Member Profile: Jim Cole
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Senior Writer at Bank of the West
Why did you join PRSA and what is one of your favorite benefits that the organization provides?
I wanted to connect with others in my field, which I’ve done through PRSA. One of my favorite benefits is the Issues & Trends email because it keeps me up to date on interesting news and ideas in public relations.
You have been in PR for over 7 years. Share a few ways it has changed over the years and where you see it going.
The biggest change has been the shift to owned content, which has really taken off in these 7 years. When I moved from journalism into PR, I was hired specifically for my journalism experience, knowledge of finance, and connections to financial journalists. But over the years, we’ve all learned that it is hard to compete for reporters’ and editors’ attention, and you don’t have to. I’ve spent much more time in the last two years creating content for my company and posting it to our own blogs, creating whitepapers for broad distribution, and converting that content into by-liners to place in publications and websites.
I think this trend may have run its course because there are now so many companies creating content that it is becoming harder and harder for consumers and others to sort through it all – and so much of it is the same and not very good. I think the future will involve partnerships between companies and journalists to create what I consider “educational content” such as how to buy a house, or how to get a loan. The partnerships will allow news outlets to continue to create educational content which readers want, and this will free up their resources at media outlets to continue to do deep, investigative journalism that is essential in a democracy.
Tell us about one of your most memorable experiences during your career.
Early in my PR career I learned the value of “No comment.” That value is zero. Our company had a difficult quarter during the Great Recession. There was a local reporter who always called us to talk about our financial performance, and always got his digs in no matter what we did. This quarter was bad and I just couldn’t spin any of the numbers, so I recommended we just say no comment. Thinking he would then have little to write about and the story would just be a couple paragraphs buried inside the paper. That was, of course, not the case. Without our perspective on the results, he was free to make the results look even worse than they were. It was an awful experience for me explaining to executives what had happened when we saw the article on line late in the afternoon. I then had to go back to the reporter and try to retract the “no comment” and provide some context. Luckily, I survived that blunder and had innumerable positive experiences in subsequent years placing stories in the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR and elsewhere.
What’s your best advice to the new generation of PR professionals?
Learn to write and understand journalism. Strong writers are valued in an organization, which is encouraging for me as a writer. You will help your career and any organization you work for if you write constantly and become an excellent writer. If you combine that skill with a true understanding of how journalists think and work, you will be invaluable. Journalists are different creatures from most people, and few in PR professionals appreciate that and few take the time to understand what motivates and inspires journalists. If you understand them and think of them as your client, you’ll be more successful, they will value you and your organization will value you more.