Robert Deigh on Experiencing All Sides of PR

March 1, 2018

Name: Robert Deigh

Current status: Principal, RDC Public Relations, LLC

Location: Fairfax, Va.

Work experience: Reporter for U.S. News & World Report, senior communications roles at PBS and AOL, public affairs officer for U.S. Army in Panama Canal Zone, speechwriter for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

Any three dinner guests: Jimi Hendrix, Winston Churchill and Rodney Dangerfield

Favorite travel experience: A cross-country U.S. trip — 3,200 miles of amazing experiences with our kids

Favorite downtime activity: I play guitar in electric blues and rock bands and have a house full of guitars and amps.

Best career advice that you have received: It was from Brandon Tartikoff, former NBC president: “When you are about to go into a meeting, always know whether you are the buyer or the seller.” 

You’ve worked in a variety of sectors — in the corporate world, at an agency, as a journalist and, since 2000, at your own consultancy. You also had a stint in the U.S. Army. How did you manage so much career transitioning?

I’ve made the transition between reporter and PR practitioner a couple of times and then decided that PR was where I wanted to be. But I loved being a reporter; it’s hard work but great fun. And having a press pass is something everyone should experience at least once in their life! Journalism and public relations are first cousins. Both, when done right, are designed to inform the public on important issues. What helped most in my transitions are, I’d like to think, the ability to understand issues quickly, identify good story ideas and write relatively well and fast. 

What has been the most rewarding part of your varied career?

Meeting people who have great stories to tell — whether they were sources for news stories or clients for my current PR practice. Everyone has a good story to tell. But you must ask. I am a big believer in luck. And you make your own luck by getting out and meeting new people. It’s much more rewarding to be interested than interesting. Have you ever been with someone who talks only about himself for an hour straight? No? Then it must be you doing all the talking. 

You recently published your second book, “SPARK: The Complete Public Relations Guide for Small Business.” What advice do you have for other PR pros thinking about taking such a plunge? 

Writing a book is the best way to catalog what you already know and recognize what you still need to learn — and then get it all down on paper. If you read the table of contents of my book, then you can see that the process is pretty transparent.

I made a list of the 23 areas (chapters) I know are critical to PR pros and novices alike and then expanded each chapter into as many easy and practical tips as necessary to get the points across, based on my 30 years of experience and what I have learned from peers. That’s why it’s a guide — you can flip to just the information you need right now (like press pitching or doing TV interviews) and run with it instead of having to read the whole book. I also had a lot of fun relaying stories about my experiences in this crazy business. We’ve all had them, right? 

What are the biggest evolutions you’ve seen in the communications profession?

I truly believe that 2018 is the best time in history to be starting a career — ignore what people say about the economy and the job market. That changes year to year. But the power of the internet has enabled savvy young entrepreneurs to start really solid businesses without the millions in venture funding you needed years ago to, say, start a magazine or marketing company.

Everyone has the power now to communicate to millions of people; just look at your LinkedIn account. But the constant is this: There is also no technology that replaces good editorial judgment, good writing and face-to-face networking. You still have to have something worthwhile to say. 

What would you share with new professionals looking to break into the profession?

Write, write and write. Start with a college newspaper. Write your own blog or contribute to one. You don’t have to get a job as a reporter, but knowing how to write well will help you immensely in communications. 

Also: Follow the news. My Facebook feed, for example, is a string of media posts; that’s where they break stories first. Events of today will be the history you refer to tomorrow to put issues in context. Reading is the best writing and history teacher.

John Elsasser

John Elsasser is the editor-in-chief of Strategies & Tactics. He joined PRSA in 1994.



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