Journalists making the move into public relations quite often think they know what awaits them on the other side. But it’s not just a case of answering the phone to former colleagues and rattling out press releases.
I joined tigerbond after eight years at the coalface of Scottish journalism with The Scottish Sun. It was a job I loved and shaped my working life.
Working for a national newspaper is like no other job in the world. Speaking to colleagues when I made the switch to running public relations campaigns, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking I was heading off to put my feet-up.
But three years on, I can categorically say that’s not been the case
Since taking those first steps into working for an integrated communications agency, I’ve learned a helluva lot about life on the other side of the fence.
Journalists don’t talk in business terms. All they are interested in is the story, what it is and where it’s coming from. The Who, What, Where, Why, When and How. And that’s it.
Sure, they worry about declining sales, but they worry more about beating their rival to an exclusive.
PR is much more obviously a business and you come across new concepts: group emails, conference calls, shared planners, key performance indicators, reporting, ops to see … the list goes on. Then there’s an approval process that isn’t a news editor shouting at you to “write it a-bloody-gain and get it right this time”.
As a reporter, all you have is your wits, a notepad, your contacts book and a deadline you must hit.
But it is those skills, the ability to ask questions, see a line, write a story (because that’s what a press release is, really), and do it quickly, that make journalists valuable to an integrated communications agency.
Think in terms of stories
Media relations is all about stories, whether it’s during a crisis or getting coverage for some good news.
Journalists are always thinking in terms of stories, but clients rarely think in those terms.
The brands we work with know what they want to promote. Sometimes, how that will make a story isn’t all that obvious at first but, through careful probing, we simplify their complicated concepts for a wider market and spot what sets them apart. We tell their story.
Quite often, we’ll be shooting the breeze in a client meeting and someone will casually mention something quirky or unexpected, which screams “story” – having a journalistic enough mind to catch that line is invaluable.
Getting these kinds of stories relies on building trust, whether that between PR and client or journalist and contact. The reporter in me is never afraid to pick up a phone or meet face to face and talk to somebody. It’s only through personal interaction that you get the best out of people.
Places where stories live
You don’t get the same quality of communication using email that you do in a conversation. People think more about what they type than what they say, so those interesting little side avenues don’t open up – and those are the places where stories live
The appreciation of deadlines bridges both PR and journalism. Working with multiple clients, you have to know who needs what done when and the timescales those clients work on so that their public relations campaigns truly deliver. Equally, you have a respect of journalists’ deadlines, and the consequences missing them can have for a client.
Experience in newspapers helps greatly in other areas. For example, I usually know what journalists are looking for, so that helps us develop successful PR strategies.
And I can talk in their terms when I’m selling in a story. Perhaps a client has an “interesting case study”. But to a journalist, that’s a “great human interest story” or a “good wee business story”.
We can also judge what kind of coverage a story will get. We can tell, as a rule, whether a particular section of a particular publication will run a story as a page lead or in a smaller slot.
To be honest, I hadn’t appreciated how diverse the media was until I started at tigerbond – there are so many sector publications that clients need to feature in that make little impression outside their specialist area. It’s the very nature of the specialism that makes them so important.
As good as it is to get a picture lead in a national newspaper, what does that do for the client? In a given public relations campaign, is being seen by hundreds of thousands of vaguely interested people as good for them as getting into a sector magazine or website that is seen by a few hundred people right in their target audience?
No matter the publication, there is an unquenchable thirst for content – partially because the media has grown as its workforce shrank. Incredibly there are now more people working in PR than there are journalists.
Constant demand for content
Staffing levels on newspapers and magazines have been slashed. At the same time, there has been a proliferation of online news outlets, along with niche and trade websites. Each constantly needs fresh news to put on its social media feeds but without the resources in terms of staff and time of days gone by.
That makes a well-written press release that isn’t a blatant advert for a product or service an easy option for them. With minimal editing, they have fresh content and can move on to another story that might take more time to put together. Everyone wins.
So while the skills I brought from journalism serve me and this integrated communications agency's clients very well, the media world is changing fast, with social media and online news opening up PR and marketing opportunities that didn’t exist when I started work on a local newspaper in 2005.
And at the end of it all, PR is still about telling stories, which is what brought me to this game in the first place.