The dark side? Is it really that bad?
The dark side is a term used to describe public relations professionals because in many journalists’ minds PR folks are hired to be obstacles, to cover up corruption, to put their own “spin” on an issue rather than speak the full truth.
Here’s a quick example and one that taught me my first lesson in PR–don’t give a negative story legs:
As a traffic columnist, I called up the airport communications office after witnessing and experiencing firsthand traffic attendants’ boorish behavior toward motorists picking up passengers.
The PIO, a former colleague at the paper, returned the call and asked the make and color of my vehicle and the date and time I was at the airport, etc. It became clear what he was doing–an investigation into whether I was there and in the wrong. He wasn’t willing to provide the information requested.
A week later, when the results of the my-car-at-the-airport investigation were released, my potentially mundane column suddenly became captivating. The story gained traction when more than 150 readers chimed in about the rude officers and the airport’s response, leading to another column about others’ experiences.
I never believed I veered into the dark side when I joined Penna Powers. If you believe in an issue or project, it is rewarding advocating for it.
That’s not to say the transition from journalism to public relations is simple. There are distinct differences in the two professions.
PR experts are upbeat and optimistic; journalists are typically cynical and hardened– they’ve seen more bodies and tragedy in general than most can imagine.
Journalists are accustomed to proceeding without a concrete plan. That’s the way it’s supposed to be unless you are covering recurring events (e.g. elections, holiday stories). If you have an agenda about how you plan to cover a news story, you will not likely tell it in an objective manner. A story unfolds and the reporter covers it fairly and comprehensively.
This might sound unworldly in the PR realm.
In PR it’s imperative to have a communication plan. You must have sources ready to speak to the media on issues. You must identify that there is news worthy of media coverage and then think of creative ideas for your pitch to stand out to reporters to gain coverage on a particular issue. You must gain approval from the client before acting on your strategy.
There are distinct differences in communication and working styles too.
For instance, journalists are procrastinators and typically do their best work under a tight deadline. I learned to write fast and accurately early in my career when I was a sports intern and assigned 10 game briefs due within a half-hour. On election nights, journalists make calls to candidates when the projected results are in with the understanding that the quotes won’t be published if the numbers change. That’s a tight deadline.
In public relations, because of the planning involved, rarely are you on a tight deadline. In the end, the planning and strategizing invested in campaigns pays off with well thought out initiatives.
Exclamation points. Exclamation points! In journalism, this is rarely used punctuation typically spared for a direct quote to describe someone shouting. Not even in emails do reporters use exclamation points, unless they are angry.
I’ve caught the bug. In public relations, exclamation points are not taboo. People use exclamation points to show enthusiasm or support. So, I’ve learned to still use sparingly so they don’t lose their meaning, but don’t drop the explanation points!
Overall, journalists making the transition to public relations firms and government agencies can bring an invaluable perspective.
They instinctively know what stories will intrigue reporters and know what it takes to get crews of journalists to cover an issue. They know which press releases grabbed their attention when they were reporters and which were tossed into the trash.
Similarities also exist between the two fields.
In both professions, it’s important to build healthy relationships to be successful. A PR expert’s robust relationship with a reporter can lead to positive news stories.
Both professions are in the business of selling. Journalists are interested in selling newspapers, PR professionals are in the business of pitching stories to raise public awareness on particular issues and programs.
I had always heard in the newsroom that 20 percent of reporters actually make it with a PR agency. That was the unofficial word in the newsroom. I say believe in what you do and you are going to succeed.