Guest speakers discuss working in energy industry public relations

The speakers at Wednesday’s Energy PR session offered attendees advice, anecdotes and information about they’re work.

Ed Clark, communications director for Austin Energy, said students should intern because of the experience it offers and they connections they can make.

“Intern somewhere — a newspaper or an advertising or public relations firm — and just work for nothing, because it will be worth it”

Clark said working in the energy industry is stimulating because people have begun paying attention to the resources that supply power and the importance they have placed on being environmentally conscious.

“The energy industry is an interesting field right now,” Clark said. “No one likes coal. People like wind power and solar energy. But, you can’t press a button and make wind turbines turn without wind or make the sun provide power on a cloudy day. We need something that can run 24 hours a day on the push of a button.”

Will Holford, manager of public affairs for Bluebonnet Energy Cooperative, agreed with Clark.

“Ed is right: Coal is a dirty word,” he said. “People don’t like it, but it’s a necessity because it runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

Colin Rowan, parter of I&O Communcations, expanded on the issue.

“Coal is a dirty word because it is dirty,” he said. “Frankly, if I had a mound of crap that I could burn to supply power, that doesn’t mean it’s the best source to use. We need to find a way to burn coal responsibly.”

Clark said working in public relations involves significant interaction with reporters.

“We deal with the media a lot,” he said. “We put videos together and put all the facts on a sheet of paper so reporters have all the information they need.”

Holford expanded on how public relations workers interact with reporters and offered caution with an anecdote.

“R.G. Rátcliffe was writing a story about government spending,” Holford said. “He called Mark Sanders, a longtime friend who did PR for a government office, and asked him what he did to earn his salary. Mark answered, ‘Absolutely nothing,’ and hung up the phone. A minute later, R.G. called back and asked, ‘Can I quote you on that?’”

Holford said the quote was not printed (which Rátcliffe told Sanders after letting himworry for a one day or so), but the story goes to show: Do not say anything to a reporter that you don’t want to see in print.

Rowan described what working in the public relations industry involves. Rowan told a story about his daughter, who was in kindergarten at the time, asking what he does for a living.

“When you try to reduce what you do to a language a kindergartner can understand, it makes you wonder what you’ve done with your life,” he said. “When my daughter went to class, she said, ‘Daddy tries to change people’s minds.’”

Rowan said his daughter “hit the nail on the head.”

“Some people say public relations is about informing,” he said. “It isn’t. I try to persuade people using information.”

Rowan, who closed the presentation, said knowing how to write well is the best way to become indispensable.

“It makes me feel so old and fatherly to keep throwing out advice, but I will,” he said. “Knowing how to write clearly and communicate information in a manner anyone can understand is an valuable skill in any industry, especially public relations.”

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