We at Rasky Partners are proud of our talented public relations and public affairs experts across the firm’s practice areas. In our new Meet the Expert series, we sit down with a different agency leader every Monday to get their thoughts on several important and timely questions and gain a greater sense of their industry expertise and experiences. This week we sit down with Rasky senior vice president in our DC office, Anne Tyrrell.
Public relations and public affairs are constantly evolving fields. Where do you see them headed and what can professionals do to keep up?
The explosion of social media and subsequent rise of citizen journalism as newsrooms shrink are the most significant changes in the communications field in recent years, and we need to adjust to those realities. But successful communications campaigns require the same approaches they always have: accurate, consistent and compelling messaging coupled with a smart strategy and capable people.
So, in my opinion, the way to keep up is to understand the evolving ways that information is being exchanged, alter tactics as necessary, but never stray from the general principles that effective PR people have always relied on.
You worked as a communications director on Capitol Hill prior to joining Prism Public Affairs, which merged with Rasky Partners in 2014. In what ways did this Congressional experience help shape your work today?
At Prism and now Rasky Partners, I have represented multiple clients facing regulatory uncertainty. There’s a congressional component to nearly all of these engagements, regardless of which regulatory body is involved. My time on Capitol Hill exposed me to how these matters are handled in Congress, how quickly a Member of Congress can alter the discussion (both positively and negatively) and what drives them to become involved. Those insights have served our clients well.
You also previously worked as the sole public affairs, PR and communications officer for a major defense contractor. What kinds of lessons and insights did you gain in-house that have proved beneficial now that you’ve transitioned to agency life?
Working for a defense contractor showed me that every industry faces a unique set of communications challenges and that to effectively support any client you need to make certain you understand the world in which they operate.
For defense contractors, one of the biggest challenges is that they are often contractually limited in, or even prohibited from, discussing the work they do for the U.S. government. That’s a frustrating position for a communications person to be in, and it requires creative thinking as well as very close coordination with the contractor’s customer. A communications professional never wants to be in the position of upsetting their client’s client, so understanding the industry is imperative.
As for working in-house, I think the biggest lesson learned was the importance of internal communications. Employees deserve to know what’s happening at their organizations but the priority is often placed on external audiences. At Rasky Partners, I often still provide our clients with internal communications support based on my experience working in-house.
You have become well versed in crisis communications over the course of your career. What do you see as the major challenges for crisis communicators today, especially given the rise of digital and the 24/7 news cycle that it has created?
I think a major challenge for crisis communicators, particularly in today’s around-the-clock news cycle, is determining the appropriate level of response for a given situation. While we need to react quickly, we also need to step back and assess every situation to determine first, if we are facing a true crisis, and then a smart approach to handling it.
Whether an organization is faced with a full-blown crisis or just a problematic situation, there is almost always a reasonable explanation for how it came about. I have seen organizations ignore their own crisis with the hope it will just go away. That rarely happens. But in saying nothing, the organization has allowed others to tell their story. At the same time, overreacting to a problem can bring more attention to a difficult issue than it would otherwise draw.
With you having held a variety of positions in the industry, what in your mind sets Rasky Partners apart from the rest when it comes to its approach to PR and public affairs?
Rasky Partners benefits from a wide range of experiences. Our website says: “We’ve been where you’re going, and we know how to get results.” That’s true. Members of our staff have worked on Capitol Hill, in the White House, in federal and state campaigns, in the media, and in a variety of business sectors.
But we also benefit from our size. I think we strike a good balance of having enough people with diverse sets of expertise while remaining small enough to give our clients the senior-level attention they deserve.
If you could offer clients one piece of advice, what would it be?
Providing consultants with as much information as possible is essential. We need to know as much as possible in order to succeed on your behalf. Getting up-to-speed at the outset is always one of the most time-consuming aspects of an engagement, but it’s critically important because it allows us to develop an informed strategy that will help lead to a successful campaign.
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