A CBS News Radio veteran, Joshua Lane Cook has advice for PR professionals setting up media interviews: Turn the tables and question the reporter first.
Cook, media relations manager with Ghidotti Communications of Little Rock for about a year and a half, is handy with an account, but he’s also flexing an old skill, writing. In October, his pre-interview advice to Ghidotti.com readers caught several of my fellow journalists’ attention with its insight and clarity.
Communications pros need to ask what the story will be about, in detail, Cook wrote. Other key questions: When’s the deadline? Where will the interview take place? Who will actually conduct the interview? How can you follow up later?
Every tip made sense to me, a 38-year journeyman in the journalism trade.
Over coffee last week at Blue Sail in downtown Little Rock, around the corner from their offices in the Regions Tower, Cook sat down with me and his boss, Natalie Ghidotti. Talk turned to the growing PR industry, the cratering daily newspaper business, and to Ghidotti’s work for a reorganized group of McDonald’s franchise owners.
“Joshua has been working quite a bit on that account,” said Ghidotti, herself a former journalist who edited Little Rock Family and other Arkansas Business Publishing Group publications before starting her own firm a decade ago. It has been representing McDonald’s since 2015.
“I’m really enjoying Little Rock,” said Cook, who worked in Austin, Texas, for a decade before landing with Ghidotti.
A hiker who has trekked 700 miles of the Appalachian Trail and crossed the Japanese alps, Cook burns energy these days keeping up with three young sons.
That task may be a bit easier with an office-hours job at Ghidotti, as opposed to the all-hours life he led at CBS Radio. A lucky internship in New York led to the network: He’d taken an interest in radio at tiny Georgetown College in Kentucky, where he edited the student newspaper and worked for WRVG, epicenter of the college’s upstart public radio network.
Cook’s flight from professional journalism to media relations after about a dozen years is part of a clear trend. As print journalism jobs have swooned, PR jobs have shot up. “I think the figure is 6 to 1,” Cook said, referring to recent census numbers for PR professionals vs. reporters. Two decades ago, PR workers outnumbered reporters by just 2 to 1.
“I’m enjoying the work I do now, but it’s a shame that journalism is so stressed,” Cook said.
Ghidotti said her team started serving McDonald’s franchises in 2015, when it landed work with the Little Rock McDonald’s co-op. In 2018, the co-op structure was overhauled, cutting the number of U.S. co-ops from 180 to just 50. “Our co-op expanded,” Ghidotti said, “and is now called ArkLaTx, including Arkansas, Shreveport, Monroe, and a slice of east Texas.”
Starting next year, Ghidotti will keep ArkLaTx and also become agency of record for the Mississippi-Tennessee co-op, which includes Memphis and all of Mississippi. “We work for the owner-operators in these co-ops, all small-business owners with anywhere from five to 10 stores up to 70-plus restaurants,” Ghidotti said. “We also work closely with McDonald’s corporate to ensure that national activations and promotions are being executed at the local level.”
Her team “has won several awards for our McDonald’s work over the years,” Ghidotti said. “But more importantly, we have been recognized by the owner-operators and the national team for helping increase guest counts and sales in our markets.”
The account offers something different every day, she said. “You would think it’s burgers and fries all the time — and there’s no mistake that we talk a lot about those famous fries — but there’s much more. From their deep commitment to Ronald McDonald House charities to their absolute dedication to their crew members, we have many things to talk about from a PR standpoint.”
One initiative she’s getting out the word on is Archways to Opportunity, a McDonald’s program that provides tuition assistance to employees.
Since launching the program in 2015, McDonald’s has awarded $772,000 in tuition help to Arkansas McDonald’s workers. “McDonald’s is committed to being ‘America’s best first job,’” Ghidotti said, saying she can vouch for it. “We have owners who started flipping burgers at age 16 and supervisors who are making six figures doing a job they love. Those are the kinds of stories we love to share.”