April 10, 2014

Do Former Journalists Still Make Good PR Pros?

This is a tight lead “graf”.  It better be.  If I don’t get to the point right away, you’ll move on to something else.

The need to get to the point was ingrained during my ten years in television and newspaper newsrooms where I wrote lead “grafs” every day. I still write “tight,” or at least try to do so.  The on-camera skills I was forced to develop — like speaking in sound bites and with conviction — shape how I pitch business and lead meetings.

My story is not unique.  Far from it.  There are many former reporters (several at our agency alone) who successfully joined the “dark side” and are adept at applying their journalism skills to their now preferred chosen profession.

Good reporters often make great PR people.  They shine as public relations executives because they somehow feel better promoting an idea rather than dissecting or challenging it.

Their tight journalistic writing translates into short, understandable pitches.  The ability to know what news is and isn’t allows them to target the right reporters at the right time.  Years of sitting through high octane, combative press conferences and conducting interviews makes for effective and probing media coaching sessions.

But, and there is a “but,” not ALL journalists make great PR pros, and that is the nuance here.  As someone who now thinks a lot about hiring talent, I know from experience that journalists can also fail in their new roles because they forget their old roles.

The best journalists learn to be diplomatic.  They understand that they can’t “grill” their own clients, unless it’s for a specific purpose like interview preparation or managing a crisis.  Email and phone etiquette becomes essential.  A thank you is required in regular correspondence, and interrupting a client in a challenging manner is unacceptable.

For most PR professionals, these basic skills may sound intuitive, but I’ve watched former reporters who don’t adapt well to the subtleties and sense of savior faire that is required in the business world.  They somehow can’t accept that they’re not here to fight business; they’re part of it.

Of course, every profession has exceptions to the rule and on the whole a journalist can contribute much to an agency or any other public relations role, including White House press secretary (think Jay Carney or the late Tony Snow and others).  My advice to my fellow colleagues in the industry: If you’re considering an application from a journalist for a public relations position, you may have a future PR pro on your hands.

 

By: Seth Linden, Executive Vice President, Dukas Public Relations