Test Drive My Job: Seasoned Media Professional Lurma Rackley
Let me just preface this profile by saying how much I adore Lurma Rackley. I wrote an article about Lurma back in 2007 when I was a staff writer for the Washington City Paper. The article was about how Lurma’s book on Washington figure Petey Greene-the man’s only authorized biography, was not referenced at all for the 2007 Focus Features biopic “Talk to Me”. It’s an interesting story, so check it out.
Anyway, Lurma is an incredible woman and writer who has been in the media industry for years. I am so honored to profile her here on Mopwater PR+ Media Notes.
Lurma Rackley, 59
Media Relations Director
Mopwater: Describe your path to PR.
LR: Journalism and Public Relations in many ways are two sides of the same coin: Communications. I started my career as a newspaper reporter at what was then the afternoon daily for the nation’s capital, The Evening Star (which became The Washington Star), right out of college. My desire to be a journalist developed during my senior year in college when I was on the staff of a Student Government-created paper we called “Your Mama is Black,” to encourage race pride and activism. At that time, it became clear to me that without effective news communications (with many voices and backgrounds contributing), humanity’s progress slows and injustice finds fertile ground.
The aim of news reporting and of public relations is to influence people and their behavior. I hope my contribution to both the news business and the PR business has influenced people for the good.
I left the newspaper after nine years, the last two as an editor on the copy and assignment desks. Next, I joined the DC Government, putting in 11 years there first as an editor in the Office of Planning, then as Deputy Press Secretary, Deputy Communications Director, and finally Press Secretary to the Mayor. I was able to employ my background in media to help me balance the needs of the reporters covering City Hall with the needs of the Mayor’s Office to engage with and inform the public responsibly.
After leaving government, I worked for an international public relations firm, serving a variety of clients, before moving to the top communications position at Amnesty International USA. Working for an international human rights organization fulfilled my desire to contribute positively to a cause on the continuum of domestic civil rights, in which my family and I were deeply involved during my teenage years. Next, I took a job at Eddie Bauer, to form the company’s first Corporate Social Responsibility unit and to help make decisions about which organizations the company would partner with and support. From there, I came to the humanitarian organization CARE, once again allowing me to contribute to a noble cause.
Mopwater:What aspects of the industry are you most excited about?
LR: I think I am excited about and dread the same thing: the rapidly encroaching internet. While we are able to get our news faster, I fear we may do so at the expense of accuracy and fairness.
Mopwater: Describe your office and workplace. How many co-workers do you have? Where, how, and how often do you collaborate with them?
LR: CARE is a complex organization, with CARE USA being part of a federation of CAREs operating in 66 countries around the world. In CARE USA’s Atlanta headquarters, about 300 people work in every aspect of running an agency that has a more than $650,000,000 annual budget. My Media Relations staff is small. Six of us handle media relations (two posted in Africa). We work in tandem with sister units assigned to various aspects of marketing and communications (including publications, web development, marketing, etc.). We collaborate daily.
Mopwater: Describe a typical workday including your work hours. What do you do all day?
LR: There is no typical workday at CARE, beyond the now-typical need to manage an enormous amount of email. But because we work in so many countries and several of them are embroiled in conflict (i.e., the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Sudan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan), we find ourselves responding to media regarding crises in any given week – developing talking points, gathering information, responding to media inquiries, pitching spokespeople. At the same time, we make a solid effort to maintain a work plan that allows us to elevate CARE’s reputation and the importance of the fight against global poverty through feature stories as well as hard news. We do this by promoting stories and interviews with experts about CARE’s work and about our focus on empowering women to make changes in their communities.
Mopwater: What are your favorite and least favorite PR tasks? Do you love to pitch? Do you dread writing releases?
LR: I am extremely lucky to have a great team of media officers who write great pitches and press releases; and I sometimes do the same. All of us are willing to do it, but we do feel frustrated sometimes by the reality that many daily newspapers (and even some local NPR radio outlets) are moving away from covering international news themselves and centering only on local news from their own reporters. We have moved increasingly toward including “new media” in our media and marketing plans throughout the Communications and Marketing department.
My least favorite task is telling someone we cannot send our President and CEO or any surrogate to speak to his or her favorite organization.
Mopwater: What kind of clients does your company/organization serve and what services do you provide?
LR: We work in the world’s poorest communities, with projects in education, agriculture, water and sanitation, health, and economic development projects. Our firm belief is that poverty can be reduced if women are empowered to play a role in the decisions that affect them and their families. Therefore, girls’ education, micro-finance for women, and maternal health are Signature Program areas for CARE. Here’s a World Bank factoid for your consideration: A study from Ghana showed that an increase in household assets held by women increased the budget for food and schooling and decreased spending on alcohol and tobacco.
Mopwater: Describe a recent project where you produced results you were really proud of.
LR: Our entire Communications and Marketing department worked to promote a One Night Only event, the airing of a documentary called A Powerful Noise in 450 theatres across the country. With all hands on deck, we drew thousands of new people into the cause by introducing them to the three women featured in the film and getting them to see how their involvement here can help women in the developing world. Media success included having a CARE ambassador, model Christy Turlington Burns, on the Today Show, and mention of the event on Good Morning America; having our CEO Dr. Helene Gayle and documentary executive producer Sheila Johnson on CNN; and numerous stories, interviews, and mentions on local broadcasts and in print and on-line publications.
Mopwater: What is your favorite thing about working where you work?
LR: I am pleased to be part of a team of people who are committed to making a positive difference in the world. And I have a great group of colleagues on my team who blend journalism and public relations backgrounds to best advantage.
Mopwater: What do you wish was different about working there?
LR: I wish we had the resources to make even more people aware of our work; a bigger team to assign abroad; and a little bit less email to wade through each day.
Mopwater: Do you think you’ll be in this position in 5 years? If not, where do you see yourself?
LR: I may well be here in 5 years. The first 7 here have flown by incredibly fast. If I were not here, I would want to be in a company or foundation that could afford to donate significantly to human rights, social justice and humanitarian organizations – and I’d like to be the one or on the team making the choices!