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Industry Spotlight: The Secret Life Of A Recovering Journalist

Photo by Robert H. Goun via Flickr

Many journalists switch over to public relations — this, of course, isn’t breaking news. After a long career fighting the good fight, a job in public relations, perhaps advocating for a cause they have learned to love over the years, becomes mighty tempting. Me? Well, I just made the switch about 30 years faster.

After a successful journalism career throughout college and about a year after, I joined The Black Sheep Agency as a public relations account executive. It wasn’t an easy decision and I still LOVE the news biz. But it was the right move for me.

My new position has been a crash course in PR. I’ve learned about how journalism and PR intersect, the relationship between PR folks and reporters and how to navigate this murky, complicated partnership. Being on both sides has given me a perspective that can hopefully help us understand each other just a little better. Here are a few tips I’ve uncovered, from this recovering journalist to you:

1. PR pitches: Keep em’ simple.

I’ve seen my fair share of pitches and I’m on the way to writing just as many. I’m actually still on a national PR database as a reporter, so I get dozens of pitches sent to my email on a daily basis, most of which I direct to my spam box. Now, don’t tell anyone, but every now and then I’ll open up a few pitches and read them to laugh at how horrible they are.

I know I’m no *PR pro, but as a new member of the profession with a journalism background, I just have to say that, generally, these pitches suck. I’ve gotten pitches addressed to “Nancy” and “Insert reporter’s name here.” I’ve seen pitches over 1,000 words with 5+ attachments. And I’ve gotten the same pitch four times in one day.

When I draft a pitch, I follow a very simple rule: Would I want to write about this as a reporter? If you can’t write a pitch in less than 300 words, the reporter probably WILL NOT CARE. I mean, they probably don’t have many more words than that to include in their actual story. Keep it simple. Get to the point. And please, for the love, use their correct name.

* Also, don’t ever use this term. Nails on a chalkboard.

2. Don’t be annoying. Really, the reporter GOT YOUR EMAIL.

“Hey Cody, hope you are well. I was just checking in to make sure you got my email…”

If I have seen the above opening line once, I’ve seen it a hundred times. Yes, I am well. Yes, I got your email. No, I won’t write about your pitch because it wasn’t interesting enough for you to even get a reply back from me.

I know the struggle that PR peeps have with getting responses back from reporters. Believe me, I KNOW. But, for a follow-up email to be effective it needs to have a purpose. Don’t ask the reporter if they have received your email. Unless they forgot how email works, they’ve looked at it and have either marked it to come back or deleted it. Tough break, kid. Instead, a better way to follow-up would be updating them on any new information regarding the story you are trying to push. It doesn’t have to be a momentous update, just something that warrants a second email. A general rule is that a follow-up should email can be sent 48 hours after the original email and it should only be a couple of sentences. And finally, if you are crunched for time, let the reporter know! They understand deadlines. They live on deadlines. Deadlines are in their DNA. They might cut you some slack if you send a follow-up email that next morning…maybe.

3. Be a Tweep.

Reporters (well, most of them) really like Twitter. Or at least I did and still do. As a journalist, it allows you to connect in real time with readers, sources and colleagues from across the globe. Journalists are also slightly narcissistic, so watching those tweets roll out with my story attached was always a favorite past time of mine. Those in the PR field should take advantage of this space and start interacting with reporters.

Now, again, try not to be annoying about it. The interaction needs to be genuine and tailored to each reporter. If they write a really awesome story (even if it is on a topic not any way connected to a client) Tweet it out and tag them. If they are looking for a source on Twitter, help them out. If they ask for Indian food suggestions in Houston…well, you get the picture. Once you establish a connection with the reporter then it is easier to hit them up when you have a pitch. A word of caution: Don’t be fake. Reporters are trained to spot the BS from a mile away — even through Twitter.

4. Why can’t we be friends?

The greatest takeaway from my amazing and sometimes awkward shift from the journalism world to the PR world is that we can, and SHOULD, get along. When I was a reporter, we would always talk about other reporters that “went over to the dark side” and “sold out” when they got a job in PR. But on the same hand, we would rely on PR people when we needed sources for a story and deadline was fast approaching. And the stereotype that journalists are harsh and “out to get” someone is still alive in the PR world, when in all honesty, they just want to do their job and do it well.

No matter your views on which profession is nobler or serves a higher purpose, journalism and public relations will always be two sides of the same coin — a symbiotic relationship. Let’s be kind to each other. Let’s make an effort to understand each other. And let’s create a relationship that is beneficial to all.

Be nice. After all, you never know when you might flip that coin.

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