Lessons learned: A seasoned journalist looks back at a year in PR

Mar 12, 2015
Lessons learned: A seasoned journalist looks back at a year in PR

One year ago I left print journalism and began a journey into public relations, and I admit, I had 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 8 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 and attract as many eyes as possible. But running an actual, 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. And just as importantly, learn about social media analytics.

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

Lesson: Marketing and public relations is 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 the holes and plug them.

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

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

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

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

6. Believe it or not, 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 what it’s like to be in a newsroom and the number of stories and other responsibilities editors and reporters are juggling. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

7. Accept the fact 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 and remember, your story is your focus, not your pride. As a great song once said, “Let it go/The past is in the past.

8. Whatever the 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! I can’t stress this enough. Whether social media or another topic, there are lots of resources available to help you in your transition.

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

Former journalists turned PR pros- weigh in! What other lessons would you share?

Matthew Whittle is a former reporter and editor with 10 years of newsroom experience for community newspapers in Virginia and North Carolina. Today he is a digital media communications specialist for the State Employees Association of North Carolina, the South’s leading state employee association. In his spare time he seeks to help bridge the gap between public relations professionals and the media. You can find him on Twitter @mwwhittle.

Photo: Lessons learned via Shutterstock

About the author

@Habitat_Gboro executive director, former journalist, PR pro & creative placemaker. Husband to a beautiful wife & dad to 2 great boys. All tweets my own.

Signup for the Muck Rack Daily email

A digest of journalism, written by journalists, delivered to your inbox daily.