give students that are going into PR?

Follow your passion, in terms of which career path you take. If you are interested in a particular area in your life, follow that passion and apply the PR training to working within that world. Public relations is always best employed by people that are passionate and care about what they are doing.

Starting out, you don't have to be pushed into what is considered PR. If you are passionate about non-profits, the theater, surfing, go with that passion, and go down that path.

PR does allow you a lot of freedom to learn and do a lot of things.

Particularly to those new in the industry, the best advice is to keep with that passion because people will respond.

Other publications have picked up the mantle on PRSA and decoupling - do you have any views on APR and should PRW take a stand on such an issue?

I don't really have a point of view on that. It's an issue for PRSA membership, and not something we take a stance on.

I know that the re-launch of PRWeek.com is a recent venture, but are there plans to convert it into more of an interactive blog - or to allow the PRW writers to blog on their articles to create an interactive, open forum with the readers?

Potentially. We are exploring that, and there is interest in it, we just need to make sure that what we are doing adds value. That's our litmus test - a fresh voice with the platform.

But we want to make sure that it's something that wouldn't detract from our main function: reporting on industry trends and news.

It's also a limited bandwidth, and we wouldn't want to take anything away from the core function.

The biggest story in the year has been the NYT series of articles on PR, including VNRs. IABC and PRSA have taken less of a pundit roll, while Jack O'Dwyer has been happy to pick up that ball. As EIC of PRW US, what's your role in the future of PR / your opinion of the future of PR?

The industry will survive these crises. PR is resilient and a function of modern, contemporary companies and government. PR gets stronger and robust, but it needs to grow up and realize that it will be scrutinized.

There is a maturity and relevancy need for public relations.

PR Week's role is to be a critical, and somewhat advocate, of the industry. We are an independent publication. We don't consult in the industry. We don't work in the industry.

We are an independent and credible voice, and my role as EIC is to push that agenda forward.

You have given Ray Kotcher of Ketchum a pretty open forum to address the issues. First, he had that Op-Ed piece, and now you have an email Q&A. Congrats on getting him to "talk" with you, but in an email interview he had too much an opportunity to craft and spin. Why wasn't there a phone interview or an in-person interview?

We discussed the options, and this was the one they were most comfortable with, and we were comfortable with it.

Obviously, you always prefer the face-to-face interview, and encourage and hope they will do so. But, we were given the option of having an email interview with him, and that is what we took.

It's been said that PRW has weighted coverage of the larger agencies. As the small and medium-sized boutiques seem to be making in-roads for business, what are you doing to make sure you have a balanced coverage?

We always strive for balanced coverage, and I know we reflect a balanced coverage. In fact, you will see nice features on the mid-sized agencies in past and future issues.

PRW recently wrote about publicists, and had a few letters come back a forth over the article. What kind of an effect do you think publicity-hungry or, say, PR people that are in the press a lot have on an industry where many of the top players agree that PR's best work is done behind the scenes and out of the spotlight?

PR is like any industry, full of individuals that make the decision on how they want to promote themselves. It's neither right nor wrong. If they want to do that, it's perfectly fine.

Your 2005 editorial included a line that you would no longer disparage the industry – that you wouldn't write negatively on the industry. How hard has that been to keep up? Aren't there times that the industry DOES need to be called out for stupidity, flaws or errors? Do you think this policy has hurt your publication's standing in the PR community?

The industry has matured to where we don't need to have that discussion anymore. There's a critical role that PRW plays in both promoting the good that PR does, and condemning the bad things that PR practitioners do. It's mostly about reporting the news that happens.

You went to NYU - what did you think of Jay Rosen's blog post on calling out the PR industry, or that it's more of a ivory castle mentality that's prevalent in education - dealing in theory, not real world situations?

I wrote an editorial about that. He's a journalism professor. He's not an ivory tower PR guy, he's a journalism professor.

Any last minute advice on pitching PRW? Any final thoughts?

My advice is to read the masthead, and know which reporter to go to.

Take the time to get to know the people that are in the bureaus, as well the local reporters. Read the publication. Make sure you know what we are interested in, and know the basic rules for the roadmap of any publication.

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