Strategic Communications

Tips from the Pros: Janie McCauley

Janie McCauley joined the Associated Press bureau in Seattle in 2000 and quickly made a mark for herself with her insightful coverage of Ichiro Suzuki’s rookie year with the Seattle Mariners. She moved to San Francisco in 2002 has covered the Bay Area sports scene for close to 20 years, along with numerous international events including three Summer Olympic Games, the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a Super Bowl and numerous World Series.

A native of Leavenworth, Wash. and a 1998 graduate of Washington State, McCauley was named AP’s Sportswriter of the Year in 2006 and was recently honored with the Murrow College’s Achievement Award, given annually to select Wazzu graduates for their outstanding work in the communications field. She will be inducted into the Hall of Achievement during the 45th Murrow Symposium in March.

In this initial installment of Tips From the Pros, Janie talks about her career and offers practical advice to communications professionals based on her years of experience covering both professional and collegiate sports.

Do you remember your first writing assignment as a journalist?

I worked for the Leavenworth Echo weekly newspaper my junior and senior years of high school as an independent study and feel so fortunate to this day to have gotten an early start. I tracked down University of Portland basketball player Curt Ranta from our local Cascade High for my first published story.

What was your career path that led you to the Associated Press?

As a college student at Washington State in Pullman, I helped out the AP with quotes and short game stories and then when the Seattle office was expanding its sports coverage in 2000 I left my first job at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, to join The AP full-time and was immediately thrust into the exciting coverage of the Seattle Mariners’ 116-game 2001 season and Ichiro Suzuki’s Rookie of the Year and MVP season that year.

What have been some of your most memorable assignments?

I have been blessed to see the world doing this job and to witness history, from Barry Bonds’ home run record to the Golden State Warriors’ five straight NBA Finals berths to five Olympics and two World Cups. At the 2016 Rio Games, sharing the story of an Iranian woman at her first sporting event to see the men’s volleyball team transcended far beyond sports and into human rights issues given women aren’t allowed in stadiums in Iran. I was lucky enough to find her that night in the stands as Iran made its Olympic volleyball debut and she was representing all the women who couldn’t be there.

What are some of the key elements to being a good storyteller?

Thinking beyond the court, field or arena is important. Give your readers a glimpse they can’t get otherwise or won’t see on the TV highlights. For example, on Inauguration Day the story of the Warriors’ win against San Antonio was hardly about the game but instead about wearing the “Oakland Forever” jerseys to honor new Vice President Kamala Harris’ proud Oakland roots and presenting her with a jersey.

You interact with a lot of PR people, both on the professional and collegiate levels. What are some of the things you expect and appreciate from a PR specialist?

While this doesn’t happen every month or even year, it is wonderful when a PR person thinks of you specifically for a special story and considers your audience as well and also your rapport with the subject – in this case Stephen Curry, who trusts me. I got to attend the first all-girls camp he hosted in the summer of 2018 and was the lone media member for this one, and it’s still a special story for me to this day. Read the story here.

Warriors media relations chief Raymond Ridder always walks through press row or the media room to check with each writer – local and visiting – at the end of the night. It’s such a nice gesture and effort he makes to go the extra mile.

Any pet peeves?

I don’t mind receiving follow up emails from PR people when pitching me a story idea, but hitting my inbox 3-4 times can be a little much. I work on multiple assignments and I promise I’ll get back to you. Also, calling a press conference on short notice without accounting for the drive time for reporters is near the top of my list. The more advanced noticed that something may be in the works short of an official is always appreciated.

What advice would you give PR pros when pitching a story?

Take the time to do the research of the intended targeted audience and ask, “Why is this story important to the reporter and his/her readers. Associated Press stories are picked up by numerous outlets throughout the country so keep in mind the story idea must have a national interest. Human interest stories will usually catch my eye as long as they have a unique angle. I appreciate some background information, but keep the pitches succinct in the email.

What advice would you give young people interested in pursuing a career in journalism?

