Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: Q & A with Lu Ann Cahn / by Morgan Obidowski

Food Shelter spoke with former NBC reporter, and I Dare Me author, Lu Ann Cahn about her new role at Temple University, stepping out of her comfort zone, and her experiences with PR professionals throughout her career.

Q: You have recently started working at Temple University. How are you feeling in your new role and what inspired you to make this move?

A: What inspired me to make this move is that throughout my broadcasting career, I always mentored interns. Nobody asked me to do it, nobody paid me to do it, but it was just something I realized I always loved. When this opportunity was presented to me through a friend. I thought, you know, I really like seeing people get off to a good start in their careers. I had so many people who helped me and believed in me, and took time to launch me. I want to help the next generation. I had the same job for 27 years, so that's a big change,  I never worked in academia except as an occasional adjunct professor. I knew I would love it, and I absolutely do love meeting with students.

Q: In 2013, you released your memoir, “I Dare Me”, and this was inspired because you felt “stuck” in your daily routine, can you describe what have you learned from sharing your story?

A: When you're stuck or making a life transition, you really need to start doing new things. As we get older, we start to feel that we are in a spot where we can't go forward or backwards, you really have to stretch outside your comfort zone. As adults, we stop doing that. There's this buffet of life, and we start choosing from the same part of the buffet over and over again. We realize we're not really so happy, we forget to do new things and forget to bring freshness into our lives. I definitely got to a point where I was stuck and didn't want to change. What I learned is that you have to push yourself, even with simple little things. Take a risk, and say yes to something new. This journey allowed me to open up again, and move forward.

Q:  While promoting your book, what was it like being on the other side of the interview?

A: Difficult sometimes, and I can really appreciate people who are really good interviewers. I loved when we had good conversations. It's hard because I like being in control of the interview. If I had to choose, I like to be the one doing the interview but I had a great appreciation for people who got the book, understood, asked great questions and challenged me. It was interesting being on the other side.  

Q: With many years of experience in the media at NBC10, how would you describe your interactions with PR professionals?

A: It's interesting because every day at Channel 10, I didn't really think about it. It was really just a part of my world. It's a really hard job from your side, pitching to news reporters. It's difficult today to get someone's attention. It's a needle in a haystack to find a reporter to cover or have any interest in your story. Your getting 200 emails a day, and most of them you don't even open. It definitely makes a difference if I know them or have had an interaction with them. Today, you have to tailor it so much to get through the noise and get to a reporters or a newsroom editor who will pay attention to what your pitching.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve when working with PR professionals?

A: Well, probably the biggest pet peeve is when you decide to cover the story and the PR professional wants to manage it. Some of that can be helpful, but sometimes you have to let the reporter do their job. Also, I think inviting a reporter to an event is always a double edged sword. You're hoping for positive publicity, but if they are there and something goes wrong, the reporter is going to cover that as well, and you cannot stop that.

Q:  From a journalist perspective, how do you suggest we better our practices to help journalists?

A: I think gone are the days that you can send out a generic blast email, and obviously it depends. I think you really have to take a personal approach, and if you don't know the journalist personally,  if you know kind of what they do, their brand, and what they do. When I was an investigative reporter, people knew the kind of stories that I did. The more PR people understand who they are pitching,  the better it's going to be.

Q:  If you could tell your 22 year-old self anything right now, what would you say to her?

I would say, be patient, you'll get there. Enjoy where you are at the moment. Don't think so much about where you are going all the time. Take in what's happening at this moment. I think when I was 22, I was in such a hurry to get to the next thing, I often forgot to appreciate where I was. Be in the moment more, and the future will take care of itself.

Q:  What advice do you have for people looking to work in the communications industry?

A: Be versatile, be flexible, and always have plan A, B, and C. I think you must be a good writer. You have to learn all these formats now from TV, Web, Social Media. The truth of the matter is that if you are a good writer you can learn how to do all those things. If you're not a good writer, it's going to be difficult for you. I think you should do everything you can to boost your writing skills, and if you do, you will succeed.