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From TV Reporter to PR Pro

Jeri Cartwright is Still Finding Fascinating Stories to Tell

by Natalie Hollingshead
UtahPulse.com  09/28/2008

At least a handful of names have been given to public relations practitioners throughout the history of the profession. Among the most notable (or perhaps notorious) are spokesperson, publicist, spinmeister and flak.

Although Jeri Cartwright, president of Cartwright Communications, has been in the industry long enough to recognize all those labels, she doesn’t claim any as her own. “I consider myself a story broker,” Cartwright said. “A story teller, a story gatherer, a story hunter — something like that.”

The PR veteran’s self-imposed titles aren’t traditional, but neither is the way she runs her media relations firm.

“We usually do things completely different than the way they are being done in other PR shops,” said Cartwright, winner of two Golden Spike awards for excellence in public relations. “We are very strategic. We pick and choose the clients we want, and we don’t take on everyone. We don’t fit with everyone.”

Cartwright founded her firm in 1996 after a decade-long career in broadcast news. She worked as the evening anchor and reporter at KOLD TV (a CBS affiliate) in Tucson, Arizona, and as anchor, reporter and producer at KUTV (another CBS affiliate) in Salt Lake City.

The Utah native says she loved the creativity and excitement of broadcast news but decided to leave the profession after a 10-year career because of the stressful, 24-hour on-call environment.

“I’d say the biggest part of the decision was the burnout in broadcast television at the time,” she said. “I started noticing that people in newsrooms, their families didn’t get to see them. There were a lot of divorces happening, and I was being asked to do some things that I didn’t feel right about.”

Cartwright and her husband, at the time a radio disc jockey, decided to make career changes together and seized the opportunity to move back to the Beehive State. The public relations field was a natural choice for the businesswoman, given her skill set.

“It is just one heartbeat away from being in the media,” she said. “In broadcast, I loved finding those unique stories, editing them, writing them up. I didn’t want to get away from that. It was so creative.”

By working in media relations, Cartwright still gets to be a reporter of sorts. Instead of working for big media, she is hired by clients to go into their companies and sniff out stories that people would like to read or watch. Cartwright looks for information about the company, but also searches for human interest stories that serve the greater good.

“Now, I find all of the great stories about my clients. I take them to a reporter, the reporter gets excited, I give them all of the information and then I get to walk away and they have to meet the deadline. I still get the jolt of creativity and excitement that I got in the newsroom but without the stress of the deadlines,” she said.

She also uses her creativity to set her business apart from other media relations firm. Cartwright Communications is a virtual agency, with all contractors working out of their homes. Foregoing a brick-and-mortar headquarters has helped keep the company flexible and enabled Cartwright to “pick and choose” the clients that she wants.

“I’ve never been tempted to change it, it has been wonderful,” she says.

Cartwright, who was selected in 2005 as one of “30 Women to Watch by Utah Business magazine, embraces unconventional ways of getting her clients’ messages across.

In this day of e-mail and text messaging, Cartwright has been known to send a telegram. (Lest you think her antiquated, note the aforementioned telegram got immediate attention in the ABC newsroom).

When she served on the board of Salt Lake’s Tracy Aviary, Cartwright helped devise an ingenious fundraising campaign to place plastic flamingos in people’s yards. For a fee, the Aviary would remove the flamingos and allow you to pick the next person to get the flock.

Instead of sending out a traditional news release to announce the campaign, Cartwright had the lawns of then Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon’s private residences littered with the pink birds (the gentlemen were dually warned). She then called the media to let them know of the bird attacks and “that got the fundraising started quite nicely.”

“It used to be that media outlets would cover quite similarly the same story. Now, everyone is trying to have something no one else has. The broad strokes of a news release still has its place but not very often,” Cartwright said. “The best stories are cultivated and thought about and put in a nice little basket and given to the reporter we think would like it best.

“It’s more successful because we don’t play favorites with reporters, we see which reporters like what types of stories and we go to the right ones.”

Cartwright helped host the NBA All-Star Game and the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Nagano Olympics media briefing event. One day prior to the start of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Cartwright helped Reebok host its annual Human Rights Awards at the city’s Capitol Theatre. Desmond Tutu and Robert Redford presented at the awards, which Cartwright says were a highlight of her 12-year career.

“It was really empowering” to the young people who attended, Cartwright said. “I loved every minute of it.”

Cartwright views herself as a resource for reporters, as well as an informant for her clients. Every morning, she scans hundreds of news clippings through an online service that includes major newspapers and blogs. Cartwright identifies the issues of the day both locally and nationally, then sends out the coverage to her clients via e-mail. If the issues have any tie-ins to the companies she represents “we’ll start discussing if we should have a voice in it.” She also monitors editorial calendars for dozens of publications, and subscribes to numerous online newsletters.

Cartwright and her contractors have been seriously monitoring online publications for the past several years, and the businesswoman has been experimenting with social media as much as possible, she says. Cartwright maintains two blogs: Media Relations and Executive Gems.

“Social media is the new frontier,” she said. “I love it. I am concerned, though, because I have become addicted. I can’t seem to stay away from the computer. The information comes at you so fast and furious, and it is so exciting to know something almost the moment it happens.”

 

Article originally appeared at UtahPulse.com.

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