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Making the Hop from PR to Media Operations, Part 1

By: Guest | October 22, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is by Julia Wall-Clarke.  

It is 5 a.m. and I’m already on my second coffee, standing in the middle of the Mall, watching dawn break over Buckingham Palace.

No, I haven’t been on an all-nighter with Prince Harry; it’s just another day at the London Olympics and this is my temporary office.

I graduated in PR six years ago and since then I have worked for two fabulous agencies, but have also kept an ever-increasing side career as a freelancer in media operations for sports events.

Fortunately, I had very understanding bosses who allowed me to take annual unpaid leave to help run the race-week media offices at the London, New York City, and Chicago Marathons.

I also worked the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

So what exactly is media operations? It’s never boring, that’s for sure.

Media Operations in a Nutshell

Media operations is fairly simple. It is the facilitation of onsite media at events, fulfilling their needs in the best way we can so our event will be publicized and enjoyed around the world.

Basic, but essential, media needs and tools include venue workrooms and tribunes with sufficient desk space; power, Internet and info help desks; pigeonhole systems for providing athlete biographies, start-lists and results; as well as setting up and executing post-race interview procedures, including Mixed Zones and news conferences.

Oh, and don’t forget catering. I know from painful experience the quickest way to make journalists explode is to run out of food or coffee just as they are nearing deadline. All of these details are the bread and butter for journalists (excuse the catering pun) and a lot of planning goes into getting them right.

Planning aside, there are guaranteed to be moments you can’t predict: You lose your gold medalist before he or she has spoken to the waiting media who are on deadline. The Internet goes down in the workroom. The roof springs a leak above the Chinese section. Kings and presidents try to get into the Mixed Zone to drag your medalists away to celebrate before their interviews are done. Top athletes refuse to speak to media because they are upset with their performances.

All of the above do happen and you just have to have the confidence and ability to deal with the hiccups efficiently. During these moments, you have to remember your client. It’s not the title sponsor or even the athletes you are handling. It is always the working media.

What is a Mixed Zone?

This is an informal interview area, providing media the opportunity to interview athletes within moments of the event completion – where, as a viewer, you will first see Usain Bolt, breathless and providing his race reaction. Set up very close to the finish line/field of play, the Mixed Zone consists of two different sections: The media section and the athlete channel, with interviews taking place over gate style fences.

My job here is to organize the waiting journalists and help match them up with their requested athletes. It is a high pressure, emotional environment where anything can happen.

In my busiest Mixed Zones, such as road cycling and marathon, I may have more than 300 international journalists and up to 120 athletes, all coming through in less than an hour. You need a calm head, confidence, and the ability to multi-task and communicate under pressure.

How Do I Get started?

You can’t take a degree in media operations. Initiative, hard work, adaptability, and personality will get you everywhere in this industry, and can quickly lead to other opportunities and personal recommendations. It is an intimate industry and you’ll quickly discover many shared contacts.

When hiring for this position, people much prefer to take on those they know they can rely on from personal experience or recommendation over CV applications. My best advice to anyone wanting to carve a serious path is to get as much experience as possible. Working on a variety of different events will help give you a broader perspective and a broader pool of contacts.

Editor’s Note: Julia is back tomorrow with part two of this post, where she explains the differences between traditional PR and media operations, as well as deliver key tips that help make the job run smoother.

Julia Wall-Clarke is continuing on her quest to work/eat/travel her way around the world. Between events and freelance work with @narrativepr in Toronto, Julia lives at home in England when possible, enjoys Spin Sucks, runs sometimes, eats too much sushi, and has an unhealthy obsession with Instagram. You can also find her on LinkedIn, and as jwallclarke on Instagram.

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This Wednesday, October 24, join Mark Story for a Livefyre Q&A to discuss his book, “Starting Your Career as a Social Media Manager.”

He’ll be live from 12-1 ET so set a reminder and then come hang out in the comments to ask him questions about love, life, and his book.

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