Friday, March 28, 2008

Words of wisdom from Evan Smith

Evan Smith, editor of Texas Monthly, spoke to my PR Campaigns classes yesterday. Since he’s involved with I Live Here, I Give Here and several non-profits, I thought it might be good for him to talk to the students about the campaigns the students have been working on this semester (each team is working for a non-profit) as both a journalist and a donor. He was open, bluntly honest and funny; the students really enjoyed having him in class. A few things he discussed:

  • People who donate to non-profits want to see results, where their money goes. Success stories, highlighting a particular individual or group, are great for donors, and journalists are more likely to run the stories.
  • Journalists do not like PR people; they find them annoying. This is because many PR people just spam journalists and don’t understand what the journalist writes about or what the publication is about. He advises PR people to get to know a beat reporter way before they pitch the reporter.
  • The media is undergoing a revolution. People aren’t reading traditional media anymore, particularly the younger generation. Media companies will need to figure out what the next model is. Additionally, media is more prevalent and segmented than ever before. I think Evan said there were 400x more publications available than when he first started. He gave an example that there used to be just People magazine, now there is also Teen People and People en Espanol.
  • PR is changing too. In fact, PR people could become irrelevant because there are more ways for clients to now reach reporters directly.

All of the above, I’ve told my students before. However, I always think it’s good when they hear it from experts, particularly the media. Evan had worried about being too harsh on the PR thing, and I disagreed. I told them I’m always sharing those stories and they need to learn how not to be an annoying PR person before they begin their career.

He also told stories about Texas Monthly:

  • Willie Nelson has been on the cover 8 times, more than anyone else. They will have an upcoming issue celebrating Willie’s 75th birthday. The cover story will be an oral history about Willie, where they’ve talked to just about everyone connected to Willie.
  • Evan had the idea for the infamous January 2007 Dick Cheney cover 11 months before the issue. He just hoped that no one would be a bigger bum steer that year than Cheney, and while no one beat him, a few came close.
  • The original idea for the January 2002 American Gothic cover was to have both Willie Nelson and Kinky Friedman in dresses. Evan called Willie, told him about the idea and Willie replied, “That’s not funny.” Quickly coming up with an alternative, Evan pitched the idea of Willie in overalls and Kinky in a dress. “Now THAT’S funny,” Willie replied.

He also told stories of job interviewing, gave the students specific feedback about their campaigns and was a great overall resource. I’m glad he took time out of his busy schedule to speak to these students; I know they got a lot out of it.

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