The Public Relations Battlefield

In May 2010, I joined a student journalistic embed with the Minnesota National Guard.  An embed is a militaristic term that means I lived in the barracks, ate MREs (meal, ready-to-eat) and experienced a military lifestyle, while improving my journalism skills during crisis, high-stress situations. For five days, I did field reporting work as an intern journalist at Camp Riley, near Brainerd, MN. Embeds provide soldiers and commanders with interactional experience and it educates them on what they can and cannot expose to the public. I took it as a chance to learn what information journalists typically look for when writing stories. This experience taught me a few major points, which can help public relations professionals improve their relationships with journalists.

Journalists are there for facts; give them everything you can.

Journalists collect information. As public relations practitioners, it is important that we know what information journalists are looking for, as well as providing them with pertinent information that will benefit the story. Be a contact afterwards and make sure that the facts they have are accurate. Journalists need very specific information and it is our job to find out what that information is.

Last June, I attended the World PR Forum in Stockholm. Paul Miller, from Cision UK, discussed a study that revealed journalists prefer to receive news releases in the body of an email. In addition, the study suggested emails should be formatted as two-way conversations.

As a journalist, I needed to tough it out.

I did not have the luxury of an office or even a bathroom during the day. I was outside in extremely uncomfortable conditions for hours at a time, and in a strange way I loved it. In the same sense, reporters often work in extreme conditions; they have to fight to find the facts so make it easier for them whenever you can.

Be culturally sensitive and prepared to deal with the unexpected.

Some of the commanders with the Guard instructed their soldiers to respond to our questions with, “no comment,” due to negative past experiences with the media. The Public Affairs officers were against this response, but it was an obstacle I had to learn to deal with. “Journalists exist because they have a story to tell and if you don’t tell it, someone else will,” Specialist Stephanie Cassinos told me during the embed. “It is important for the soldiers to be active with the media and continue the conversation to get the view point out there.” As communicators and public relations professionals, we need to be productive and transparent with the media.

Keep a fresh perspective.

An AK-47 strapped to a shoulder and a massive explosion coming out of the ground didn’t seem to look like much to the troops, but I was an outsider and it was amazing for me to witness. The timing of our embed wasn’t ideal because the companies were transitioning. I would not have known or understood these circumstances if someone had not explained them to me.  In terms of event planning, we need to take surprises in stride and not act surprised or caught off guard if something happens that we do not anticipate.

Clark Rahman is a student at University of Minnesota.

Check out the content from my embed!

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