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Special Services

[Media Training] [Labor/Employment Communications] [Agency Review & Selection]

Media Training & Interview Prep

Dealing with the news media is no sophomore experience. It takes time, patience, inquisitiveness and gumption. Most of all, it requires a keen mind and the right attitude. Without question, the media are a force to be reckoned with. The challenge is to make the experience work for you.

Most reporters are fair and genuinely interested in all sides of story. They want to interview a spokesperson who is responsive to their tight deadlines, articulate, informative and sincere. In the case of TV and radio, reporters also seek people who express themselves crisply. They are always looking for the powerful 6- to 8-second sound bite that perfectly encapsulates a key point.

Many stories are assigned the same day a report must be written or produced, and it is the reporter's job to get the information and do the story as quickly as possible. Sometimes this means the reporter will have had little time to research a given topic. So, the interview is a critical opportunity for a source to present facts and background information to solidly support a point of view.

Tailored Training

Hawkins & Company has prepared all types of business people and professionals - from senior executives to scientists and physicians to plant managers - to interact effectively with reporters and editors. The agency's job is to give clients the knowledge, the confidence, the tools and the practice they need for comfortably interview at every level - in both noncrisis and crisis situations.

Agency President Marilyn Hawkins has extensive experience working with consumer, business and trade media in print, broadcast and online formats. In trainings, she uses specific client-based scenarios and helps spokespeople communicate about the subjects most important to them.

After training, clients know exactly how to:

1. PREPARE and learn as much as necessary about the issue being covered.
2. DETERMINE interview objectives and the key points to emphasize.
3. ASSEMBLE relevant background materials and visuals.
4. ANTICIPATE negative questions and prepare solid responses.
5. CONDUCT an effective interview.

A Checklist of Media Be's

Hawkins & Company can help any spokesperson acquire these skills and attitudes:

  • Be informed. Only agree to do interviews on topics you feel comfortable and knowledgeable discussing. If you're not the right person, recommend someone else.
  • Be prepared. Make sure you know exactly what points you want to make - before the interview starts. Take time to prepare key messages that sum up your ideas in lay language, then use them frequently during the interview.
  • Be concise. You know a lot more about your subject(s) than reporters do. Don't try to explain everything, just the most important points.
  • Be comfortable. Suggesting conducting the interview where you feel most "at home." Stand up (for broadcast interviews), breathe deeply and channel any nervous energy into a positive direction.
  • Be quotable. Before the interview, think of interesting turns of phrase or simple anecdotes you can work into the conversation to illustrate key points.
  • Be persuasive. You should have some passion about your topic - so don't be afraid to let that come through.
  • Be upbeat. Unless you're dealing with a controversial or potentially tragic situation, always focus on the most positive elements of your story.
  • Be engaging. In addition to giving a good interview, this should be an opportunity for you to make a media friend for your organization. So treat reporters like respected colleagues.
  • Be unflustered. No matter what they ask you, never let a reporter see you "sweat." If you know in advance what points to make, you can more easily redirect difficult questions.
  • Be repetitive. It's okay to make your main points several times during the interview. That is the only way they will really sink in.
  • Be straightforward. Don't go "off the record." If you don't want to see something in writing or hear it on the air, don't say it.

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Labor & Employment Law

In today's punishing business environment, labor and management must strive to be on the same page. But, given the building pressures on each, that's not always possible. When employers are faced with the prospect of serious union unrest - or when they just get hit with a potentially embarrassing employee lawsuit - often their first response is to "circle the wagons" and communicate as little as possible. Rarely is that the best strategy.

Workforce-related problems are on the rise, in both quantity and severity. And while employers often have skilled public relations professionals on staff, their expertise doesn't always extend to matters of labor and employment law. That's where Hawkins & Company comes in.


Marilyn Hawkins, agency president, has had extensive experience working on complex, sensitive and highly volatile labor and employment law issues. Much of this is a direct outgrowth of her 25-year background in employee communications and internal relations programs for major corporations and large organizations.

Before forming her own firm in 1994, Hawkins was VP/ Marketing at The Rockey Company (now Hill & Knowlton/ Rockey), which was then the Northwest's largest full-service public relations and public affairs agency. She began her agency career as VP/Public Reltations at Sharp Hartwig Advertising.

