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Home  > Insider profile
Drew Shepard
Change Communications Consultant

"Most people don't really know what a PR agent does or what the difference is between PR and Advertising. There's a very profound difference."

What have been the most defining moments along your career path?

Working as a consultant rather than an inhouse PR person or agency. We are really telling them how things are going. providing information. If they determine from what we tell them that something is really not going very well and they want to change that, they would begin to discuss the change with the group that does their public relations. The reason they bring in consultants is that we are separate from those people. We give them an objective answer. How things are going. Perhaps this particular product really is getting beat up in the media and it's not going very well. That may not be something that a public relations agency may want to tell them. But that's the answer that they really want to know. So they would take information from us and then go work with it with their PR agency.

How did you get your big breaks?

I started working in change communications as a consultant. What that means: I come into a company that is going through a large change or some type of upheaval being downsizing, consolidation of branches. I help the executives and upper level management both plan and execute communications within a company to make sure that everyone knows what they need to know, feels comfortable with what's going on, understand what's going on. Everything from writing internal memos discussing whatever the change will be within the company to executive speech writing for executives that are going to make a speech at a large company gathering describing what's going to be changing at the company to planning with the management and deciding how they're going to let everybody else know what this major change will be. Often it's corporate downsizing. "We're going to be letting off 2,000 people" or "We're going to be closing an office in California and moving it to Texas" and there's a really delicate issue because a lot of your people may not like that because they may not want to go to Texas. There's a lot of things like that need to go on and companies often like to bring in consultants to discuss the best way to convey this to their employees.?I help two of the people I work for consolidate all of the information we have. We sit down and read through every magazine article written about a particular client during a quarter. I read and I score the articles based on what companies were discussed in the articles and whether or not they were favorable or unfavorable or neutral. Was it a feature article? Was it just a place where a particular company was mentioned? And then what we do is we take that information and enter it into a database that we use. I'm in charge of taking that information and aggregating it, producing something out of it. For example, we want to know, IBM produces a lot of desktop PCs. What was the favorability for all of the desktop PC articles? Did they speak about anything in particular, what we would call a "message." Did they talk about those desktop PCs being low cost? ?I also help the person I work for write the reports that convey this information to the client. We produce reports that show them exactly how their public relations went for a particular quarter. So, we'll produce a report that tells them in all of their product areas what the volume was, what the favorability was. So I work, pulling all the information together.?

What was the best advice you received when you were first starting out in your career?

Stay calm, remain focused on the message. Don't go off point.

What have you learned from your experience?

There's a lack of understanding about what people do (in PR). Most people don't really know what a PR agent does or what the difference is between PR and Advertising. There's a very profound difference.?Advertising you are working directly for the client and buying space in publications and you produce exactly what you'd want to produce in that space. You are considering all the other aspects of it including designing that ad, from what is the image going to look like, what is the text going to be, how much can we afford to spend on this product? ?Whereas Public Relations you are really dealing with trying to make sure the maximum number of people see the press releases that you release about your products and hoping that they will publish that themselves. But you have no influence on that. It really comes down to their decision as to what is newsworthy and what isn't, and your goal is to always make yourself newsworthy. It's two different animals. ?Advertising is a lot more direct. You decide what you want to do, you buy the space and you do it. Public relations, you try to plan it so that your things are newsworthy and your relationships with people are such that even if it's moderately newsworthy you still get published. And you hope that they take that information that you provide them and put a positive edge on it. You produce a press release that a certain executive is leaving your company and you know that it's going to be damaging. However, the press release says that "It's no problem. We don't care," effectively. "We've got someone else coming in. It doesn't really make a difference." Because you don't want the stock price to fall. Because if people see executives fleeing some company, chances are there's a problem. ?You're hoping that the media will see your side of the story and not publish "Ut oh, this guy left IBM, they're having problems or this guy left Compaq or wherever." So it's a totally different business and your goals are different. And there's greater restraint on what a PR person can do. You can only convey the information. You can't convince them, in many cases, what to do with it once they get it.?

What most excites you about your job right now?

It's a challenge to find out why things are happening in the media - why has this particular event occurred that has led their public relations to go a particular way. Is the industry shifting in another direction and they're being left behind? Why is this product being talked about in a favorable or unfavorable manner? It's interesting to study how the media works. I really enjoy that part of my job.

On a scale of 1-10, how relevant was your academic major to your career? (1=not at all, 10=absolutely essential)

7

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