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AG’s spokesman provides a tour of PR professional’s toolbox

February 25th, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

By Kayla Hall and Tessa Karrington

LOGAN—Truthfulness, preparation, courtesy and the ability to respond quickly—these are among the items that belong in any public relations professional’s toolbox, the spokesman for Utah’s attorney general told USU students this week.

Paul Murphy, director of communications for Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, spoke with students Tuesday about pushing the boundaries of public relations—and being prepared for push back.

Murphy does not have the typical responsibilities of a communications director working for Shurtleff, he told members of USU’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter, which sponsored the event.

For one thing, unlike some politicians, Murphy said Shurtleff prefers his anonymity, and doesn’t like Murphy telling him what to say before an interview. Instead, Murphy and Shurtleff know their talking points and are both able to show individuality when dealing with the press.

Murphy showed a clip of Shurtleff doing an appearance on conservative Fox commentator Tucker Carlson’s show. Throughout the interview, Carlson interrupted Shurtleff and asked loaded, offensive questions.

Rather than getting flustered, Shurtleff held his ground and fired right back at Tucker. In one exchange, as Carlson kept interrupting, Shurtleff asked him if he even wanted to learn or if he was too egotistic.

“Mark was strong,” Murphy said. “He can handle this type of format.”

In another video clip, however, Murphy showed himself interviewed by CNN’s Nancy Grace, whom he called a difficult interviewer.

During the exchange, Murphy was live in Colorado City as the attorney general’s office was prosecuting crimes against child molestation and underage marriage connected with the polygamist FLDS Church community.

Grace asked Murphy to get her a number of how many prosecutions they had actually made. Murphy was unprepared for the question and instead gave her a list of some prosecutions that he knew of and included one from another state. Grace attacked his answer, saying she didn’t care about prosecutions in other states and only ones that happened in Utah.

Although Murphy said the interview with Grace wasn’t his greatest public relations moment, it was a good learning experience. Murphy said he understands how to work with the media because his years of experience as a broadcast journalist. This background also makes him determined to do good public relations with journalists, he said.

He suggested various survival tips for all aspiring public relation specialists in dealing with the press: always tell the truth, return phone calls promptly, be prepared, establish ground rules, and treat reporters with courtesy.

“Treat others with respect and they will reciprocate,” Murphy said.

In a press conference about identity theft, Murphy showed students how these and other media tips are helpful. One point he emphasized was having a “real person” attend the event.

In this example, a man who had fallen victim to identity theft told reporters his story and how he dealt with it. This made the issue much more personal, which gave reporters a better story to write about. Murphy also suggests using props, pictures and videos with the press during media events, and it’s always good to have a voice of authority attend the press conference—in his case, it is usually Shurtleff.

Social media is changing the way he and other PR specialists do their jobs, Murphy said, offering examples of how the attorney general’s office uses them.

For example, he said, in one case Shurtleff Tweeted about a prosecution. Within days, commentators were criticizing Shurtleff for announcing something so personal over Twitter.

“Whenever you use a new tool, like Twitter, there will always be fallout,” Murphy said. “People will react negatively if you use a medium differently than others have before.”

The attorney general’s office also posted a video on YouTube of a man who was arrested in connection with a sting operation. The video showed him walking across a parking lot. Some critics were upset because the attorney general’s office had posted a sex offender’s prosecution on a social media site.

Murphy emphasized the importance of social media, utilizing it correctly, and having strong writing skills in public relations.

Because most students are familiar with many social media, he said they have a great advantage to become more experienced reporters and public relations professionals, who depend on these skills every day.

“Understanding how to properly communicate, write, and use social media, and being constantly prepared will result in successful public relations,” he said.


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