Learn another language. Speaking Spanish after pursuing it as a minor and studying for a semester in Guadalajara, Mexico, is one of the best things I ever did for my career and I use it almost every day during baseball season. The players appreciate the effort in their native language even if not perfect by any means. And build relationships based on trust with those you cover.

What are some of your interests outside of work?

I’m an avid swimmer, mostly lap swimming but with so many pools closed due to the pandemic, I really got into open water swimming in the bay. I also love to garden and send handwritten cards, which I think is a nice touch and a lost art.

Find this article useful? Wish to repost it on your blog? Interested in a free business PR assessment from PR-Zone? Feel free to reach out to [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.

©PR-Zone 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Empathy is Needed More Than Ever

Empathy is Needed More Than Ever

By Jim Young

It goes without saying 2020 was a very challenging year for all of us, both personally and professionally. Very few people are in the same space as they were a year ago and we’re all still trying to get our arms around what the new norm means for our business practices. It was also a very trying year for our clients, potential clients and reporters.

Empathy tops my list of necessary skills for public relations pros in 2021 and beyond. It’s no longer a soft skill, rather one that should be embedded in the DNA of every organization and client interaction. How do you plan to plan to incorporate empathy into your public relations practices this year and why should you?

Last year changed a lot of organizations’ business models in every way imaginable and it would be foolish to think that things have changed drastically with a flip of the calendar. The public relations industry was no different, as we were challenged to do more with less while still being expected to deliver high-end results to our clients. Big, bold ideas accompanied by bells and whistles come with a price most budgets can no longer support. It’s more important than ever to listen to your client’s needs and help them make the most use of their resources by delivering a targeted strategic communications plan optimized to reach the right audiences on the right channels at the right time.

Understaffed newsrooms, expanded roles and fierce competition continue to place reporters under tremendous pressure. Take the extra time to tighten up your pitch by putting yourself in the shoes of the reporter and ask rhetorically, “Why should this story be important to this reporter and what interest does it have to his/her readers?” Make sure emails to reporters are well-researched and have a personal touch – it will go a long way in demonstrating sincere engagement.

We can all be better listeners. I love J. Richard Clarke’s quote of, “Seek first to understand before being understood.” Whether it’s understanding a client’s needs or brainstorming with your team, active and empathetic listening is a critical skill in any field, especially public relations. It conveys you are willing to look at every possible angle to best serve your client and organization. Let’s remind ourselves to check in with our colleagues, clients and reporters more to see how they are doing – and show you really care about their answer.

As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Everyone is still going through a lot of stuff these days – at home and in the workplace. Empathy and compassion are not only admirable traits, but essential in today’s PR landscape.


Find this article useful? Wish to repost it on your blog? Interested in a free business PR assessment from PR-Zone? Feel free to reach out to [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.

©PR-Zone 2021. All Rights Reserved.

The Perfect Pitch

The Perfect Pitch

By Jim Young / Contributor, Jody Privette Young

Whether you are a seasoned PR pro charged with landing earned editorial coverage for your client or a CEO of a startup or a Fortune 500 company, the ability to work and navigate effectively in an ever-changing media landscape is paramount to the overall success and profitability of your brand.

It’s understood editorial fairness, recognition and inclusion in stories relevant to your business (earned media) maximizes positive coverage in the mass media without having to pay for it directly (owned media). Is there anything more satisfying than developing a relationship with a reporter who is agreeable to listening to your pitch then seeing that story idea come to fruition, much to the delight of your client or CEO?

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Obtaining coverage is not easy, given the competition and limited space in today’s media environment. Bottom line is media outlets exist to inform and entertain by running relevant stories which will help increase circulation. All media outlets have their own interests and biases and the ability to understand the complicated landscape is paramount to strategic and ultimately successful media placement.

Here are some tips from PR-Zone to revitalize your media relations that will ensure you regularly hit home runs with the press.

