Sara Blask, Director of Media Strategy for OutCast, one of the leading Marketing and Communications agencies in the Bay Area, spoke to students in the Master of Arts in Professional Communication program at the University of San Francisco last week. She passed along some indispensable advice for anyone looking to enter or advance in a career in communications and media relations.
Essentially, Sara works as an in-house reporter who advances the business objectives and brand profile of companies, especially in the tech sector. Her focus on the media front is to build long-term relationships with journalists. Sara skillfully makes pitches to reporters to tell stories about evolving industry and technology trends on behalf of her clients, which currently Lyft, Facebook, and DARPA (an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense that develops emerging technology and basically invented the Internet).
One great, practical piece of advice she shared for students who want to grow in the communications industry was to “Get Scrappy.” Prior to leading strategy for the OutCast Agency, Sara worked in reporting and PR for powerhouses such as the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal, and clearly she knows both sides of the divide when it comes to dealing with reporters.
According to Sara, emotional intelligence is key in a job that requires not only researching a reporter’s beat and interests, but also understanding what it’s like to walk in a journalist’s shoes. As a former journalist herself, she knows the feeling of being under deadline pressure and a constant barrage of emails and tweets from PR people trying to spin a story. So she does impeccable research, takes painstaking hours to craft thoughtful yet persuasive emails, and she’s careful to find a balance between maintaining good contact with journalists and not imposing on their time.
Of course, not every attempt to connect with a journalist works out as planned. This past summer, Sara found herself trolled on Twitter by a particularly testy journalist. She had sent him an email to pitch one of her clients’ technologies, but little did she know the reporter had recently received five pitches of a similar sort. The reporter proceeded to tweet a screenshot of Sara’s pitch along with the others, saying that none of the pitches had anything “decent or valuable to say.”
Sara’s message to us was to keep on fighting despite the challenges, competitiveness, and criticism. Professional communicators, after all, have to remain “professional” (unlike certain unnamed tweeters). If we remember to “get scrappy,” building relationships in the PR community and getting our story out into the world can be enormously rewarding.