Roger Valdez: Forbes Columnist [Podcast]

Roger Valdez: Forbes Columnist [Podcast]

Seattle Housing Advocate and Forbes Writer, Roger Valdez, Explains the Difference Between Advocacy and Public Relations

Roger Valdez is the embodiment of my two work passions—public relations and real estate. As the Director of Seattle for Growth, formerly Smart Growth Seattle, Roger has been advocating for more housing options in every Seattle-area neighborhood for all kinds of incomes, from micro-housing to mansions and tenant housing to owner-occupied.

“A proliferation of product type enables consumers to make better choices. If the choices are limited, competition increases and prices increase. More is better,” Roger says.

His nonprofit has been at the center of well-known Seattle real estate debates for more than five years. That’s why he was able to snag a regular column on — that he does not pay for — representing the Emerald City’s housing market. Abiding by a quota of two posts per week, many of his columns are specific to Seattle-area policies and issues, but PR people will be happy to know that he sometimes references the sources we send his way on Forbes. He’ll even delve into another state’s issues so if you’re in any kind of communications role for a real estate, construction or housing entity, getting to know Roger would probably be a good idea.

This conversation traversed between heady real estate policy, inventory and pricing topics; and edgy PR tips that might leave some of us shaking in our boots. High-level thoughts on how journalists can influence the housing market and policy are intertwined with real-life examples of how he relates to the press. The conversation gets really interesting when Roger relates urban living to a social mashup forcing us to work through uncomfortable situations, like homelessness and crime, together. So you’ll surely be entertained as we near the end of the episode where Roger’s tips for getting included in his columns can be found.


How the Press Affects Consumer Sentiment

As I stumble over the difference between what a “median” and a “mean” price is (you’d think I’d remember this from my real estate agent days), Roger gets into how the press, especially the Seattle Times, can use shocking language to influence opinion or confirm existing biases. For example, pointing to “Average Prices” to sum up how the housing market is doing within a headline can negatively influence buyer sentiment. Roger concedes that the article is factual, but buried at the end is the explanation about what’s truly going on in the market. Headlines can strongly deter would-be homeowners because they don’t read the full article.

“Using average prices and wages to measure our so-called crisis is an abuse of averages,” Roger says. “The easiest thing the press can do is confirm people’s bias.”

Waging a Press War: Advocacy versus PR

In his role at Seattle for Growth, Roger publically brings criticism to reporters and editors. It’s not that he’s getting huffy when they’re not writing the story he wants, but it’s situations like the above that get him worked up. “When it comes to price, dig into what the dynamic is,” he says. “How can we better utilize data to talk about the market?”

Roger says that he might think differently about blatantly fighting with the press if he were representing multiple PR clients. One burnt bridge could affect all the clients. He points out that he’s an advocate in the broadest possible sense. Beyond just aiming for the story, an advocate is in it for the long haul, attempting to change the way we think, ultimately affecting policy. He recognizes the press as having huge power in this regard. So if he feels that they are misunderstanding an issue and unintentionally swaying people, he’s going to do everything in his power to correct that — whether that be complaining directly to the newspaper’s staff, commenting with a correction online or utilizing his own channels to post about it. “If a story is really bad someone will get hurt because of it,” he says.

One thing is for sure: Roger is not coy. However, it’s important to keep in mind that Roger doesn’t think his bold approach with newsrooms actually hurts his chances of future stories. “They get where I’m coming from. Hearing criticism makes them think twice.” But again, he reminds us that he wouldn’t be as aggressive if he were solely working in a PR capacity.


What is Good Journalism?

“Journalism is not an easy job,” Roger admits. “A good article needs to help the discussion.”

He’s quick to dole out compliments for good journalism, pointing to an article by David Kroman on Crosscut, which examined the proposed fees Seattle landlords would face when raising their rents by a certain amount. In the article, David interviews a source in Portland, where this bill has already passed, to hear how it has affected things here.

This way of digging into the story is the epitome of honorable journalism for Roger. Uncovering every angle to fully understand all aspects, combined with broadening the language so that situations aren’t overly simplified is what the Seattle real estate market needs right now and who better to play the role than its local journalists?


Getting in Roger’s Forbes Column

Just like quality journalism could use a discerning touch, successful PR efforts require the same amount of discipline. To possibly garner a mention in his column about the Seattle real estate market, Roger offers the following advice:

  • Tailor your pitch for each press audience.
  • Don’t make it confusing so he doesn’t have to do too much sleuthing.
  • If it’s a broad press release involving multiple parties, tell him which player you are representing in the story.

