ITL #449 From journalism to PR: how insider media knowledge can give PR pros an edge10 months, 1 week ago
Everyone in PR can get better at what they do by applying some lessons from journalism. By Michelle Mekky.
Someone recently asked me if the years I spent working in multiple public relations and marketing agencies prepared me for my life as a PR leader today. While those jobs gave me valuable experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world, it was an earlier part of my journey that truly equipped me with the passion, skills and relationships that have been an essential part of my success since I launched Mekky Media Relations five years ago.
I’m talking about my time in journalism – both as a student and in the TV newsroom in Chicago.
I was fortunate to discover my passion for storytelling in my early years of high school, thanks to some inspiring English teachers who encouraged me to join the school newspaper and anchor the cable channel. This gave me some much-needed confidence and a purpose that had been lacking. It also led to my choice of college and major.
I attended Northwestern University, where I got my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the Medill School of Journalism. My Northwestern years expanded my horizons and gave me a solid foundation of journalistic knowledge. And upon graduation, I jumped right into the news business, where I spent more than a decade as a senior producer and news writer for Fox-TV in Chicago.
Those years were full of long, hard hours – thankfully, I was eager and young. I soaked up every experience and lesson, knowing I was gaining perspective that would benefit my future self. It turns out my future involved a transition to PR – after meeting so many publicists and PR professionals who brought their clients in for interviews, I realized their field was a perfect fit for me.
Here are three ways journalism prepared me to find success in PR. I believe everyone in our industry, even if they don’t start out in journalism, will be better at what they do if they focus on getting stronger in these areas:
- Storytelling: Finding the most engaging aspect of a story and effectively telling it is one of the most important parts of developing a successful PR strategy. That’s why whenever we bring on new Mekky Media clients, our first step is to listen and ask questions as they tell us their background, what they do, how they stand out and why it matters. Our job, then, is to find the story that their audiences will connect with, a story that will help them achieve their goals. I’m fortunate to have some media veterans on my staff and they all have a knack for finding the good story and crafting it into a pitch that media will respond to.
For those who don’t have a background in journalism and would like to build their storytelling skills, my advice is to consume a lot of media – read newspapers, news sites, magazines, blogs, etc.; watch 60 Minutes and other respected news programs that have perfected the art of the interview and pulling an audience in; listen to the local news on the radio. The more you consume media – all formats and all perspectives – the more you’ll develop your radar for a good story.
- Writing and editing: I believe you must possess solid writing and editing skills to succeed in PR -- the kind of skills that are taught in journalism school and perfected in reporting and editing jobs. Having technical skills (a mastery of grammar, punctuation, capitalization and, yes, AP Style) is, of course, an absolute requirement. But being able to organize writing in a way that makes sense and makes a complicated topic easy to follow is also important to most of the work we do. And it’s an added benefit to have the ability to write creatively when it’s called for – for example, to craft an introduction or lede that stands out, catching a busy reporter’s attention and rising to the top of his or her inbox. To enhance writing skills, I suggest people make sure they haven’t fallen into the trap of devoting all their reading time to their social media feeds. We can all benefit by identifying some talented feature writers and columnists – who take more than 280 characters to make a point – and reading them daily. The more we read good writing the more those skills rub off on us.
In addition, don’t forget proofing and editing. My team members rely on each other to proof each other’s copy and ensure everything we send to clients and media is professional and clean. Don’t rush this process! Making sure your written word is polished and presentable should be top priority.
- Relationships and insider knowledge: It has been said that successful PR is all about who you know. I wouldn’t go this far – I’ve already stressed the importance of storytelling and writing, not to mention business knowledge and so much more. But there’s no denying that having widespread connections in all types of media, as well as understanding how the industry works, can have a tremendous payoff. Your pitch is more likely to be read if you have a relationship or familiarity with the journalist.
I’m fortunate to have extensive media contacts, many of whom I got to know while working in the TV newsroom. But even if you didn’t begin your career IN the media, you can still make connections that will be fruitful. Start by doing your research and making sure you’re pitching the right people, then target your pitch to their interests and coverage areas. Also take advantage of networking opportunities, which will hopefully become more plentiful as we get back to in-person work. And if there are journalists who cover an area that is important to you, see if they’re open to scheduling “desksides” (personal meetings or coffees). My team has landed some great stories thanks to outreach that started with these kinds of small efforts.
It also helps to have an insider’s knowledge of how the media business works and how fast things move. Sometimes PR processes can be slower than necessary. Producing live television trained me to move FAST, and this speed and agility has often paid off when PR efforts are not progressing quickly enough. I’m not afraid to jump in and get things moving, no matter what it takes.
Having a media background can contribute greatly to PR success. But it’s not a requirement. Devoting extra effort to these areas can equip any PR pro with some additional knowledge and tools that can give them an edge in this competitive industry.
Michelle Mekky is founder and president of boutique PR agency Mekky Media Relations, Inc., widely recognized for its tremendous growth and success in its first five years. The agency has strategically partnered with many leaders in their industries, helping them fuel growth by telling their stories to new audiences.mail the author
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