In the (gulp) 6½ years since leaving journalism and more than 5½ years since joining the public relations world, I have had more than a few cups of coffee with former colleagues wondering about the transition from traditional media to PR.
Some were exploring options. Some were jettisoned after yet another round of layoffs. Some quit and decided to start anew. Some would like to quit and start anew.
In a series of three related blog posts, I’ll outline the skills I found to be transferable and the skills I believe may need to be developed to be successful in PR. Then lastly I’ll talk about the commonalities that can serve both professions well.
First, we’ll start with transferable skills:
Reporting ability: Telling a good story starts with the gathering of relevant and interesting facts, the asking of creative and probing questions, the unending quest for details and specifics and, perhaps most important, the relentless requirement that every single statement is 100 percent accurate. Journalists bring all of this – and more.
Storytelling: Identifying what’s interesting to the audience is a crucial skill. As you work closely with a brand or organization and learn more about it, former journalists have a great instinct about what’s interesting – to the media, to internal and external audiences. At least they should. It’s similar to strong beat reporting. Every company can use this.
Understand the dynamics of media outlets: Knowing how a newsroom (TV, online, radio and print) operates helps you understand the best way to offer up stories, the best timing and a fair understanding of what’s happening on the other end of your emails and phone calls. Speaking the same language helps. Period.
Multi-tasking: Editors, reporters and producers juggle multiple roles, tasks, stories and personalities each and every day and do so at a frenetic pace. Some do it better than others, but it’s all pretty standard stuff. Agencies working with multiple clients? Kind of like general assignment reporting. Crisis communications? Journalists thrive on so-called breaking news and working under pressure. (The big difference: Journalists want a story that is accurate and fair; public relations means managing a client’s reputation – how a crisis is handled can have huge implications.)
Deadline pressure: There is little about PR deadlines that would faze most journalists. Actually, what will drive ex-journalists nuts is what often feels like a lack of urgency from clients (agency), co-workers (corporate communications) and, generally, everyone but you. A former editor once looked at his watch and said, “You’re thinking in days; I am thinking in minutes.” This is especially true in this 24/7 journalism universe. Due at 6 p.m.? Bring it on. But be patient if it takes three days for approvals.
Perry spent 25 years at Gannett as a reporter, editor and managing editor, has launched new products (print and online), been a magazine editor and written, edited and published books.