About the guest: Roger Valdez

Roger Valdez has been involved in public policy in the areas of education, health, and housing for the past 20 years. He is Director of Seattle For Growth, a housing and growth advocacy organization pushing for more housing supply for all levels of income in Seattle, and a columnist for Forbes.

Connect and follow Roger on social media:

This episode of PR Talk is brought to you by PRSA Oregon

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Unlock the Mysteries of the Building & Construction Industry with Nick Bjork, Daily Journal of Commerce [Podcast]

Unlock the Mysteries of the Building & Construction Industry with Nick Bjork, Daily Journal of Commerce [Podcast]

Celebrate with us at the DJC’s TopProjects party on May 18th. PR ChalkTalk subscribers get 15% off tickets with discount code: DJC.

For the real estate professionals, marketers or building enthusiasts reading this post, understand one thing: Nick Bjork is one of us. Currently the publisher of the Daily Journal of Commerce Oregon (DJC), Nick is responsible for the publication’s overall management, but he didn’t always work behind the scenes. His diverse background started on the Oregon coast, watching his father run a marine construction company. With the love of construction and public work instilled in him, Nick began his professional career as a reporter, including a stint at the DJC. Nick then transitioned into to selling residential real estate — he and Amy had fun reminiscing about their mutual real estate days. An advertising sales position brought Nick back to the DJC and he then took over as publisher in 2015.

Nick’s experience on both “sides” of the paper, as well as someone in the trenches and working in the industry, gives him unique insight. Nick points out that in real estate — especially residential, but commercial as well — decisions aren’t made exclusively on financial sense. Exterior factors like weather, mood, wall colors and relationships often play a larger role.

The Pitch Opportunity:

If you want to reach anyone associated with the building and construction industry, the DJC is a great way to get in front of them. Its entire purpose is providing leads to the building industry.

To help narrow your focus, the paper has three main sections:

  1. Land use policy and new development — what’s coming up in the distant future.
  2. Architecture and Engineering — trends, what’s new, what’s happening, projects that companies are getting.
  3. Construction and Transportation — trends, watchdog reporting, contracting and permitting. Nick states this focus is really the “voice of the contractors.”

Reach out to the reporters directly based on their specific beat (more on this below).

About the DJC:

As the official paper of the City of Portland, the Daily Journal of Commerce (DJC) is the premier source for public notices, bid information and reporting specifically for the building and construction industry, also known as architectural, engineering and construction (A|E|C).

This largest public notice paper in the nation has been operating in Portland for 145 years. More often than not, when the government has to notify the public, they’ll run a notice in the DJC. They include things like: death notices for next of kin, foreclosures, auctions, government procurement for professional services, supplies or construction services above a certain dollar amount and notices of public bidding opportunities.

In addition to publishing three times each week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), providing the printed content and additional features online and adding value through email newsletters, the DJC organizes several events. The largest, TopProjects, is coming up soon — May 18 at the Oregon Convention Center.

Celebrate the area’s best building and construction projects during the DJC’s TopProjects event on May 18th. PR ChalkTalk subscribers get 15% off tickets with discount code: DJC.

Celebrate the area’s best building and construction projects during the DJC’s TopProjects event on May 18th. PR ChalkTalk subscribers get 15% off tickets with discount code: DJC.


Coined “the Oscars for the building industry,” the 600 person event will recognize 95 finalists at the annual networking event celebrating the top industry projects of the year. Hurry before tickets sell out! The public is welcome to buy a ticket ($95) to join in a celebration that gets larger every year.

PR Tips:

Don’t just send a press release

We’re noticing a theme when asking our media friends for PR tips. They’re universally advising against just sending press releases. Nick did not sway from this sentiment, stating that their editorial content must live up to the DJC’s high subscription cost ($230/year). Meaning they won’t just run your press release. Sure, they’ll garner ideas and information from press releases, but 90 percent of their stories are sourced.

Ask them to coffee

Are DJC reporters really willing to take the time to sit down with PR pros? They’re game — as long as you take the time to understand their audience and research their stories. Ask them to coffee and see what amazing ideas can come out of a 15-minute conversation. But please keep it cool and don’t turn it into a pitch session.

“These guys are hungry for stories. They have to produce a lot of content a week.” — Nick Bjork

Be a thought leader

Bring them a timely story idea or industry trend along with an example of someone who is involved, who may just happen to be an executive in your company or your client. Show them how you’re doing something unique and/or being a thought leader in the industry.

Nick also notes that their multi-source journalistic style always examines all sides of an issue. The DJC doesn’t necessarily require breaking news, rather stories about how relationships or projects came together.

