By Ashley Jones
PR and media: They go together like (dare we say it?) peanut butter and jelly. And while the kitchens may be different, often pros within these respective fields use similar ingredients, tools and recipes of their trades to achieve a mutual goal: Telling a good story.
Understanding the reciprocity between these professions has always been essential to fueling the accomplishments of both PR pros and journalists alike. However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic brought a wealth of change and challenges to newsrooms, PR offices and communications between the two.
On Sept. 15, PRSA Pittsburgh partnered with Women’s Press Club of Pittsburgh to host “Putting the PR in Press,” a PR & media panel during which we explored the perspectives of PR pros, former journalists and current journalists on these ever-changing industries and the common career transition from one to the other. The following panelists offered their expertise and experiences during the one-hour lunch and learn:
- Billie Kellar, HR Manager at Garrison Hughes
- Michael Machosky, Public Relations Coordinator at Markowitz Communications and Staff Writer at NEXTpittsburgh
- Nicole Schuman, Content Manager at PRNEWS
- Deborah Todd, Communications Manager at University of Pittsburgh
Moderated by Jennifer Miele, Chief Communications Officer at the Diocese of Greensburg, the former WTAE reporter led a powerful discussion including tips for pitching newsrooms, building a professional network, updating resumes and, ultimately, how to transition your skillset from one industry to the other.
Here were our key takeaways:
Networking & Nailing the Pitch
Finding and interacting with journalists is one of PR pros’ biggest challenges, according to Muck Rack. COVID-19 caused disruption in the news cycle, editorial calendars and basic human interaction. So, how do we continue to build a network remotely, make our stories relevant and match the headline to the reporter? Here are a few tips:
- While meeting in-person is rather shaky right now, reaching out and connecting virtually is safe and a must. “Journalists need connections just as much as you do — consider virtual coffee,” said Deborah Todd.
- Pitching should be purposeful. Who you’re pitching to matters most. Knowing what that reporter is currently working on also helps. It’s important to have an understanding of timing. Don’t try to recycle things you’ve already put out there. Know when the pitch you’re sending is relevant or not.
- Create stories that are regionally specific. Localization is important.
- More than anything, be creative. “Shovels in the ground and ribbon cuttings are hard to sell right now. There have to be better ways to position your story and you have to figure those out,” said Michael Machosky.
State of the Newsroom
U.S. Census data shows that PR pros now outnumber journalists 6-to-1.
“Journalists have had a really rough few months, I’ll be honest,” Nicole Schuman said. “Staff and revenue has been affected. I’m personally doing more writing than I ever have before across a wider range of topics. But if we can get through this year, we can get through anything.”
With newsrooms seeing unfortunate shrinking, how do we as PR pros continue to adapt along with journalists, and what should we know about the news cycle?
- Editorial calendars have changed significantly as a result of COVID-19. Be sure to stay on top of what is current in the news cycle.
- Remember, the news cycle never stops.
- News is needed now more than ever, especially as traditional media resources continue to downsize.
- Brand newsrooms are becoming more integral to journalists’ toolkits in regards to sourcing content, and here are some that can serve as inspiration: Marriott, Spotify and National Geographic
Transitioning from Journalism to PR
Employment of public relations specialists is projected to grow 6% from 2018 to 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As public relations continues to grow and play a pivotal role for brands — especially during times like these, in which crisis management, building awareness and storytelling is crucial — many journalists are making the switch. Here’s how and why it works:
- There are tons of transferable skills!
- Interviewing skills come in handy when communicating with clients, colleagues and internal teams, vendors, etc.
- The ability to operate under deadline pressure while maintaining accuracy is extremely beneficial to the business side of operations
- Strong storytelling and writing abilities are essential to any PR guru
“We’re looking for strong communicators. Someone with strong writing experience. I haven’t had one position in the communications field that hasn’t required some kind of writing sample or writing test,” said Billie Kellar.
- As a former journalist, you have insider knowledge about newsroom processes and a better understanding of who might be interested in a story or not. Having a wide net of media contacts and an understanding of how and when to communicate will be beneficial to any PR firm or team.
- Your beat or specialty as a journalist can inform the kind of brands you work with as a PR professional. Having specific knowledge of a specific industry transfers well in terms of brand storytelling.
- As for resumes, don’t use the same template for every job posting.
Whether you’re in PR, journalism or a different field altogether, first and foremost on your to-do list should be to find a mentor. Identify organizations and seasoned professionals who can lend experience, advice and support. Often, it’s these networks and individuals who can help you get your foot in the door.
Ultimately, whether you’re pitching a press release or transitioning your career, it all comes down to timing. So, keep Jennifer Miele’s advice in mind:
“The postcard has to match the destination.”
If you have any feedback regarding this event, or events you’d like to see in the future, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.