8 PR lessons from an ex-journalist

One year removed from his newsroom days, the author shares tips for other reporters and editors making the transition ‘to the dark side.’


One year ago I left print journalism and began a journey into public relations.

I held that journalist belief that I was overqualified to be a PR pro and that it would be easy.

Needless to say, I was a bit overconfident.

So, what have I learned? Besides how great it is to have my own office, here are eight lessons for anybody making the same transition:

1. When it comes to social media, experience isn’t expertise. All reporters and editors use Facebook and Twitter to promote their stories, but running a long-lasting marketing campaign that attracts not only a high number of eyes, but also the right eyes, is different.

Lesson: It’s tempting to jump in and run full steam ahead on all platforms. Don’t. Each is different. Take advantage of the many articles and blogs that explain those differences. Just as important, learn about social media analytics.

2. Spin doesn’t have to be a bad word. Advocacy writing is different from journalism. Journalists love to tell the whole story. For PR pros, the whole story isn’t always your story. Tell your story, but remember that openness and honesty are important. Though you want to emphasize your client’s point of view, don’t use your media experience to lie or cover up.

Lesson: Marketing and public relations are about putting your most favorable face forward, but as a former journalist you have a special responsibility to push for as much openness as possible.

3. Your journalistic and storytelling instincts will serve you well. The same interviewing, fact-checking and critical-thinking skills that made you a good reporter can make you a good PR pro.

Lesson: You want to tell your story. Now remember how you would receive that story as a reporter. Find and plug the holes.

4. You know how to stay calm in the midst of chaos. Very few situations can match a newsroom on deadline or a parent angry that a child’s fourth-place finish wasn’t listed on the sports page.

Lesson: Lean on those experiences, take a deep breath, and be the calming influence.

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5. You remember what pitches caught your attention. If certain approaches caused you as a journalist to delete an email without opening it or to decline to return a phone call, don’t use them.

Lesson: Pitch stories the way you would have wanted to receive them.

6. Reporters can be jerks and even disappointing. Of course, you weren’t. You were always polite, and all your stories were well-written, balanced and fair. No?

Lesson: Don’t forget the newsroom hubbub, nor the number of stories and other responsibilities editors and reporters are juggling. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

7. Accept that some journalists, even former peers, will look down on your new career. Don’t try to justify it to them. Don’t be the guy telling reporters you used to be one of them.

Lesson: Embrace your role as a PR pro. Your story is your focus, not your pride. Remember these song lyrics: “Let it go/The past is in the past.

8. In every aspect of PR, your goal is building trust. How do you build trust? By building relationships. You had to do it as journalist. You can do it now.

Lesson: There are many ways to build a relationship, but remember: It’s far easier to tear one down than build one up.

BONUS: Whether you seek to master social media or another topic, there are lots of resources to help you in your transition.

Lesson: Engage with other PR pros. Learn from people willing to share their expertise.

Matthew Whittle is a former reporter and editor with 10 years of newsroom experience. Today he is a digital media communications specialist for the State Employees Association of North Carolina. Find him on Twitter @mwwhittle. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

Topics: PR

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