Hot Off the Press: Jonathan Potts, Senior Director of Public Relations, Robert Morris University
I became a journalist because I wanted to share good stories, and that is still what I do as a public relations professional. Public relations isn’t about spin; it’s not about publicity or creating buzz. It’s about telling your organization’s or client’s story in a way that honestly conveys their values, and that helps to create mutually beneficial relationships with a variety of stakeholders. Public relations is not just communications: It is a management function whose objective is to help an organization meet its strategic goals. And quite frankly, public relations should be the conscience of an organization, letting senior decision makers understand how their actions will impact various publics, and how those actions will be perceived. Currently, I’m the senior director of public relations at Robert Morris University. – Jonathan Potts, senior director of public relations, Robert Morris University
1. You are a communications professional at an educational institution. Are there any particular provisions or concern you need to take in your industry?
One of the challenges of being a communications professional at a college or university is that there are so many important target audiences, each with a different set of concerns. You have to consider the needs of prospective students, current students, parents, alumni, donors — not to mention employees and the general public. Then you consider just how fragmented communications has become, thanks to social media and other digital channels. You have to communicate in multiple ways in order to reach your audiences where they live.
2. With the rise in technology use, people are able to communicate with each other more easily than before. Where do you see the future of communications going?
That’s a tough one. Print has hung on rather stubbornly, but I think its slow decline will continue, particularly as digital publishing tools such as Issuu get more sophisticated and deliver a more compelling reader experience. Certainly, mobile will continue to grow and transform how we communicate. A mobile site is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity; and we are going to look to do more and more business, so to speak, through mobile applications.
3. You have a background in journalism. How has your career in journalism impacted your career in public relations?
It’s been invaluable in working with members of the news media. I understand their needs and what they look for in a story. But I also think that every PR person needs to have a healthy dose of skepticism, because the people who work in your organization always think that what they are doing is interesting and unique and should be shared with the world. It’s my job to remember our audiences, and what they want to hear about it, and what they need.
4. Do you have any career highlights that you would want to share?
Managing the launch of a new Robert Morris University website in 2011 was a seminal moment — I had to manage several people working on a lot of content and meeting an intractable deadline. The launch last November of the Robert Morris University Polling Institute powered by Trib Total Media was a success and continues to generate national media placements for Robert Morris. Along with some very talented staff members at RMU, I’ve produced publications at RMU with an emphasis on strong storytelling that helps RMU meet its strategic goals.
5. Robert Morris University has a communications department whose graduates will likely work in the communications industry. Do you have any advice for those students and other students seeking a career in communications?
Young professionals need to have a good eye for visual storytelling. Photos and videos rule social media and the web now. Knowing how to edit video is a plus. We just hired a recent grad on the strength of his ability to write copy for social media and the web, as well as his ability to shoot and edit compelling video.