Become a contributor

There are opportunities to be a guest contributor to the DJC. Providing an opinion on a trend or column about the industry is a good way to reach DJC readers. Industry insider and relevant peripheral contributors are desired. Nick mentions accountants and lawyers as great examples of people that directly work with their readers, but also provides an example of an interview coach who isn’t specific to the building industry, but speaks directly to the bid interview process which many DJC readers are interested in.

In fact, they like to develop quarterly or even monthly relationships for editorial contributions…maybe something to approach during that coffee meeting you set up?

Where, when, who?

Where do they get their stories from? Besides those press releases that do occasionally lead to story ideas, DJC reporters attend lots of meetings (land use reviews, neighborhood associations) and permit requests/notices.

When is the best time to pitch them? Since they print three times a week, there are no specific days that are off limits or better than other times. Each reporter is responsible for writing one lead story (1,500 words) each week, so certain reporters may be harder to reach depending on the day. DJC reporters also tend to work a little further out since they don’t focus on breaking news. Also, like all media these days (see the clip from John Oliver below), their reporters are responsible for more than just their print articles — something else to keep in mind.


Who to pitch? As mentioned above, do your research and pitch the appropriate reporter. Here is the current focus and contact info for DJC reporters:

Chuck Slothower

Chuck Slothower

Development & Real Estate

Kent Hohlfeld

Kent Hohlfeld

Architecture & Engineering

Garrett Andrews

Garrett Andrews

Construction, Transportation & Building Technology

PR Pet Peeves:

Nick’s experience as a former reporter, turned publisher, gives him unique answers to our question about PR pet peeves. His tips include:

  • Don’t just tell us how great your company is. Tell us what you are doing that is interesting and unique. Or provide value with insight into industry trends.
  • Your sources don’t always have to be the president or spokesperson of the company. The DJC loves a hands-on perspective from experts in the field (e.g. an engineer that actually works on projects) that can provide a unique point-of-view.
  • Don’t try and pitch a story just about the company, but about a topic as an expert.
  • No more anonymous sources. Don’t bring it if you can’t be a source.
  • Exclusives and embargoes are annoying. Don’t bring them a story they can’t run!


Portland’s Daily Journal of Commerce is a direct route to the construction, building, architectural and engineering industries. If you pay attention to what their readers want, bring new angles and fresh perspectives, you can get your message across to a highly targeted audience.

About the guest: Nick Bjork

Nick Bjork is the publisher of the Daily Journal of Commerce. He oversees the day-to-day operations of the trade publication dedicated to the building industry in Oregon and Southwest Washington, and the company’s data product, DJC Project Center. Nick has spent the majority of his professional career at the DJC, starting out as a real estate development and land use beat reporter, followed by several years developing and selling new advertising products for the media company.

Connect and follow Nick on social media:

DJC Publisher Nick Bjork
Promote Yourself and Your Listings through Social Media

Promote Yourself and Your Listings through Social Media

Slides for the Windermere Premiere Forum presentation given on May 20, 2016.

Tips for Creating iPhone Videos

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How 4 Years As A Realtor Helps Me Be A Killer Business Owner.

How 4 Years As A Realtor Helps Me Be A Killer Business Owner.

While deciding if marketing was right for me, I become a realtor for 4 years. Every day I thank myself for taking the leap into a career that I knew nothing about. Even though it led me to recognize marketing as my true path, my time spent as a realtor shaped how I run my business today. I didn’t know it at the time, but realtors are truly business owners, with the most professional and disciplined amassing a worth that typical “business owners” could only dream of.

How Being a Realtor Shaped the Way I do Business Today:

  1. Have thick skin. You will get burned (by everyone!). Be careful not to celebrate before signing the contract (or literally closing escrow in the case of a realtor). Also don’t take things too personally. It’s just business.
  2. Use detailed language in contracts and proposals. But not too detailed from a legal standpoint. 🙂 This is the point that led me to writing this blog post. I recently felt very (probably overly) adept at writing a proposal for a law firm—like I could protect myself and play with the big boys.
  3. Connect with people. What other people say and do is our greatest source of inspiration when attempting to market something. They also bring us all of our business. Get out and about!
  4. Pick up the phone. While email has its purpose, you really cannot effectively communicate complexities in text.
  5. Weather the storm. Imagine selling homes during the housing boom. Many people jumped on the bandwagon and got their real estate licenses. Imagine selling homes during the economic depression. This takes a certain kind of tenacity and skill that few realtors, or other professionals for that matter, have.

My point is that you never know where your professional path may take you. What might seem like an odd tangent, or even bump in the road, will probably serve as inspiration for you in another professional lifetime.