After that he switched to writing and editing a national Sunday newspaper supplement for two years. He is something of a jack-of-all-trades because along the way he picked up all the skills you need to make it in PR: writing, reporting, interviewing and photography. He has held his current job for about two years and he couldn't be happier with it even though it often involves long hours and sometimes working at home.
Life in Labor PR
Brian is a busy man. He's kept hopping from the time he gets to work in the morning until he turns off his desk lamp at the end of what can often be a very long business day.
He works in public relations for a local of the Service Employees International, AFL-CIO, and as he says, "My job is anything but dull. I doubt if I could last in a job where I had to do the same thing day after day. Here I get a chance to do a million and one things. It's more exciting this way. It keeps my adrenalin flowing all the time."
Variety and challenge are two facets of the job he likes the best. In any given week he will help to put together the local's newspaper, write press releases and reports, prepare speeches, design leaf lets, cover meetings, and monitor the media for any mention that might be of interest to the union he represents.
As a public relations worker for the AFL-CIO, Brian is involved in a somewhat specialized area of the business. There are many elements involved in his work, yet his overall function is to keep his union's members informed about issues and events that might directly affect them. Each project in which he is involved represents an information avenue of its own.
While public relations workers specialize in many different fields and are employed by every conceivable industry, the name of the game is still communication. Competent pros pride themselves on their ability to exchange information in concise, clear, understand able terms. As Brian Perry puts it:
"The AFL-CIO is a big union and, because we have members all over the country, it's not always easy staying on top of news items that affect our members. While I'm involved in local issues, I also have to work closely with the international division, which covers the whole country.
"So we have news and information on two fronts; local and international," he says.
Every month Brian helps coordinate the union's newspaper, which is distributed throughout the greater New York area. De pending on the amount of news that has to be reported, the paper can run anywhere from 8 to 28 pages.
"Most of the time our paper is pretty small," says Brian, "because we're just covering local issues. Around holiday time, it usually gets fatter because there's more news - meetings and conferences and issues that all have to be covered."
Reporting on recent developments is only a small part of the job. Once the stories are all written and the photographs processed, the paper has to be laid out, printed and distributed, and that's a time-consuming job. Almost before one issue is in the mail, Brian is working on the next one.
Press releases are prepared when there is a significant news event that justifies them. "We don't prepare press releases every time something happens," says Brian. It's usually devoted to something important that affects all of our members and we want to let people know about it right away.
For instance, if the union is announcing a program or taking a position on an issue that concerns the union's members, we'll send out a press release. I've learned that it serves little purpose to send out press releases every time we have a routine announcement.
It has to be something significant or else news people won't take it seriously. The purpose of a release is to get immediate cover age. That's why it's crucial to send them to newspaper and magazine editors who will read them and use them."
The best that Brian can hope for from a press release is that an editor will think the item is important enough to justify writing a full story about it.
"Just having a release rewritten or printed as is, is terrific," he says. "But when an editor thinks the issue is important enough to do a full story, we're delighted because we've accomplished what we set out to do."
"It's great when you have some contacts at a newspaper," says Brian. "That makes it a lot easier when you have to pitch stories. Most public relations workers have a battery of contacts which they have developed over the years.
"It's a lot easier proposing ideas when you know an editor on a first-name basis. If I feel a story is right for a certain magazine, for example. Til call my contact and discuss the idea. If the editor likes it, we'll get together or I'll send along more information and eventually - and hopefully - it leads to a published story.
"The difficult part is calling up an editor or writer cold. This takes a little practice. Editors are busy people and they don't like to waste time on the telephone. When I call up someone I don't know, I try to get to the point as quickly as possible. That way they don't feel like I'm taking up their time.
At the end of letters like this I usually add that I'll call them in a few days if I don't hear from them. That way I haven't put them on the spot and they can think about the proposal when they have the time.
"More often than not, I get a call within a few days after they get the letter," he says.
From time to time, Brian is called on to write speeches for the local's president. High-ranking officials, whether they work for a union, corporation or association, rarely have the time to sit down and write their own speeches.