Build Relationships

At PR-Zone, we value relationships we cultivate with reporters. We take the “relations” part of the business seriously. It’s a personalized approach, but it is also not about “who you know” as much as it is about providing the best editorial service we can provide. We take the time to get to know the reporters, and to understand their editorial needs and that of their readers or viewers. Reporters are more likely to respond to e-mails from names they recognize from a professional who knows the publication for which the reporter writes. Comment on their articles, follow them on social media and share their content. Get on their radar. Find a reason to call or e-mail a reporter when you aren’t trying to bend their ear about a product and you’ll be amazed how receptive they will be when you come knocking with the goods. Connect, connect, connect. And don’t forget to drop a reporter a thank you note after the story runs, when that’s appropriate, or a note about the interesting angle or quote the reporter included that caught your eye

Use a Targeted Approach

Do not spray and pray. All publicity is good publicity, right? Wrong. What’s the point of editorial coverage on your product, company or organization in a publication whose readership could care less? Granted, any credible reporter will quickly shutdown a PR pro’s pitch if he or she is barking up the wrong tree and shame on us if we can’t exercise proper discernment. Your reputation can be shot with one misplaced phone call or e-mail. While certain coverage might boost PR bragging rights and look good in the monthly report, misplaced coverage can be detrimental to a company whose product is not publicly traded, isn’t in need of funding and anywhere near ready for mass market distribution. Reputations of companies and the credibility of the CEO can come into question with a misplaced story. A pitch that is targeted and timely is the best one, even if the reporter might foul a few off before he gets the one he wants to hit.

Bloggers Are Important

When strategizing over which media outlets to target with a pitch, usually traditional media come first to mind, and that’s perfectly understandable. Let’s face it, the lines between traditional media and other news outlets is becoming more muddied every day. Bloggers are often more receptive in taking a pitch and have more creative license when it comes to reviewing your product. Plus, bloggers need fresh content. Never underestimate the importance of the comment box at the end of the blog. Often, words by a reader who doesn’t have a horse in the race can be as influential as the blog itself.

Publicize Beyond the Press Release

Yes, we take pride in writing a detailed press release with a catchy lead, interesting content and an insightful quote from the CEO. Hit send and wait for the calls to come in from reporters falling all over themselves to tell your story? Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Press releases tell only part of your brand’s story and are usually used for background purposes, rather than an effective introduction to the big news. You’ll find you get much better results if you sell the narrative in a pitch letter to a reporter of editor, or yes – even in a phone call. As succinctly as possible, convey the 3-5 major selling points and why your story sets itself apart from the 50-100 other pitches sitting in that reporter’s in-box. It’s important to keep in mind your story angle must offer the reporter value in driving eyeballs to their story. Keep it short, hook ‘em early and read it back as if you were the reporter receiving it. And by all means include a link or an attachment to that beautiful press release you spent hours writing, as well as a catchy infographic or photograph.

Never, Ever

E-mail multiple people in the same company or competitors. They talk, you know. An exclusive is an exclusive so don’t fish in multiple ponds. Give the reporter a reasonable amount of time to respond to your pitch and if he/she can’t commit, move on. Don’t spam! Mass blasts to thousands of reporters will certainly be ignored.

Deliver the Goods

Your pitch has hit pay dirt and the reporter is ready go, starting with that 1-on-1 interview you promised with the CEO. What? He’s not available until next week when he returns from the stakeholders meeting in the Bahamas? Unacceptable. Make sure you let your client know they need to be accessible when you strike gold. Service, service, service. Reporters are your customers and appreciate cheerful, speedy and reliable service.


A week has passed since the story you worked so hard in placing found its mark. You e-mailed the CEO the link and received huzzahs all around from the executive team. You have one more job to do – run the analytics breaking down traffic, click throughs, shares, best comments, etc. surrounding the story. A sure eye-opener is to compare the length of the story to the cost of an ad placement of the same space.


Find this article useful? Wish to repost it on your blog? Interested in a free business PR assessment from PR-Zone? Feel free to reach out to [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.

©PR-Zone 2017. All Rights Reserved.