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P.R. man with a nose for news

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

Public relations executive John Mooney is his own best PR man, and it comes naturally. In a business that’s smooth and suave, even occasionally artificial, Mooney exudes the genuine, from his friendliness to his desire to help.

Not only has he an aptitude for pitching an appealing angle to a story, he also knows the reporters to whom to pitch it. Scrolling through his computer database in the Park Avenue South P.R. firm M Booth & Associates, he can instantly pull up a list of journalists, both in the U.S. and Ireland, the organizations they work for, their positions, what interests them, what they write about and what they will not write about, articles they may be working on, even when to call them and when not to.

Perhaps the only way to annoy the ever-affable Mooney is to be mischievous enough to suggest that PR is, basically, manipulation. "Certainly not," he declared emphatically. "First of all, we tell the truth. It’s marketing, positioning, branding. There are some keys to being effective. First, you have to tell the truth because once you discredit yourself, you die. Second, you build relationships."

Mooney, 34, has been building relationships since his days at Fordham University, where he graduated in 1986 with a degree in communications.

Although he grew up in an Irish-American home where Clancy Brothers albums often spun on the record player, a lot of Mooney’s knowledge and interest in things Irish came from Fordham.

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He also had another interest: radio. "I always fancied myself as a radio person," he said. "I had this fantasy of calling the seventh game of the World Series. I also had this retention for trivia."

At Fordham, he signed up for news workshops, refined his news writing skills, rewrote AP copy and attended a WFUV Radio workshop on using radio equipment. It was not all new to Mooney; he had already done some on-air broadcasts with WYBC in New Haven, Conn., where he’d gone to high school.

By the time he was 19, he was doing a segment called "Spotlight" on Fordham station WFUV’s Sunday afternoon program "Ceol na Gael."

"I spent 15 minutes talking with an entertainer," Mooney said. "I would play a couple of the entertainer’s songs and ask them about themselves."

After graduation, he began working with City Harvest, a non-profit organization that collects food for distribution to the hungry. He soon saw a golden opportunity to raise awareness of the organization.

"What happened was that we would get unusual donations and I felt we could get word out about what we did if we publicized this," he said.

In time, Mooney and City Harvest would often make headlines, even on the front page of the New York Times. One of the more unusual but bountiful donations to City Harvest, both in terms of food and media exposure, came thanks to the extravagant wedding reception of Donald Trump and Marla Maples.

After five years with City Harvest, and his October 1993 marriage to June Grossman, he decided to move on. But he soon found that moving from the non-profit to the business sector was not easy.

"I was writing an article about Irish radio, and I knew Adrian Flannelly knew a lot of people," Mooney said, referring to the Mayo-born Irish radio host in New York. "I was networking, I felt he might know somebody who could use my talents. I came in to see Adrian and I walked out with a job promoting his radio program on WKDM 1380AM, which was expanding and celebrating its 25th anniversary."

Ever the contacts builder, Mooney subsequently joined the Irish Business Organization and became involved in promoting it. Three years ago, he joined M Booth & Associates and, last year, he obtained his MBA, with a concentration in marketing, from Rutgers University.

As for the future, Mooney hints he might, some day, like to run his own PR firm. "Everyone has a dream of being their own boss . . . to build up something and let it fly," he said.

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