Journalists on PR: Audrey Gray

Audrey Gray

Audrey Gray

In the latest installment of CasterBlog’s Journalists on PR series, Caster’s Joe Paone interviews Audrey Gray, senior editor with North American Publishing Company‘s (NAPCO’s) Consumer Technology Publishing Group (CTPG).

Based in Philadelphia, Audrey writes business features and produces rich media content for CTPG’s roster of consumer electronics-focused publications, including consumer title E-Gear and trade titles Dealerscope, CustomRetailer and PictureBusiness. As such, she’s hella busy, and we’re extremely grateful she took the time to talk with us.


Audrey joined CTPG in September 2005, already possessing over a decade of experience in multimedia journalism. She has worked as an on-air reporter/producer and show host for public radio and television stations in Syracuse, N.Y., Wilmington, Del., and Philadelphia. She even spent two years writing scripts for Perfect Proposal, a national daytime television program shown on TLC. As CTPG’s coverage has evolved to embrace and produce multimedia content (see Audrey in action here or here), her previous and extensive broadcasting experience has proven invaluable to the group.

On a personal note, I (Joe) had the pleasure of working with Audrey for two years. A consummate journalist possessing tremendous integrity and imagination, she never settles for the predictable or prescribed story angle, and has a particular gift for getting her interview subjects to open up and tell stories they wouldn’t likely tell to any other reporter. As such, she’s an editor’s dream but, to paraphrase the great James Brown, Audrey don’t take no mess from PR people, either.

In today’s installment, we get a good sense of exactly what Audrey wants from PR pros…and what she doesn’t.

OK, quick word association. I say “PR,” you say…

Duck!

How do you feel about PR people these days? Are they getting it right? Do they need to make adjustments?

I like it when PR people think like reporters. It’s so simple, really: My magazine has a voice, an approach, a certain number of pages to fill. I am looking for timely, intriguing stories about real people and their experiences with technology (or, in my case, the entire CE retail industry). I am not looking to repackage product-centered press releases.

Most CE [consumer electronics] PR people just push product without a storyline or a sense of the current marketplace. For instance, I am getting dozens of e-mail press releases today about accessories that will be launched at CES [Editor’s note: our interview was conducted in late December]. I’d be more interested in an up-to-date survey about which accessories Americans are most inclined to keep purchasing during a recession. Or a story about how one person is using a certain accessory/software to save money as they shop for the holidays. The PR people who find a way to pitch their clients in CONTEXT to the times are most helpful.

I have other thoughts about actual PR practices. For instance, having an intern who has little knowledge of his or her product cold-calling me and leaving me a vacuous message (happens all the time) is more than unhelpful. It’s a turn-off.

Message received! OK, since you mentioned one of the confounded things, let’s talk about trade shows. I don’t know that PR people or journalists have any real idea just how exhausting and chaotic these experiences can be on the other side of the fence. Can you share any preferences or annoyances you have about your interactions with PR people at these events?

Trade shows are soul-taxing, rushed and noisy, so I love it when a PR pro can create a functional oasis. I want to take a booth tour with someone whom I can quote AND photograph; that’s essential. Why waste a half-hour on a backgrounder? Let’s get to business, let’s talk ideas and trends and design as well as specs.

It’s great to be handed a flash drive of current high-res product images and headshots; I still prefer that to a calling card with a website. Remember, I’ll be writing up the story late that night in a hotel room (often with sketchy WiFi service) after a significantly grueling day and a few drinks with sources. So having quality images right at hand helps a lot.

I know you’re a big user of sites like Flickr and Twitter in your personal life. But how do you use social media in your job? And what mix of social media and old-school tools should PR pros use to reach you and work with you most effectively?

I have had PR professionals request to follow my Twitter feed, and I typically deny those requests because Twitter is the one place I am relatively unguarded on the internet. But I actually like using other social networking sites as research resources for stories. I have PR Facebook friends and industry Facebook friends. Sometimes I’ll use the daily FB status update as a query for stories. I’ll write, “Audrey Gray is reporting on recession strategies,” and watch the response comments for ideas. LinkedIn annoys me (I find its interface horridly clunky), but I’m there too, and I will get mail sometimes from CEDIA [Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association] members there.

Sending me a press release via e-mail is totally acceptable. I’ll respond if it fits into my feature assignment list. I prefer not to receive follow-up calls.

Here’s a pathetic secret that shows just how susceptible I am to positive attention: My best relationships with public relations professionals are with ones who have taken a moment to read something I or my colleagues have written. If a PR pro calls up and says, “Audrey, the cover story last month was really interesting. I loved that quote about the millennial generation using three gadgets at once. And [CTPG Editor] Nancy [Klosek]’s roundtable was terrific.” Welp, guaranteed, that’ll get my attention. Plus, I feel like the PR pro has an idea now of our magazine’s style and needs. That little bit of effort (all of our content is online as well) is worth MANY points.

I’ve also had great experiences with PR people who worked as reporters at some point. They get it.

I think that might be a shout-out to me! If so, I’m blushing. As far as positive attention directed toward you, I think you know that I don’t have a flattering bone in my body, so you also know that I mean all of the good things I always say about you. OK, enough of this feel-good garbage… Do you have an all-time PR-related horror story?

Not really. I think the time-honored tension between reporters and PR pros is kind of amusing.  These days, I’m happy when people still have jobs!

Oh wait, there WAS the PR person who was so offended that my colleagues and I weren’t writing about her product that she wrote a letter to our publisher. Bad form, very bad.

Are press releases useful to you? If so, how? If not, why?

Sure, I like ’em well enough, though I usually flip or scroll down to the end for the contact information (ideal press releases include names, titles, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and even a short bio) so I can follow up with the principals myself.

For tech and product-oriented releases, I very much like bullet-pointed spec lists with (this is BIG) a current MSRP and product availability. I’m also looking for notes about retail partners, especially when a manufacturer has a limited distribution deal of some sort.

I’d encourage companies to investigate more interesting formats for press releases now that e-mail blasts have become more sophisticated in design. And, as always, a working link to a page where we can download high-res, print- and web-worthy images is much appreciated.

I think Canon does a really good job with releases. They often put products in historical (even recent history) context, which I find intriguing. HTSA [Home Theater Specialists of America] has a terrific release-writer. I often respond to her releases just to compliment her original concept.

What are your least favorite words or phrases that PR people use in conversation or in communications like releases?

Innovative, cutting-edge, groundbreaking, trend-setting, tech-savvy, world-class, ultra high-speed, remarkable…yada, yada, yada.

Sometimes simple is the most effective. I liked this recent release from Samsung & Verizon because I could scan it in five seconds and respond immediately to the links:

Good morning,

Samsung Mobile and Verizon Wireless today announced the availability of the Samsung Sway. A slim, silver slider with mp3 player, 2.0 megapixel camera and multiple messaging options.

Additional information about the Samsung Sway can be found on our newsroom: www.samsungmobilenews.com.

If you have any questions or would like to request a review unit, please feel free to contact me.

Best,

Tracy

Is there anything else that you feel the PR community should know about how it conducts itself and its business?

I’m so grateful to PR professionals who hook me up with the best talkers from a company, reps whose quotes will be candid and colorful. I love hearing from a straight-shooter, and my readers do too.

Overall, think “assist,” not “manipulate,” and don’t take anything personally. Working reporters today are doing 10 things at once.

We’re thankful to have been one of those 10 things today, Audrey. Thank you!

Stay tuned for the next installment of Journalists on PR, coming soon!

Posted by Joe Paone

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