As PR professionals, we’re always interested in getting a glimpse into the world of our journalist peers—what is life like on the other side of the table where there’s no such thing as logging hours or nightmares about having an embargo broken? But many journalists also are eager to peek into the lives of PR professionals—where the stories are often created and brought to life and where you’re compensated in salary rather than pitch dinners and coffee briefings.
So when the Bateman Group hosted an event last month featuring journalists who have turned PR professionals, it drew in a packed house of PR professionals and journalists alike—both sides eager to learn about the other.
The panel event featured top brass journalists-turned PR professionals, and in one case, back to journalist. The panel was moderated by Bateman’s own resident journalist, Elinor Mills, who asked provocative questions to reveal how her former colleagues have fared after turning to the “dark side.”
- Michael Kanellos, Vice President at Eastwick Communications (previously a reporter at CNET)
- Jonathan Thaw, Corporate Communications Manager at Facebook (previously a reporter at Bloomberg)
- Connie Guglielmo, Tech Editor at Forbes (previously a reporter at Bloomberg who later joined the corporate communications team at HP before going back to reporting)
- Rochelle Garnet, Communication Strategist (previously a reporter at Bloomberg who later joined Salesforce on the PR side before branching off on her own)
Four key differences between journalists and PR professionals
During the hour-long session, the panelists discussed four main differentiators between reporters and PR professionals:
- PR professionals need to learn how to work well within a team; journalists work more independently
Kanellos pointed out that journalists work very independently from their colleagues, joking that reporters probably work closer with their competitors covering similar beats than with their colleagues sitting across the office from them. PR professionals, on the other hand, collaborate across a campaign from start to finish. “You don’t read each other’s work. [As a journalist] you work in isolation,” Kanellos said. “But in PR, you depend and rely on other people and work together.
- PR professionals get an inside view into how companies really work; journalists get the polished/final-cut version
One thing that surprised Kanellos during the shift from reporting to PR was that he actually got a behind-the-door look into a company, how messaging changes and how decisions are made. “I was surprised to see how frequently a company’s messaging, values and visions change—it’s something you don’t see as a reporter. The public never sees the battle over messaging.” PR professionals, on the other hand, are on the ground constantly working to evolve and elevate the company story.
- PR professionals take home better pay; journalists get wined and dined Kanellos equated reporting to “adult day-care,” commenting that reporters regularly get invited out to drinks or dinner by prospecting companies—a luxury PR professionals aren’t afforded. But on the flip side, reporter salaries are typically much lower than the salaries of PR professionals.
- PR professionals deal with high-stress/fast-paced environments; journalists deal with even more stressful and faster-paced environments Being that PR is consistently ranked as one of the most stressful jobs in America, it was interesting to hear from the panel about how much faster their professional lives as journalists were compared to PR professionals—although many pointed out that Bloomberg is a very unique case.“It takes about a year for the body to adjust to the stress at Bloomberg. Waking up at 3 a.m. and working until you collapse,” Garnet shared.“I had a lot of fun in PR leading corporate strategy at HP. But HP’s idea of fast and Bloomberg’s idea of fast are completely different—journalism is much faster,” Guglielmo agreed.
Seven Tips from journalists to PR professionals
The panel, which had considerable insight into both worlds, shared seven tips for PR professionals:
- Headlines: It’s vital to perfect the art of the headline—it’s what will get journalists interested in writing the story and will get your piece to trend. And keep it short. If you can’t capture the story in a 63 character headline, you don’t really understand the story.
- Brevity: Executives should be able to explain their companies in two words. If you or your client can’t explain the company in two words you’ve got some work to do.
- The pitch: If you think it’s boring, the person you’re pitching probably thinks it’s boring too. If it doesn’t pass your bar and your team’s bar—don’t pitch it.
- Be brutally honest with your clients: Look at your job as being the first in an audience. If a story isn’t interesting to you, push back. It’s your job to tease out and craft an interesting story.
- Voice: Adopt your voice to the publication you’re trying to pitch. Figure out what the voice of the publication is and adjust your pitch or story accordingly.
- Find the human angle: Think about what the readers of the journalist you’re pitching want to read. Readers care less about a particular product and more about how it will affect them. Humanize the story and make it relateable. “Pulling color out of people is super difficult,” Thaw said, adding that trying to bring color to a CEO’s story is difficult because the executive doesn’t always see it. “But only if you have that color will you get on the cover of the New York Times or Forbes. PR provides value in teasing out of people the color.”
- Business cards: Write the name of your clients on the back of your business card. Journalists have stacks of business cards and if the name of your client isn’t written on the back, then it will get lost among the rest of the cards.
In the end, the panel concluded that there is power on both sides of the table—as a journalist whose writings have the power to move markets, and as a PR professional, whose strategic thinking plays a large role in how a company defines, evolves and sells itself.
“There’s power on both sides of the table and I don’t think people realize that,” Guglielmo shared, adding, “I’m glad that I got the experience of working on the PR side—I think it’s important for anyone in journalism to see how decisions are really made [behind closed doors]. It’s also important for journalists to see how PR work is done and vice versa.”
Journalist or PR professional? Take this quiz:
If you’re considering moving from journalism to PR or vice versa, take this brief survey to figure out which is the right career for you.
- I enjoy a fast-pace of work and balancing several clients (A)
- I thrive under extreme pressure and extreme fast-paced work environments (B)
- I prefer working behind the scenes to create something even if I won’t necessarily get the credit for it (A)
- I love seeing my name published on the work I do (B)
- Salary is an important factor for me when I’m considering a job (A)
- I prefer being wined, dined and courted—the money isn’t as important to me (B)
- I like to work as part of a team (A)
- I prefer working independently (B)
If you scored more As than Bs, you should consider a career in PR. If you scored more Bs than As, journalism might be the better fit for you.