Expert of the Week: Chris Arter

Chris Arter

Public Relations Manager at WebiMax

What is your professional background?

I’ve worked as the Public Relations Manager for leading digital marketing agency WebiMax for two and a half years. Prior to WebiMax, I was employed by the U.S. House of Representatives fulfilling a number of roles including reaching out to the media, planning communication and other events, and social media. I also worked on political campaigns.

 What inspired you to choose public relations for your career?

Roughly 6 years ago, when I started my last job as a staffer, initially I was what was called “a body man” where I would shadow the Congressman making sure his day ran smoothly, and taking notes on everything from legislative ideas to issues relating to a constituent not getting their social security check on time. I would then translate those into casework and assign that to other staffers whether in Washington or in the Congressman’s District. In the course of doing that job I was constantly around the media and people that were making news.

 As time went on I became more involved with messaging by writing the weekly “Washington Update,” building out our social media presence and responding to press inquiries. It worked out really well due to my knowledge of certain issues simply as a matter of proximity to the source as “the body guy.” Eventually that translated into a larger role where I was not only communicating to the general public and the media, but also taking a lead in deciding what should be communicated. It was an extremely intense job, but I really loved it.

 In layman's terms, how do public relations work?

Public Relations works by shaping perceptions about a person or an organization, but it is oftentimes not an end unto itself. Most organizations and individuals count on a positive public image to achieve other more basic goals. The most efficient method of public relations, is communicating directly with the media.

 What’s your average day like?

An average day is a mix of monitoring, pitching and responding to the media.

 I’m always monitoring the media for possible opportunities for either WebiMax or our clients; generally, what I’m looking for is an intersection between a given industry and the interesting things I see that either the media or other people are talking about every day. When I find something of note, I will try to write a compelling argument for why we should be commenting with a suitable angle using  3 to 6 bullet points. I’ll also use feedback from different experts throughout WebiMax, and different clients depending on the topic. After getting all the necessary approvals, I’ll try to pitch ideas for simple comments, op-eds or interview opportunities to different publications, blogs and broadcast media.

 Sometimes I’ll receive inquiries from journalists looking for an expert opinion on a given topic, and I’ll connect them with someone suitable, or I’ll take their questions in writing and get responses back to them via email with a short credit for where those answers came from. Reporters are always looking for sources, so I also constantly check places where they are posting their queries like HARO, which is short for “Help a Reporter Out.”

 There is also an evolving list of business awards that I apply for throughout the year. Business Awards are another way to get 3rd party validation of a business’ expertise or authority in a given industry. It’s important to steadily leverage awards through press releases, social media and different web properties in order for those efforts to be valuable. 

 I also spend a significant amount of time updating different web properties including websites and social media accounts with the latest news.

 What has been your greatest accomplishment at WebiMax?

I’ve done a lot of work that I’m proud of here at WebiMax. I’m very happy that through outreach and planning we’ve been featured by hundreds of news media outlets and publications as an authoritative source on digital marketing, technology, social media, reputation management, e-commerce, web-design and more. I’m also very proud that in the short time since WebiMax and its employees have relocated to the Camden Waterfront, we’ve been able to connect with the community through charity and volunteerism.

 I was particularly pleased to work with “Feed Our Children Now” an organization that partners with the Vans Warped Tour, to bring a traveling food drive to that tour. When The Warped Tour came to Camden, we worked with the “Feed Our Children Now” organization pro bono, on a media blitz to bring the maximum amount of people out to a food drive near the concert area in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record. Through our concerted efforts we were able to get coverage in the double-digits from news outlets across television, radio, newspapers and the web in the days leading up to the drive. We didn’t break the record, but I’m proud that we were able to play some part in getting the word out and helping to collect 40,000 pounds of food for families in Camden.

 You have experience as District Representative in the Office of Congressman Robert E. Andrews. How do politics and PR overlap? 

In politics, the end goal is always votes. To that end, an effective candidate must be adept at communicating their message to an electorate. Once a candidate is in office, it’s important that an official keeps their constituency updated as to what they are doing for them, lest their position be upended in the next election cycle. Whether pro-active or reactive, PR is essentially everything that goes into deciding what the message is, how you’re going to say it and who you are going to say it to. It requires a very open availability to the media, and more public scrutiny than most things.

 What are the most common mistakes that can occur with public relations?

