Friday, December 13, 2013

My Favorite PR People

Whether you're a journalist or a PR professional, you already know about the unspoken tension between the two camps. I've been doing my job now for 24 1/2 years, and I can tell you that there are times when I shake my fist and curse the existence of PR people and others when I thank God in Heaven for putting them on planet Earth.

And how do I show thanks to those who make my life easier?

Well take this morning as an example: I had a new story assignment. Rather than put it up on to the masses of PR professionals, I contacted one who keeps in touch with me regularly. This person follows me on Twitter, takes time to ask how I'm doing and this week had lined up a stellar source for two of my stories. I gave him first dibs on this new assignment for one of his clients. If they pass and don't have anyone who fits the bill, then I put the story up on Profnet for everybody else's consideration.

I do this regularly with about a half-dozen favorite PR people.

How does a PR professional gain become a journalist's "favorite?"

It's really very simple: Stay in touch. Be human. OK, here's another example: The week before Thanksgiving, I had a highly unusual story for one of my military publications. I had to write about jobs in a specific technology career and how military service people find opportunities in the civilian market place for that niche. I have to admit, I was daunted. So I went on LinkedIn and typed in a search for that specific job ... and voila! A list of opportunities showed up! With that, I could see which companies had the most prominent needs. I contacted those companies to find interviewees.

One of the responders called after Thanksgiving, and by then, I'd actually completed all of my interviews. I explained to the PR person that because of the holiday and the tight deadline, I'd already finished the story, but I told him other opportunities might come up for other stories. Most PR people at that point would say thank you and hang up, but this person pressed me: What types of stories?

Well, as a matter of fact, I had a new assignment that day. This one covered initiatives to recruit and retain wounded warriors. Would his company like to comment on anything they were doing in that arena? He said he'd get back to me.

Yesterday, he called again ... and it turned out that he was shocked to discover that his company didn't have anything organized. He was chagrined and very apologetic.

I tell ya what: This guy immediately goes to the top of my "favorites" list, because even though he couldn't help me with two stories, he tried so hard to be accommodating! From now on, every time I get an assignment that is related to job hunting, guess who I'm going to hit first to see if they want to participate?

There's a third example: I've interviewed one particular expert for three different magazines in the past month. The reason is that he called one day just to discuss ways he could help me come up with story pitches. He wanted to find out about all of the magazines that use me regularly, and he wanted to be available to help develop ideas that would interest them. He had great suggestions, and if any of those pitches turn into assignments .... guess who gets the first call?

Most people want a quick-and-easy way to form relationships with reporters. As you can see from these examples, they happen organically. In the age of social media, we don't necessarily cavort over cocktails at 5 or coffee klatches at the Chamber. We connect via Web portals, phone texts, emails, Facebook and LinkedIn posts and Twitter. That said, the importance of the quality of the connection can never be over-stated.

Once the barrier is broken with me, I have no qualms about sharing personal stories with PR professionals about my child, my yoga practice, even my dog. Some people may say to me that it's inappropriate to be so open and friendly. But I'd assert that being this way leads to an enriching give-and-take and leads me to wonderful people who have amazing stories to share.

And in this age of connectivity, isn't this type of connection what our work is all about?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Eggnog and Yoga to the Writer's Rescue

Tumbling through the front door, we cast a school backpack on a piano bench, kick shoes in wide-flung directions, shed bulky coats and drop car keys with a clatter on the kitchen counter.

I grab stemware from a cupboard, open the refrigerator and spy what I desire -- a carton of eggnog -- and fill the glass with the sweet and cold liquid, topping it with a shake of nutmeg.

"Ahhhhhhhhhh," I sigh, staring out of the window at a winter blue sky, breathing deeply and savoring the seasonal drink.

Lately I have been steeping myself in these moments -- stolen snatches of peace and calm in the midst of chaos.

If you're a writer who works at home -- and if you also happen to be a single mom -- you already know that December brings with it too many distractions and interruptions. Time cannot be a wasted commodity, and each workday must be meticulously planned so that deadlines can be met while at the same time a child is provided for and Christmas gifts are sought.

However, this December is even more frenetic for me, because although I normally am signing with creativity and brimming with holiday enthusiasm .... I am zapped of all energy.

Two months ago I hit a very unexpected health crisis event. Although I have fully recovered and am back to my normal workload, my Muse has not caught up with the rest of me. While I charge ahead with bill-paying writing assignments and juggle "mommy duties," my desire for imaginative composition has been non-existent.

I feel flat, one-dimensional, boring, robotic.

If I were to follow my own advice, to pull out of this funk I would tell myself to suck it up and write what I love to write. In the past, this strategy has worked well and has fueled me enough to not only complete my magazine assignments, but also infuse my creativity.

But even now, I can't kick myself to the curb in that manner. I've been resigned and, quite frankly, have felt nothing short of pillaged.

That is until today.

Today, in a last-minute decision, I grabbed the latest edition of Yoga Journal magazine from my bedside as I raced to pick up my child from school. I figured I'd read it in the parking lot while I waited.

To the backdrop of British trumpeter Alison Balsom on my car CD player, I thumbed through each page .... and slowly started breathing again.

And I suddenly realized an important practice I had been overlooking since that harrowing hospitalization event -- that of self-care. Within 36 hours of my hospital release, I was writing and completing magazine assignments. I only stopped working long enough for the after effects of the surgical anesthesia to wear off, and I was right back to it.

What I have found is that in my yoga practice, I have had to force myself to slow down, even if it's just for an hour-and-a-half at my gym three times a week. I recently picked up a subscription to Yoga Journal, not because I wanted to write for this publication, but because I needed it. The articles are a balm for me. They don't only touch on yoga asanas (poses), but also cover everything from human compassion, to healthy eating, to finding your bliss.

As writers, and especially as American writers with our Puritanical mindsets, we have a tendency to convince ourselves that if we're reading it, we'd better be writing it, too.

But I've decided lately that sometimes it's really just fine to soak in the art of others and allow the words of others to strengthen us, solidify our thinking, firm up our sensibilities.

If you've hit a wall like I have recently, consider gravitating to something you love. It doesn't have to be something you read. But I have found that in my pursuit of yoga as an exercise and now as a mindset, focusing on this particular subject gives me a great deal of joy and satisfaction. Clouding that with the obligation to write about it would conversely take away from the purpose of appreciating it.

After my child exited the school and we rolled through the countryside of Kentucky's horse farms, I suddenly started noticing my surroundings, things I'd hypnotically ignored on the way in: the beauty of the animals in the fields, the sweeping arc of birds in flight, the purity of the sky's hue.

And as I stepped back into my home and cast off the trappings of a busy life -- school backpack and all -- I gingerly laid the magazine on the kitchen counter and thoroughly enjoyed that cold glass of eggnog. I sank in to the beauty of the afternoon and whispered a prayer of thanks for health, for my child, for my blessings.

"Writer's Block" is a phrase we kick around -- usually with a curse under our breath -- but I'd encourage you that next time you hit the wall like I have, dig deep to think about what you love. Then enjoy what you love. Really enjoy it.

Because it's only when we shun the obligation in favor of the joy that the real writing begins again.