The Qwoted 100 series of PR superstars continues this week with Brenda Christensen, based in San Francisco and a principal at Stellar Public Relations. The firm has quite a list of clients, running the gamut from Domino’s (quick, order a pizza…) to Intel (…because you’re designing a new chip for…) Google (…some kind of top-secret tech project). Yet what firm or media relations pro can play it safe? Christensen — who’s closing in on a quarter century at Stellar — has seen so much and yest refuses to take her eyes off the ball.
In this interview, Christensen talks about a range of subjects from the AI-PR integration to her maxim for keeping all constituencies in mind: “Be the reporter. Be the client. Be the audience.”
Qwoted: What do you see as the future of PR—technologically, strategically, or in any category you’re passionate about?
Brenda Christensen: We’ll see more integration of AI and much of PR will pivot to those who have expertise in prompt engineering. In fact, we’re already seeing this in many professions. Also, media relations will take a pivot to more AI or more AI-generated content, both on the client side and the media side. We may all soon be “relating” to bots for media inquiries instead of humans. Already, Google is proposing to Tier 1 media outlets — the Washinton Post, New York Times and others — a new platform that replaces journalists. However, there will always be a need for those who can oversee the process as experienced gatekeepers.
Qwoted: What do you think you do that other PRs could learn from?
Christensen: (I) really understand how the publishing industry works. I’m lucky that I have a journalism degree from a top university and was a former daily newspaper reporter. I understand the inner workings of publishing and the pressures. Working from this point of view has been invaluable in media relations. I get it. And the reporters can tell right away that I do, and they appreciate that as it’s one less challenge for them.
Also, I never stop thinking like a journalist and often offer stories that will be trending soon, such as upcoming AI regulations. As an example, I alerted CNBC to a potential ransomware security risk to Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies while they were developing Covid-19 vaccines. The story was published. “Be a good resource” is the mantra.
Qwoted: What’s your toughest challenge with reporters?
Christensen: Timing: We’re all under extraordinary pressure to deliver by deadline, and those deadline time frames are getting shorter. I try to be as responsive as possible, understanding the stress media are under — which is considerable.
Qwoted: How do you approach breaking through the noise floor to get effective coverage?
Christensen: Again, being a former journalist gives me an edge here, I believe. I ensure that clients are delivering content that is non-promotional and provides unique insight that is aligned with the outlet’s readership. Responsiveness is key. I’ve become a trusted resource because I’m a known entity. I consistently provide compelling comments that are unique and thought-provoking.
Qwoted: How does PR in 2023 square with the future of journalism?
Christensen: More operations are becoming automated and journalists are going through yet another disruptive upheaval, being replaced by AI. This will also be reflected on the PR side, as well, but it’s important to note that these cycles of change, although challenging, always present new opportunities. The public will be better served in the long run by freeing up more reporters to pursue investigative journalism, leaving the “run-time” stories to AI. As far as PR, it will have the same impact: freeing up strategists to concentrate more on outcomes and align resources to higher-level activities such as crisis communications and strategy.
Qwoted: What advice would you give to those seeking to find an effective PR person?
Christensen: Be the reporter. Be the client. Be the audience. Find that middle ground.
Qwoted: What is your golden rule of PR?
Christensen: You’re only as good as you were yesterday. It’s important to celebrate the wins but it’s a brand new day and things have changed yet again. And today’s challenges are ahead of you.