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The GW Hatchet


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The GW Hatchet

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Shapiro Fellow addresses public policy

Media expert Peter Hannaford, new Shapiro Fellow for the journalism program, revealed public relations secrets to an audience of 15 faculty and students Thursday over lunch.

“Reporters want stories to be about what is out of the ordinary,” Hannaford said. “Dog bites man is not a story because it happens frequently – ask any mailman. But man bites dog almost never happens and is news.”

Hannaford, who is best known for his role as former President Ronald Reagan’s campaign adviser, will be working on his 10th book about former President Richard Nixon and addressing how to interact with the media at GW this semester as a visiting professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs.

In 1986, Hannaford wrote Talking Back to the Media, a book that explains how to handle the media. Hannaford said he divided the book into two sections – theory and examples from those who have interacted with the media.

“The second part of the book was a how-to book for people who were to be interviewed. An example for people in business, non-government organizations, politics or government,” Hannaford said.

Much of his experience has come from real-life experiences. In 1974, during then-Governor Reagan’s last year in office, Reagan asked Hannaford to run his public relations for the final year of his term.

Hannaford went on to help Reagan with two presidential campaigns.

Hannaford has worked with foreign countries including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Mexico and Kuwait, and many private firms such as General Motors, New York Stock Exchange, 3M and Chevron Corp. Although Hannaford could not discuss the projects he has worked on specifically, he said he “learned from and enjoyed” every experience.

To complement his presentation, Hannaford decided to reveal some of the secrets he has gained from his years of experience. He stressed being honest, ignoring jargon and being weary of trick questions.

“Always tell the truth, but this does not mean you tell the reporter everything you know about the subject,” Hannaford said. “Also, don’t over-amplify the answer. Be a well, not a fountain.”

He said business people will use the jargon that is common in their field, forgetting their audience is not in the know.

“Avoid jargon,” said Hannaford. “Jargon is for insiders, not outsiders.”

A few students in the audience had questions and spoke with Hannaford after the program was over.

“It was a very practical talk about theory and examples,” said senior Jason Franklin, who works as the director of public relations at the 21st Century School Fund. “A lot of what he is saying is the exact same now and will be for 20 years in the future.”

Although Hannaford writes about how to deal with the media and their questions, he said he does not feel any animosity toward the press.

“I don’t blame the media. If (reporters) didn’t write stories about what was out of the ordinary, if they didn’t write about controversies . then there wouldn’t be an audience,” Hannaford said.

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