Most PR practitioners come into the field as generalists, not specialists, with a background in the media and/or a communications or liberal arts degree. This is particularly true in an agency with a diverse client roster like Regan Communications, where people may work on a range of clients in a variety of industries. So what is one to do when asked to pitch stories for a client that is in a technical field in which you have little or no expertise, such as science or medicine?
It can certainly be intimidating when you feel like the dumbest person in the room, as people with multiple academic credentials after their names throw around five-syllable terms to describe what they do. But unless the target of your efforts is a peer-reviewed scientific or medical journal, your role in the process is very important, much like a translator or a filter.
If your pitch is being directed toward mainstream media, the subject matter will need to be understandable and relevant to editors and, by extension, their audiences. This means getting the people with the high IQs to break it down and explain it to you clearly and concisely – yes, “dumb it down” – to the point where a layman can comprehend it.
This is truly a situation where there is no such thing as a stupid question, and you shouldn’t hesitate to ask. You need to put yourself in the place of the average reader/viewer/listener and ensure that you have a firm grasp on what the story is about and what it means to them. This sounds pretty obvious, but as one gains more experience in dealing with technical subjects there is the danger of losing touch with your inner “person on the street.”
-Sandy Caswell, vice president