5 lessons learned transitioning from journalist to PR pro

PR pros who come from the world of journalism have the advantage of knowing reporters’ schedules and preferences, but there’s a lot of guessing involved, too.

After serving the public for 22 years as a television journalist, I decided the bright lights had shone long enough.

Oh, I wasn’t an on-air reporter or anchor. I was a producer of local news and sports. To my credit, I even won a national award.

The move to public relations has proven to be both easier and more difficult than I expected. Easier in the sense that being on that side of the looking glass for two decades, I know the daily routine of journalists. The difficulty lies in knowing which rules of the journalism and media relations road are merely suggestions, and which are still etched in stone.

Here are five things I’ve learned about PR since turning in my media credentials:

You hate me until you need me.

Hate may be a bit strong. Despise, maybe. Either way, you don’t want me calling, emailing, texting, tweeting or Facebooking you my story pitches and media releases. I know you don’t. I didn’t want a PR person calling or emailing me when I walked in your shoes. It may seem like I’m badgering you or just wasting your time in our relationship’s infancy, but I’m actually doing what any good journalist would do: making contacts and building relationships. In the event you need me for a breaking story, you’ll know where to find me.

Respect me as I respect you.

Aretha Franklin sang about it. We both want it. I know your secrets and what you like to report. I understand and respect the challenges you face each day to make your news directors and editors happy. I know all too well when the crap hits the proverbial fan, you want to be the reporter or writer who has a contact on your smartphone.

You’re already talking to me while others in the newsroom are frantically Googling subject matter, desperately trying to find an “expert” to call for an interview. Guess what? I have those same responsibilities, only I report directly to my CEO. He expects me to be able to find you with one tap on my device. We both want exposure and familiarity for our respective companies. Respect can be that bond which breeds success for both of us.

You have a lot to learn, young Jedi.

When I joined SecureState, there was more to learn than what number to dial on the phone to get an outside line and that I actually get holidays off. My company is a management consulting firm, specializing in information security. I was required to learn my company’s history, business model, philosophy, and the inner workings of cybersecurity as it pertains to the industries we serve.

PR is more than just media relations; it’s advocating for your company. It’s schmoozing with clients and building relationships with them. It’s being an important link in the marketing team’s chain, connecting all other employees to the company’s brand and strategies. One critical strategy for any PR professional is knowing when to contact reporters, whether by phone, email or social media. This I already knew, and it’s my gift for all PR folks who don’t come from a journalism background: Never reach out to a reporter or writer during their “crunch” times.

Journalists do not have time to take your calls, read your media releases, or respond to you on social media posts when their deadline is fast approaching. Instead, contact journalists in the morning or mid-afternoon, right before their editorial meetings. If you don’t know when those meetings happen, ask them. Breaking news situations have rules all their own, for both sides. It’s any time.

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You still must have a tenacious mindset.

Deadlines in PR can be weeks long, unlike the daily deadlines of journalists. Even so, you must stay focused and aggressive. If it takes longer to gain approval for articles, blogs, projects and plans, make good use of the time. Get ahead on research for your next article. Get caught up on those tasks you moved to the back burner.

I still get to be a journalist.

Having been a journalist has given me an edge in my new career path. Some say it’s a disadvantage. All evidence to the contrary, I say. I pitch story ideas, research, write, and post content to a website. I’m a brand ambassador for my company’s image and reputation. I market my company’s message through social media channels, and engage with the public. Social media is still big. It didn’t go away just because I took my “press” hat off and got fitted for a new PR lid.

I have to know the members of my audience, what information they want and need, and how they want to digest and share that information. My facts must be accurate, my ethics spot-on. Plus, I never stop learning. Each day I try to learn one new piece of knowledge, learn one new skill, or sharpen an old one. Isn’t this what journalism is?

In the end, I know if I’ve done my homework and played by written and unwritten rules, I’ll be able to look into the mirror each day and gain the respect of my co-workers, contacts and audience.

Tom Misson (@tom_misson) is a public relations specialist at SecureState. Before moving into PR, Misson was an award-winning producer and executive producer in television news and sports for 22 years.

Topics: PR

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