Hack to Flack: How Being a Good Journalist Will Make You a Better PR Pro

Today we’re very glad to bring you another guest post by Lindsay Goldwert, a senior program executive at Hotwire PR who jumped into the field after performing editorial duties for New York Daily News, ABCNews.com, CBSNews.com, CourtTV, Glamour and Redbook. Here’s her previous post on writing better pitches.

I won’t lie — the first two months at my new job were an adjustment.

After spending twelve years as a working journalist, I simply did not know how to operate on the other side. The PR industry’s language confused me; I felt like I was starting over, and it was a scary, unsettling feeling. Most painfully, I was mourning the loss of a career path. It hadn’t treated me all that well but, frankly, it was was all I knew.

Then again, I hadn’t been doing much real journalism lately. Wasn’t that why I quit in the first place?

I turned a corner a few weeks ago and, for the first time in many years, I’m experiencing the warm glow of possibility. It’s a good feeling to leave a shrinking, scrambling, panicking field for one that’s growing, experimenting and writing its own rules for success. Ideas are valued. Insight is appreciated. Your time is money. Industry knowledge is gold.

For others who are contemplating a career shift, I offer these reasons why you may feel extremely valued in the PR field (and not just for your media contacts):

You’ve got a trained, critical eye: If your boss wanted someone to say yes to everything, write boilerplate pitches and blindly make calls off a media list, she wouldn’t have hired you — she would have hired a 20 year-old intern. The fact that you are trained to find holes in stories, think of new angles on boring topics, and comb through data will set you apart. If your client insists his company has no industry competition but your research says otherwise, you are providing an invaluable service to your team. A good boss will appreciate that you’ve done the extra work to explore the negative in order to give your team a fuller picture. Remember, PR people may appear enthusiastic and chipper, but they are natural born skeptics just like you.

You’ve been there: You know not to bother certain reporters between 3:30pm and 6pm. You would never pester the editor of a magazine section about a Valentine’s Day story in February. You know that an editor who focuses on mergers and acquisitions deals will not be interested in a story about a locavore pet food startup. You know that most journalists read the subject lines of their emails before tossing them into the trash. (Ed. note: I second that!) You can write the kind of pitches you wish you had received as a journalist – interesting, on point, easy to read, relevant to your beat and tailor-made.

You read a lot: Your boss doesn’t want someone who buries his/her head in trade journals and doesn’t read anything else; my current boss is just as interested in what we think of the GQ article on Buzz Bissinger’s Gucci addiction as what’s being reported on TechMeme. A good firm will be all about having larger philosophical conversations about the media. Whether you read the New York Review of Books or Popular Mechanics or the Chronicle of Higher Education, you’re bringing something different to the table — knowledge that will surely be useful somewhere down the line. The right agency or environment hires smart PR professionals who are also fans of good journalism.

You’re a good listener: Your interviewing skills will prove extremely useful in PR. Your clients will appreciate your attention to detail, your ability to take quick notes and turn around clean copy, and your skill at unearthing exciting aspects of their product that they might not have considered. A good journalist’s ability to “read” people will also come in extremely handy when working with difficult clients. After all, didn’t you just spend years getting strangers to open up to you by revealing whatever they find most upsetting or encouraging about a given topic?

Industry misconceptions hold that once a journalist decides to take a position with a public relations firm, she has agreed to abandon the tenets that ruled her former professional life: facts, research, quality, reporting and creativity.

With the right firm, that is just not so.

And remember:

You can still write about what you love: You’d never take that job at Fox News if you didn’t agree with their political opinions or write for a legal news outlet if you didn’t care about the law. So why would you take a job at a PR firm if you didn’t like the type of clients they promoted? Public relations is not mindless shilling — it’s helping to grow companies that need you to get the word out in the right way.

If you choose a company that represents cool people with innovative ideas, you might just find the art of winning them the attention they deserve to be extremely rewarding. I do.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.