Industry Spotlight: From VETERAN JOURNALIST TO PR Pro

Mike Buteau; Director of Content & Editorial, Watkins McGowan LLC

Follow him on Twitter @MikeButeau

Mike Buteau spent 20 years as a journalist at Bloomberg News, the world’s second-largest news wire service. As a trusted and proven reporter focused on the business side of sports, Mike covered everything from the Olympics to the Masters to the Final Four and a wide variety of events in between. Over that time, he honed his news judgment skills to be able to quickly determine what makes a story “sell” and how to tell it for print, television and radio. Along with coverage of live events, Mike often worked closely with outside PR and communications agencies to understand the brands they represented and helped those agencies and brands craft their story into award-winning journalism. Based in Atlanta since 2003, Mike can usually be found running or cycling in an attempt to avoid the city’s maddening traffic. He currently serves as Director of Content & Editorial for Watkins McGowan LLC, an Atlanta-based communications and media strategies agency.

 
ON THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY OF WORKING WITH PR PRO’S:

THE GOOD: Over 20 years I got to know and work with a LOT of great people. It’s those relationships that I cherish the most from my two decades as a reporter. In addition, I got to cover a lot of exciting sports events (the Masters, Olympics, Final Four, etc.) I was also able to travel to some great locations (New Zealand, Hawaii, Scotland, Vancouver to name a few), while reporting on a wide variety of stories. The highlight (or most interesting) moment of my reporting career had to be covering the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver only to be called away to sit in on Tiger Woods’s apology press conference in Florida. That day gave me some valuable insight into crisis management PR. There weren’t too many reporters who went from covering the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili one day to speaking with Tiger Woods’s mom moments after she listened to her son detail his “transgressions." 

THE BAD: Being a reporter is sometimes a thankless job, as is everybody’s job. A lot of times people don’t trust the media and think we are always taking an “angle” or our personal view of a situation can slant the news coverage. I prided myself on always asking the questions that needed to be asked. Sometimes those questions weren’t always popular with PR professionals. However, most of the time, the person on the receiving end of the question, and/or their PR representative, understood I was simply doing my job.

THE UGLY: Getting repeatedly pitched on stories that have zero to do with the beat I cover. A PR professional who took the time to get to know what my beat was and what sort of stories I (or my editors) were interested in always stood a better chance of getting coverage. Conversely, if I felt that a PR professional was making no effort to get to know what my beat was and simply added me to a blast email list, they never stood a chance of getting coverage.

ON ADVICE FOR PR PRO’S TO BUILD SOLID RELATIONSHIPS WITH MEDIA:

Do your homework. Research the stories that the reporter has written in the past to get a good idea of what areas are of interest to him/her. Once you’ve done a little bit  (I didn’t say a lot… just a little is all it takes) of research, give the reporter a call and invite them out for coffee or lunch, if you’re in the area. If you aren’t in the area, call the reporter and talk to them about what sorts of stories/products/angles they are interested in. Don’t make your first-ever call to the reporter be a cold call pitch session. Even if it’s a great story, if the reporter doesn’t know you, you stand little chance of gaining their interest.

ON MAKING THE TRANSITION FROM JOURNALISM TO PR:

Unfortunately, it wasn’t my decision. Bloomberg is a great company and I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the people who work there, straight from the top (Mike Bloomberg) all the way down. Bloomberg shaped me as a reporter and remains, in my opinion, the gold standard when it comes to news outlets. With that said, I had little desire to come to the "dark side" of PR. However, in September 2015, Bloomberg’s new editor-in-chief was charged with reshaping the news department and decided to eliminate about 60 jobs, including 98% of the sports staff. As a result, I reluctantly found myself having to reshape my career. Now that I'm on the PR side, I've found it to be eye-opening to get behind the scenes of what goes on the other side. It's not nearly as dark as people say it is!  

ON THE SKILLS A JOURNALIST BRINGS TO A PR ROLE:

Over my years as a reporter, I developed a very good sense of what makes for a good story. I could also spot a lame pitch a mile away. Now that I’m on the other side of the media discussion, I think I have been able to effectively use my years of media experience to help clients better develop their own “story” and create a targeted plan to tell it.

ON WHAT MAKES THE BEST CLIENT:

What gets me excited about working with clients, is finding those who have a passion for what they do, and my background in sports is a natural area of focus for me.   I’ve run about 10 marathons and finished two Ironman triathlons, so working with clients who lack motivation or drive doesn’t really appeal to me. It doesn’t matter what your company does or what your product is, if you have a passion and believe in what you’re doing, I’m attracted to your story and want to help you tell it.