In this month’s Insider Interview, we speak with Zachary Bernstein, a communications associate with the Pew Charitable Trusts. His work focuses on health campaigns, drafting and editing materials for Pew’s website, pitching press releases and contributing content to Pew’s social media presence.
PRSA-NCC Insider: It’s a pleasure to spend time with you, Zachary. You have been working with the Pew Charitable Trusts for nearly a year. What do you like most about your job?
ZB: Pew has a very strong reputation for being fact- and evidence-based, which is crucial in today’s media landscape. We have subject-matter experts on a myriad of issues, from health issues to the environment, and covering all facets of communications from pitching to graphic design to video creation. From an organizational standpoint, Pew really cares about its people. Employees receive opportunities to build on the skills they already have, and they also have an abundance of opportunities to build new ones. Pew wants you to succeed, and they’ll put the resources behind ensuring you do.
PRSA-NCC Insider: One of the most important aspects of any job is to learn while you’re there. Describing one or two areas where the learning curve is continuing?
ZB: It’s definitely been a challenge to move from my last organization, with a staff of 10, to an organization with more than 1,000. I continue to learn here at Pew, but the people I work with are incredibly helpful. One of the things I enjoy learning about the different styles of writing required for the job, depending on the issue I’m writing about or the type of materials we’re producing. I’m always trying to improve my writing, which is of course crucial in our industry.
PRSA-NCC Insider: Describe the work culture at Pew.
ZB: We’re all here for a reason. The organization asks a lot from you and wants new ideas from you to help your projects break through. It’s an open-ended system, where they make sure everyone succeeds and has the tools necessary to grow and be successful. They ask a lot, but back it up by offering a lot.
In terms of the day-to-day culture, people are very friendly. Folks are always coming over to speak with one another. Everyone on the team I work with knows when to buckle down in order to get the work done, but everyone also recognizes that it’s more fun when you like the people you work with. That’s the case here. It’s a very tight-knit group.
PRSA-NCC Insider: For the benefit of our chapter members who pitch stories to journalists, what tips can you provide?
ZB: Make your pitch short and to the point. Journalism is all about the who, what, when, where and Why. Give as much of that information as possible in a couple of sentences. Journalists receive a ridiculous amount of pitches at any time. You can’t take up too much of their time and they won’t be happy if you try. Show them why they should care about your story. Show them you are respecting their time by not overdoing it with your pitch email. And yes, always email. A lot of journalists will say so specifically.
PRSA-NCC Insider: What are some dos and don’ts regarding best practices in the social media space?
ZB: People are using social media to get their questions and problems addressed now. They’re not going to customer service, they’re going to Twitter. It’s a public forum, so everyone can see that a problem exists and how it’s getting resolved—or not. You need to be able to respond fairly quickly. At the very least, if you cannot solve the issue, promise to continue the conversation in a direct message if that’s all you can do. If you can’t do that, it’s bad for the brand—it’s going to make it seem like your company doesn’t care about your customers.
On the flip side, I would advise not to get drawn into more antagonistic conversations. Don’t get into social media fights. If someone Tweets at you with something that’s mildly critical but generally respectful, it’s OK to respond with a counter point. But if the conversation veers off the respectful track, know when to disengage. There is no upside in a Twitter war from a brand perspective, and there’s a major potential downside. It’s not worth it.
PRSA-NCC Insider: When did you know your career track was going to be public relations?
ZB: Originally, I wanted to get into politics on the communications side. I always felt it was more meaningful to shift how the public views an issue instead of a party. In college, I realized I wanted to get more involved in communications in general as opposed to policy work. That is when I decided I wanted to study PR. My master’s is in communications, which has opened up a lot of doors for me. It’s a great field to be in. The need is absolutely crucial.
PRSA-NCC Insider: When you’re not at work, what do you like to do in your spare time?
ZB: I’m a DC native, so I am absolutely into the local sports scene. I’m really hoping the Caps will still be in the running for the Stanley Cup when this interview is published. I am also a huge D.C. United fan. Attending a game is quite an experience, and I highly recommend it.