Hawkins, an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America, was PRSA Puget Sound Chapter President in 1990 and was named the Chapter's "PR Professional of the Year" for 1999. An established teacher and corporate coach, she served five years as an instructor in the University of Washington's Public Relations Certificate program. Hawkins is very active in Marketing Communications Executives International and is a past board member of the Washington Council of AEA (American Electronics Association), PRSA and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of King County.

Collective Bargaining

Hawkins & Company has designed and executed complete strategic communications programs for many companies facing:
- Potentially difficult labor contract negotiations
- Union organizing drives
- Work slowdowns, informational picketing and other disruptions
- Employee strikes

Agency Experience

- SEIU Local 1199NW (registered nurses)
- Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild (journalists, advertising, circulation)
- Teamsters (Locals 117, 174 and others)
- UFCW Local 1001 (culinary workers and support personnel)
- SEIU Local 6 (maintenance, nutrition, clerical and support)
- OPEIU Local 8 (technical personnel)
- Washington State Nurses Association (registered nurses)
- SEIU Local 120 (operating engineers)
- Communications Workers of America (telecom)

Employment Law

In addition to handling communications in conjunction with contract bargaining, Hawkins has worked closely with clients facing potentially damaging civil litigation in matters of:
- Employment discrimination
- Sexual harassment
- Wrongful discharge
- Other highly inflammatory issues

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Agency Review & Selection

Finding the right public relations or marketing communications agency is no simple task. It takes dedicated time, industry knowledge and a proven ability to evaluate intangibles. In these resource-constrained times, sometimes clients are afraid to hire an agency - or to part with a firm that may know their business but no longer suits their needs. Companies still have plenty of communications work to do, though, and realistically some of that must be outsourced.

Here's the real problem. Because they don't formally review agencies very often, clients often wind up engaging the firms that contact them, not always those they should consider. And they don't always ask the right questions of agency people. Worse yet, clients tend to pick the shops that pitch the best, not necessarily those that will perform the best.

Hawkins & Company has helped many organizations evaluate their relationships with external agencies in PR and related marcom fields to determine if they have the right partners. For those who want to find a new agency, Marilyn Hawkins can coordinate the entire review and selection process, saving the client enormous time and producing a better outcome.

Selecting a firm doesn't have to be a time-draining pain in the neck - it can be a very positive move with clear upsides. Done well, it provides a great opportunity to redefine and focus the company's PR and marketing strategies, get fresh ideas, and secure a better overall return on investment.

Key Initial Questions

In order to find the right agency, Hawkins & Company helps the client think through key questions such as:

  • What do you want to accomplish through an agency search process?
  • Will your current agency be included in the review? Why or why not?
  • What do you really want and need from outside counsel that you're not getting now?
  • What core services does your company want (and not want) from an agency?
  • What specific work experience and capabilities are critical?
  • What attitudes and philosophies are most important to you in an agency partner?
  • Do you have strong preferences about?:
    - Where the firm is located
    - Size, longevity and ownership
    - Depth of current industry/category/media contacts
    - Connections to another agency you already work with
  • Any firms you must - or must not - include in the review?
  • What is your estimated annual budget for a firm and what is the preferred financial arrangement (hourly, retainer, project-based, hybrid or other)?
  • What is your philosophy about agency conflicts of interest?
  • How good a client do you think your company is now - or could be? (Based on previous experience, what do you need to do to be a better client?)
  • Who will be on the review team for a PR firm and who is the ultimate client?
  • How much time do your people have to devote to an agency review?
  • Ideally, how many firms do you want to consider and how long do you want the search to take?

    Process Steps

    1. Evaluate Client's Need for Outside Services

    • Help determine what should and shouldn't be done by an agency.
    • Outline must-haves and nice-to-haves in a firm.

