July 03, 2003
A planner -- when possible
by Debra Gibson
Hacker became manager of News Service in January. Photo by Bob
She may well have been the most ambitious student reporter/photographer at
the Audubon County Advocate-Journal. Annette Hacker's charge 17 years
ago was a simple one: Stay busy finding the big newspaper stories, or you'll
fill your time typesetting cookbooks.
"I aimed for no slow days," she recalled recently. "And in Audubon, that's
Ahh be careful what you wish for.
A slow day may now be just a fantasy for Hacker, manager of ISU's News
Service since January. For the past six months, this public relations and
marketing professional has been managing communications -- crisis and
otherwise -- for her alma mater.
A typical week for Hacker, who lives with her husband and two young sons in
Pleasant Hill, may involve fielding media calls, creating experts lists for
topical issues, issuing public statements on behalf of the university,
writing news releases, conferring with ISU administrators, supervising a
team of media relations professionals, strategizing with other university
communicators, conducting media training for campus personnel and generating
positive news coverage for Iowa State.
And that's considered a quiet week.
"Definitely, it's been a very tumultuous, activity-filled six months,"
Hacker said recently from her office in the Communications Building. "You
never know what the day will hold in News Service. I'm a planner, but when
that phone rings, I'm never sure what's going on at the other end."
Hacker's professional background has prepared her well for frenzy. Bolstered
by an ISU undergraduate experience that involved at times working four jobs
while attending classes, she entered the work force full time following her
1990 graduation as a broadcast journalism major. She wrote and edited
materials for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, served as
director of communications for the Greater Des Moines Convention and
Visitors Bureau, and for five years prior to coming to ISU, worked as a
senior account executive and senior vice president at a Des Moines
advertising agency and a public relations firm.
"Agency life is like no other PR career," Hacker said. "There's a reason you
don't often see 50- and 60-year-olds working in agencies -- the all-nighters
are far more frequent than any of us would like. But I wouldn't trade that
experience for anything. I learned more in the agencies than in all my other
Though Hacker says, "I never thought I'd grow up and come back to ISU,"
several friends encouraged her to apply for the news service management
position. Once hired, she knew at least one thing: "I was sure there would
be more news to share about Iowa State than there was time possible to get
it out there."
"Annette was selected from a large pool of candidates because of her range
of professional experiences, her knowledge of the news media and
demonstrated ability to handle lots of issues and projects simultaneously,"
said John McCarroll, University Relations director. "She has quickly
established herself on campus by getting to know administrators, faculty and
students, and taking on some difficult issues. She is smart, a quick learner
and a real asset to News Service and the university."
It's not just about page 1
Though Hacker has discovered that unlike private sector clients, "not all
faculty have seen the value of what media attention can do," she remains
enthusiastic in her pursuit of promotion.
"Some tend to narrowly define public relations as media relations -- getting
people on TV and in the newspaper,'" Hacker said. "But our job really is to
help the university meet its goals and objectives, manage issues and solve
problems. Strategic communication needs a place at the table in that
process. A page 1 story in The New York Times is great, but if the
story doesn't reflect an Iowa State goal or address a targeted audience,
what did it accomplish?"
Coaching faculty and staff to most effectively share their messages is a
task high on Hacker's priority list. For those employees who may find
themselves staring at a camera or reporter's notebook, Hacker suggests the
- Go into an interview with the goal to express, not impress. "If you
could write your own lead to the story, what would you say?" Hacker
counseled. "Develop your key message and two or three supporting points.
"And remember that reporters don't always take the straight route to getting
information. We can show you how to move away from less relevant questions
and refocus on what you really came to talk about."
- Breathe and relax. "Reporters are people like you and me," Hacker said.
"They're just doing their job, which is to get the story."
- Oversimplify. "Most reporters have very general educational
backgrounds, and, unless they're specialists, they don't have heavy science
training, for instance," she continued. "As journalists, they are required
to know a little bit about a lot of things and cover a broad range of news.
Their average readers comprehend information at an 8th-grade level.
"So boil down your information into the simplest meaningful terms, so a
reporter can accurately cover it and the reader will understand it."
If these media contacts are the result of a crisis or difficult situation,
Hacker offered additional tips.
- "Call University Relations before it becomes a crisis," she said. "Give
us an opportunity to plan and help manage the issue."
- Do the right thing. "You can't communicate your way out of what you
behaved your way into," Hacker said.
- Move quickly. "Be thoughtful in your planning and your process, but
On the rare occasion that Hacker herself ceases to move quickly, she enjoys
attending her sons' Little League games and figure skating practices. She's
an avid reader ("although lately I renew more books than I read"),
especially biographies ("the only reason I agreed to digital cable: The
Biography Channel"), and the whole family enjoys travel.
With a half-year at ISU behind her, in what direction is Hacker planning to
"My career has developed from a combination of hard work, careful planning
and happy accidents," Hacker said. "I want us here at News Service to
approach our work strategically and proactively. PR shouldn't be an
"On the other hand, we also have to be able to think on our feet -- and then
Ames, Iowa 50011, (515) 294-4111
Published by: University Relations,
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