Member Profile: Gretchen Wright
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VP and Principal
Why did you join PRSA and what is one of your favorite benefits that the organization provides?
Honestly, it took me a long time to decide to join PRSA. I only did it this year and I did it because public relations have changed dramatically (as has journalism) since I first started working in this field nearly 30 years ago. I wanted to gain insights from other professionals about how they navigate this brave new media world, which offers so many opportunities but also a lot of challenges.
My favorite benefit is that I get to hear from colleagues who do what I do in a range of settings – from the corporate sector to large agencies to the nonprofit and governmental sectors. Our jobs are similar in many ways and it’s interesting to hear how they approach some of the challenges and opportunities we all have.
Tell us a little about your background in the industry, including how long you’ve been in the profession, and share a few ways it has changed over the years and where you see it going.
I started out working for NARAL in the late 1980’s. I wrote the organization’s newsletter and did some writing and pitching. I went from there to a small public relations firm called PR Solutions in 1993, and I’ve been at that firm ever since, developing and implementing strategic communications plans for nonprofit organizations that focus on social justice.
I believe that biggest driver of dramatic change in our industry is technology. Today, communication is almost literally happening at the speed of light. I used to put together schedules for mailing out news releases, media advisories and editorial materials. It took planning, coordination and a lot of advance notice. It also took an enormous amount of time (as well as postage).
Of course, technology has affected much more than the speed at which we work, it’s also fundamentally changed the nature of the media. We used to work with just print and broadcast outlets, and we now work with print, broadcast, web-based and hybrid outlets. Almost every print or broadcast outlet has an online component and reporters are being required to do more than just file a story or several a day, they also have to blog, tweet, post on Facebook, talk on podcasts…any number of things. That means that there are often many more opportunities to get a story out. It also means you’re trying to pitch a reporter who is stretched very thin.
And there’s so much to keep up with. Websites and blogs appear and disappear rapidly. There are always new kinds of social media to learn about and figure out. Twenty years ago, I didn’t have to figure out how to use SnapChat or Instagram for a client. It’s exciting because there’s so much room for creativity, but it can be daunting because there’s so much to try to learn.
It’s definitely a brave new world out there.
Tell us about one of your most memorable experiences during your career.
I think the most memorable and meaningful experience came while I was working on a journalism award for excellence in covering drug and alcohol issues. Part of my job was to solicit submissions and then read, watch or listen to every entry, make a first cut of them and write up the synopses. The awards judges were leading journalists, and they’d read the synopses, review the finalists and make their determination as to the winners. During their deliberations meeting one year, Jack Rosenthal, who at the time was the head of the New York Times Foundation, said, “I want to take a minute to acknowledge all the hard work Gretchen has done to solicit, screen and write up all of these submissions.” He didn’t have to do that, but it was so gracious and meaningful. That kind of kindness and recognition really matters. I try to emulate it.
What’s your best advice to the new generation of PR professionals?
Be brave and be curious. There are so many new media emerging and we don’t know exactly how to use all of them. Experiment and explore. And share what you learn!