    2. Write Detailed Request for Credentials (RFC) or Request for Proposals (RFP) to Include:

    • Scope of work and realistic budget
    • Core agency requirements
    • Conflicts of interest
    • Specific information about the agency (structure, personnel, experience, billing)

    3. Determine the Best Firms to Interview

    • Research their capabilities, experience, client base, reputation and staff.
    • Assess possible conflicts of interest, other challenges.
    • Contact agencies to discuss their interest and compatibility.
    • Issue RFPs/RFCs.

    4. Review RFP/RFC Submissions

    • Prepare detailed comparative analysis.
    • Recommend and rank finalists.
    • Contact finalists and schedule agency visits and formal presentations.

    5. Conduct Extensive Reference Checks

    • Contact at least three each in all relevant categories such as current clients, past clients, news media, industry influentials, analysts.
    • Contact others who know the firm but weren't listed as references.
    • Prepare detailed summary of each reference check.
  • 6. Arrange and Conduct Agency Tours

    • Create agenda for meetings at agencies.
    • Write detailed list of questions to pose at on-site visits.
    • Counsel client on what to look for during tours.

    7. Coordinate Agency Presentations

    • Communicate to agencies what to include and avoid in their pitches.
    • Determine questions for client to pose, key elements to evaluate.
    • Conduct debriefings with client immediately after each session.

    8. Prepare Tailored Agency Scorecard for Overall Evaluation

    • Lead client through a full "apples to apples" comparison of competing firms.
    • Help client gain internal consensus on best selection.
    • If no clear winner emerges, prepare additional questions for client to use in second meetings with finalists.

    9. Notify Successful Firm and Other Review Participants
        Provide each agency with complete information on which firm was selected and why.

    10. Assist with Contract Negotiations
          If requested by client, review draft agency contract and make suggestions for structuring an agreement that meets exact client needs.
          Request for Credentials Example
          In a search, the central task is to ask for enough of the right kinds of data - and not get buried in puffery.
    Here are some of the basic lines of inquiry to use in screeing:

    • Provide a brief overview of your agency - its ownership and affiliations, history, geographic reach and presence, strengths and weaknesses, values, points of difference.
    • What services does your agency provide (in this office and elsewhere)?
    • List all active clients and a contact for each. How long have you held each account and what services do you perform?
    • Do you represent any clients with which we may have a conflict of interest, now or in the future?
    • What were your total gross billings last year? What is the average annual billing of all accounts? The largest? The smallest? Where would our account fit in, in terms of size?
    • What experience has the agency - or its staff, if performed elsewhere - had in our field and with accounts like ours? Be specific about services provided and results achieved.
    • How is the agency organized? Provide a simple org chart, indicating names, positions and responsibilities of all key personnel in relevant offices (exclude anyone who will have only minimal contact with this account).
    • Who would be assigned to our business? What would be the exact responsibilities of each person? Where are they based? What are their billing rates and what do you charge for other agency services we may use?
    • References. Provide contact information for three each: current clients, past clients, relevant reporters/editors, industry analysts, influentials (prominent industry leaders, political figures, activists, others).
    • Why does your agency want to work on this account?
    • What's your description of a great client? Of a great client/ agency relationship?

    Professional Background

    Agency President Marilyn Hawkins has 25 years of experience in public relations and marketing. As a PR counselor, her specialties are B2B marketing communications, reputation management, business and trade media relations, employee communications, labor/management relations, corporate social responsibility and crisis response. She has worked on such major accounts as AT&T Wireless Services, Swedish Medical Center, Medtronic Physio-Control, The Home Depot, Xerox, Frank Russell Company, Boeing, Korn/Ferry International, American Express, TCI, the John Stanford International School and many others.

    Before forming her own firm in 1994, Hawkins was VP/Marketing at The Rockey Company (now Hill & Knowlton/Rockey in Seattle), which was then the Northwest's largest full-service public relations and public affairs agency. She began her agency career as VP/PR at Sharp Hartwig Advertising. Hawkins is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America and was Puget Sound Chapter President in 1990. She was named the chapter's "PR Professional of the Year" for 1999. An established teacher and corporate coach, she served five years as an instructor in the University of Washington's Public Relations Certificate program.


    To discuss an agency search, contact Marilyn Hawkins at or (541) 552-9922.

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    © 2004 Hawkins & Company PR, LLC