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PR Rock Stars: A conversation with Jason DeRusha

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JasonD3OK, yeah, I know Jason DeRusha’s a journalist, not a PR flak. But, I thought it would be fun to highlight one of the real rock stars on the journalism side. And, I thought it would be interesting to chat with a broadcast reporter/anchor who is really using social media to transform the way he works. Oh yeah, and we talked a little “Jason DeRusha Day”, too. Didn’t think I’d let that slip by, did you? So, without further fanfare, I give you one of my favorite journalists, Mr. Jason DeRusha…

You’re not a typical PR Rock Star. In fact, you’re on the other side of the proverbial table working as a full-time journalist for WCCO-TV. But, you spend a lot of time with PR folks. In fact, you co-led the first-ever Journhat event in August at Tunheim in Bloomington and emceed the MN PRSA Classics banquet back in March. Based on your experiences, are PR pros and journalists really more alike than they are different?

There was a time where PR professional were perceived as the enemy.  The job was to obscure the truth and prevent us from having access to executives.  That has largely changed.  Today, I think PR pros are interested in using journalistic skills to tell their clients stories.  It’s not about puffery or BS, it’s about finding great stories and sharing them – either directly to consumers or as pitches to media.

I find a difference in PR firms and in-house PR people.  Often PR firms seem to work hard to get us access and get us information.  It’s not true for all companies, but I find it harder to get cooperation with corporate, in-house PR people.  Perhaps the in-house PR person has to deal with more in-house politics than the outside firm?

3957374833_f1385d97aeWCCO-TV and Good Question recently won a number of Emmy Awards. On the PR side, recognition comes in the form of Classics awards (you’re now intimately familiar based on your experience last spring), Silver Anvils and a number of other industry awards. Do you think these types of recognition make a difference? Why or why not?

In journalism, often the only feedback we get is negative.  Angry viewers.  Bosses who want to know why we missed a story.  It is tremendous for morale to get these big awards.  At WCCO, we won the Emmy for Station of the Year for the second year in a row.  To me, that’s so meaningful, because it crosses departments: from news, to engineering, to production, to community outreach.  Do viewers care? No.  Do clients care about Classics or Silver Anvils?  I doubt it.  I think if a client already likes you, an award can confirm their positive feelings.  It’s affirmation.

You’re on the leading edge as far as journalists who use social tools to source stories and innovate. What trends do you see when it comes to journalism and social media in the next couple years?

Because newsrooms keep getting smaller, we’re going to continue to rely on social media to keep us in touch with stories that we’d otherwise miss.  Today, I think I was among the first to Tweet out that Chicago got the least number of votes for the Olympics.  Potentially thousands of people heard that news “on Twitter.”  Or “from DeRusha on Twitter.”  That’s interesting.

Individual journalists will be able to create their own brands, outside of their news organizations.  That will create interesting challenges, but I think it’s a great thing.

The tricky thing is that viewers expect to be able to communicate with us directly and immediately.  When I was growing up, I couldn’t imagine calling a television newsroom.  But every day, people send me @ replies and DMs on Twitter, hit me up on Facebook chat, some even text me.

As more people adopt these tools, it will be interesting to see if I’m able to stay so accessible.  The more followers you get, the more noise, the more difficult it is to stay plugged in.

JasonCam has a cult-like following. As a broadcast journalist, you’ve used video asa tremendously powerful storytelling tool. What advice would you give PR pros who are considering integrating more video into their marketing/communications mix?

Consider your purpose.  I believe PR professional need to think of themselves as cultivators of experts.  You want your people to be presented as the expert on any number of topics.  Video is a great way to show me that your expert is good on camera, and knowledgeable.  Video should be easily embeddable if you want me to put it on my blog.  Video must be short.

Newsrooms are using less handout video on the air, but we’re using it to get an idea as to whether a story has potential for TV.  If you have a story pitch that comes with video, that’s helpful.

3772412980_98088d061bJason DeRusha Day. Certainly something you’ll want to include in your bio and LinkedIn profile. 😉 In any event, I think that movement demonstrated the potential power and impact the social world can have—and the ability of a community to rally about an issue or topic they believe in (in this case, the “topic” was really you). Tell us a little about what you learned from that experience.

That day was a perfect storm.  If it were a busy news day, the social world would not have spread the DeRusha Day bit.  If it wasn’t for the funny picture of me wearing a suit and Zubaz, I don’t think DeRusha Day would have spread.  If I hadn’t spent years playing in the sandbox with the social world (starting just by commenting on other people’s blogs), this wouldn’t have spread.

Also, if this were a station P.R. effort, or something that started in our building, I don’t think people would have had as much fun spreading it.  I was in a meeting when I saw the #DeRushaDay hashtag start to spread.  And the DeRusha Day poster.

Later someone I’ve never met started www.jasonderushaday.com and a friend launched a tongue-in-cheek online petition.  As people did something, I spread it. But I never started it.  Maybe I poured some fuel on the fire, but other people lit the match and provided the timber.

It reinforced this idea that I’ve always firmly believed in: if you do good work and you’re a good person, your fans/friends will be your biggest evangelists.  At the least, they’ll cut you slack when you mess up.

JasonD2You have a growing family at home. Yet, you hold down a full-time job, participate online and speak at industry events on a regular basis. How do you find the time to fit it all in? What are your tips for finding that balance in your life?

I’m still trying to find the balance.  I’m a believer in seizing a moment.  For whatever reason, right now I’ve been blessed with a lot of attention from the social media world, the mainstream media world, peers, and communicators.  I’m not an anchor, I’m not a big shot.  So I’m on a nice ride right now, and I’m enjoying it.

I’ve started to learn to say “no” to appearance requests from places that aren’t priorities to me or to my station.  I’m getting better at stepping away from the laptop and the iPhone.  But it’s difficult.

I have a tremendously understanding wife who tolerates all of the silliness.  And I try to take her out to really nice dinners to make up for the fact that I can be a pain to live with.

My big tips: at night, put down the blackberry.  We have our TV in our basement, and I leave the phone upstairs.  If I get a text or DM, I don’t go upstairs to check.

Take time to read to your kids at night.  We read three books to our 4 and 2-year-old boys ever night.  It just takes you away from work.

Take random days off work.  Sometimes you need a day away that isn’t part of a vacation or a holiday.  Take a Monday or Friday off, and unplug.

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PR Rock Stars: A conversation with Jason DeRusha

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