The Efforts of a Public Relations Writer

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More often a speech is the result of the combined efforts of the PR writer and the executive, with the public relations people doing all the actual writing.

"Speech writing can be tricky," Brian says. "People don't write and speak the same way. When I first tried to write a speech it sounded long-winded and preachy - more like a report than a speech. The idea is to establish rapport with your listeners and then hold their interest.

"A lot of creativity goes into writing a speech," Brian says. "To write a good one, you have to know the person you're writing for. You have to know his mannerisms and approach and you have to use the words that he would use.



"In other words, you have to pretend that you are the person you're writing for. I usually rewrite a speech a few times before I'm satisfied with it. Then I give it to the person I've written it for and he usually makes some changes. Then I rewrite it again."

All of this is extremely time-consuming. There are constant deadlines and a lot of frustration. It's easy to see how Brian's day flies by. On really busy days he barely has time to grab a fast lunch at a nearby luncheonette.

"Usually I munch away at a sandwich and sip a container of coffee at my desk while I'm doing a million different things. The phones never stop ringing, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Taking work home used to bother me at first, but it doesn't anymore. It's all part of this business," he says.

Nonprofit Work

Mary Blue Magruder took a rather roundabout route into public relations and it certainly wasn't typical. She is the director of development for an organization called Earthwatch in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Earthwatch is a nonprofit operation that funds scientific expeditions around the world. It recruits people who pay their own way to travel with and help scientists in their research work around the globe.

Earthwatch's travel itinerary reads like a Rand-McNally atlas, with some of its expeditions going to countries that few people have ever heard of. How did Mary Blue Magruder wind up there? By sheer coincidence, to hear her tell it.

"I was a Renaissance history major at Harvard. I have absolutely no journalism experience. I guess you could say I'm self-taught. I studied a little bit of this and little bit of that - biochemistry, history, economics - and I got a job with a management consulting firm in New York," she says.

Know your subject matter is Ms. Magruder's advice to PR job seekers. On this trip into aboriginal Australia she practices what she preaches, downing something called a witchery grub. She says it tastes like egg yolk, sort of.

From the Foundation she went to Earthwatch about five years ago and has since been involved in all manner of things. In 1981 alone, she was responsible for some 350 published articles about the activities of Earthwatch, which operates on a $1.5 million annual budget.

"It's a matter of dreaming up angles. A reporter will call me up when he's on a deadline and ask me if I know a volcanologist he can call for a piece on Mt. St. Helen's. Someone else may need an expert on coastal mining," she says.

"Blue" Magruder, as she is called, handles the Earthwatch educational program and works closely with both museums and the press, including radio and television appearances for Earthwatch scientists.

"Usually, I'm behind the scenes, but I do some radio and television work. My biggest audience was three million on an Australian TV show," she says.

Her other duties include organizing lecture tours for Earthwatch scientists, public service advertising, getting the organization mentioned in the corporate press, and preparing brochures.

Although she may have been largely self-taught, Ms. Magruder learned rapidly. She has a few tips for people interested in performing well in public relations:

1. Be honest.

2. Don't exaggerate.

3. Know your market - know the audience you are trying to reach.

4. Know the pros and cons of a subject.

"I don't really like to write," she says, "but I can dream up some pretty good ideas for freelance writers to follow through on. Some people deal in words, other people deal in ideas," she says. In case you were thinking that public relations is a high-powered travel field, think again. It's high-powered all right, but even in a job like Blue Magruder's there isn't that much travel. The best she's done in her behind-the-scenes jobs are trips to Nepal and Australia.

Corporate PR

A1 DeCicco is a senior public relations specialist with the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. (3M) office in New York City. He is also what you might call a generalist. DeCicco didn't study public relations and he didn't go to journalism school either. He worked his way up the corporate ladder in a steady progression. He began as a general assignment reporter for the Rochester, N.Y.-based Gannett newspaper chain. Later he was a copy desk editor for the New York Times.

Along the way he picked up an expertise in household do-it-yourself information and wrote hundreds of columns on that subject for the New York Daily News. He also worked for a New York advertising firm before joining 3M several years ago. DeCicco, who's done well enough in the business to have a weekend home on the Maine coast, is not really a fan of colleges that teach public relations. He is fond of telling lecture audiences that you have to learn the ground rules before you can learn the techniques of this profession.

He thinks that much of the media's attitude toward public relations is the result of misunderstanding its role. "A lot of people have this mental picture of the hotshot PR man wheeling and dealing at fancy luncheons and dinner parties. It just isn't that way at all," he says. "It's a lot of hard work. There's no such thing as a structured workweek. You can get to the office Monday morning and write two lists of things you want to accomplish that week. "I usually write 'imperative' over one column and 'important' over the other one. Then the phones start ringing and you can throw those lists in the wastebasket.

"I think it's important to plan your days beforehand. But you can't be rigid about it, because inevitably plans have to be altered along the way. I've learned to be flexible. That way, if things don't work out, you're not devastated. More often than not, I'm accomplishing what I intended to do after five o'clock."

Take history or journalism or economics or political science in college, with a few courses as a minor in communications or public relations - that's DeCicco's advice.

"A good public relations person, no matter what end of the field he's in, should have good old-fashioned common sense and present a good image," he says.

"Remember, you can't just talk about the good things; you have to present the bad along with them. Consumers today are too sophisticated to fool for very long. That's true whether you're trying to sell a product or an image."

DeCicco should know. Several years ago, before he joined Minnesota Mining, he worked for an agency whose task it was to lure industries from the North to the state of South Carolina, where taxes and operating costs were far lower.

"Back in the 1970's the public image of South Carolina was that it was something right out of Tobacco Road. It wasn't, of course, but that's what people thought. What we had to do was to tell companies all over the country that we had the workers. We had to stress the advantages, very real advantages, of what we had to offer," he says.

And that was what he managed to do for the Industrial Development Board of the state of South Carolina through a series of newspaper and magazine articles and the judicious placement of public figures on radio and TV shows. All that was designed to alter the image of the state.

And alter it DeCicco did. South Carolina lured millions of dollars worth of business and industry away from the New York and New England area, and South Carolina, its image radically changed, couldn't be happier about it.
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