Five Reasons Journalists Are Prime Candidates For PR Roles
Fifteen years ago, I found myself racing a V8 Monte Carlo down I-95 in Savannah, Georgia, chasing Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez on his motorcycle. We topped out at about 100 mph. I was a reporter for Star magazine, and print was king — issues flew off the shelves. The web was still a newfangled entity, and “Bennifer” was the biggest thing in pop culture.
Flash forward to about a decade as editor-in-chief, and I was hobnobbing with some of the biggest names in media and PR. I learned how to answer 400 emails a day, punch up otherwise snooze-worthy news, and spread secrets but also keep it hush when the figurative "payoff" to doing so was big. I successfully evaded at least a handful of heart attacks and learned the importance of patience.
Collectively, these experiences, all of them fast-paced and outlandish, gave me foresight. I saw print declining, and with that long-standing foundation crumbling beneath me, I realized it was time to repurpose my arsenal of tools. Sound familiar?
Journalists are constantly looking for phase two of their careers. Back then, it was a wake-up call. Why wasn’t I also on the lookout for new opportunities? What job could a 15-year veteran of magazines do? I found that journalism is a lot like PR — the job, in many ways, is PR 101. So two years ago, I launched my own agency — a real-life, one-stop shop servicing the many requests I fielded over more than a decade and a half in media: "How do I get my company’s name out there?" "How do I get this magazine to profile me?" "What party should I attend at Art Basel to be seen and photographed?" "How do I become trusted in my industry?" It all leads back to branding, relationships and curation.
You don't have to have prior experience with an agency to excel in public relations. You just need a solid platform of agency-related skills or talents to get going and help brands, products, companies and personalities polish their image. These five traits prove why journalists shouldn't be overlooked for PR work:
An Established Network
I know we don’t call it a Rolodex anymore, but there was a time in which we had stacks of cards on our desks. As a journalist, we know hundreds and thousands of writers, publicists, agents, editors and connected people all over the world. Having good connections is the basis for all PR.
One of the most important things a journalist-turned-PR pro can bring a client or business is insight into how stories are shaped in the public arena and which stories break through the noise to bring true impact. Who has a better understanding of how to tell stories and captivate an audience than writers and journalists? Beyond that, who better to craft the talking points, headlines and quotes, and map it all out for the full package? No one.
Damage Control Know-How
I’ve been a journalist who called the publicist. "We’re planning to print a story about your client cheating on her husband, and we’ve got three sources and photos. Would you like to comment?" Today I’m on the other end of the line, but instead, the request is: "We hear your portfolio company might be acquired by an activist investor. Would your client like to offer a statement?"
Established journalists know the inner workings of a PR crisis because we’ve been in the driver’s seat for dozens of them. We know how journalists handle a scoop, the involvement editors have in how the story is shaped, and what the publication strategy will likely be. In PR, having that inside-baseball knowledge and intuitive understanding of cause and effect is invaluable, rare and a real asset to clients playing in high-stakes industries, be it pro sports or venture capital.
Nothing hovers over a journalist’s head like deadlines. Even if you have 72 hours, going to sleep knowing that the final hour to file is approaching will inevitably manifest in your dreams. I've watched a number of my journalist peers blow through those precious hours, waiting around for a publicist to get back to them. Few things fostered resentment quite as much as that scenario did.
Knowing the pain points of journalists because you’ve been one yourself means you can better tend to your relationships. This is why I aim to hire former reporters to work with me. We all speak the same language. And on a similar token, being accustomed to short turnaround times and living by deadlines can make your PR team more diligent than most.
Being a journalist is all about getting the information. Sometimes you get all of it; sometimes you’re able to grab just half and then fill in the gaps. But you never let on that you aren’t holding a full deck. This is true in almost all journalism — politics, celebrity, lifestyle. You do the best you can with the information you are given. That tactical game is key to delivering the story, and it applies to PR, too. You don't always have everything you need, but you have to put it out there and get the best results possible for your client.
When interacting with media, whether proactively or reactively, you’re crafting a story through a conversation that you have to guide cautiously for just long enough to get a clear sense of what they’ll do with the information you’ve hand-delivered, but without giving too much away. Everything is deliberate, whether you’re the reporter delivering news to the public or the publicist protecting and building the image of a client.
It's not far-fetched to say that a journalist and a publicist are one and the same. Ask a publicist if they've ever written a story for a journalist on deadline (I'm sure they have), or if they've ever crafted a quote for their client without asking the client (they have). Publicists are sometimes journalists. And journalists can be publicists.