The most common mistake in PR is failure to stay in control and speak up when you sense something could be misrepresented. As a PR person it is your job to know all the angles by which your client’s output or actions can be perceived. When I’m thinking of a pitch or someone proposes a pitch to me, I always ask myself what the possible risks are and more precisely – “how could the proposed comment, image or general output be misconstrued?”

 If it could be construed negatively in any way I try to find a polite way to shut it down, and of course I’ll accompany that with an explanation of the negative angle. If you’ve built authority and a positive perception of your client up until this point, you risk undoing all that hard work by letting something you feel is precarious slip by. You owe your client your opinion, because protecting a client’s image is the job in a nutshell.

Simply put, no one I’ve ever worked for needs to be thought of negatively, and if something slips by you’ve now made more work for yourself.

 What monitoring software have you found to be effective?

I like Cision. It’s comprehensive, and you can easily search to find media contacts covering a certain beat. I also heavily rely on INO Reader, which is an RSS reader where I’ve been refining the OPML file subscriptions since the days of Google Reader. I also like Google Trends, and Twitter Trends and lists very much. Muckrack, Meltwater and TVEyes are some other good ones.

 What opportunities are now becoming available for businesses to take advantage of?

It all comes back to the internet and how it’s changed everything. The question is “how has the internet changed PR?” The answer is that digital tools have given PR professionals more ways to monitor opinion, influence and interact than ever before. More specifically, the ability to measure the impacts of PR efforts has made its practice a whole lot more concrete.

 This isn’t really new, but it’s important to understand SEO or Search Engine Optimization as it relates to PR today. In the past, when you were lucky enough to get a client in the news, that was your only bite at the apple. Today, if you use the right keywords in your pitch or your answers, you can get a second bite at the apple by getting your client associated with a topic as an expert in high level media outlets, every time someone does a Google search on that topic. So be careful with predictions!

 Journalists are busy people. I mentioned above using the right keywords in your pitches, which is important because many reporters won’t even get back to you, but will lift quotes right out of your pitches and put them in a story. I imagine that reporters will like you better if your client can preempt any questions they might have and answer them in the pitch.

 What do you foresee in the near future?

When you’re trying to monitor and manage public perception, it’s important to look at exactly how the public is consuming media information. An interesting trend we’ve been witnessing over the past few years has been more aggregation of different services from the major tech companies. The process has been first to corral as many internet users as possible together in one place, and then to create channels to meet more of their needs including news information. The hope for these corporations is to chart the new frontier of advertising by keeping users in their environments for longer periods of time.

 For example last year Facebook created ‘Instant Articles’ where users can read exclusive content from major news publishers like The New York Times without ever leaving Facebook. Snapchat’s discover platform features content from 23 different publishers including The Wall Street Journal and Fusion.  Reportedly, Snapchat is looking to get more TV-like content for its Discover platform.

 Media companies are becoming heavily reliant on social media, which changes everything from how they structure their revenue to considerations of what type of stories to publish. I believe that we’ve already passed a threshold of perceptions about social media, whereas we’ve begun to view its role as a place where content originates, rather than just a place to share content from outside that environment.

 Today social networks are facing a backlash as we’re all talking about how completely false “news stories” from hack publishers can get equal play with legitimate factual reporting. In the short term, I believe legitimate publishers as well as internet users have some leverage to demand more from so-called social networks including expecting them to suppress false information.

 How does this tie into PR? If the media is relying that heavily on social media platforms and is constantly considering who might read what story over which social platform, that can influence the way a story is written as well as the topics. PR professionals need to be aware of that shift. In short, what affects the media affects PR.

 What about the long term?

We’re in the middle of this media transition to digital, and I think we’ll continue to see more aggregation coming from huge social media and tech companies until that transition is complete. It’s hard to imagine what exactly the media landscape will look like, who will be at the top or even what the rules will look like at this stage, but I think there will eventually be more regulation.

What books/blogs/materials about public relations would you recommend?

Public Relations has really changed a lot in the past decade with social media becoming a prime source of information for a lot of people. 1.6 Billion people have Facebook accounts. There’s a book called “This Is How You Pitch,” which I think covers a lot of ground in our modern era.

 What advice would you give to someone looking to becoming involved with public relations?

Fully understand the underlying goals of your client whether it be to attract consumers, investors or voters. When you fully understand what your client hopes to achieve through PR, the right strategies and potential pitfalls will become more apparent.


Find Chris Arter on LinkedIn.