When journalists change careers, they often pursue positions in PR and communications. Right now, making “the jump” may seem more compelling than ever: Newsroom headcounts and budgets are on the decline, and the journalism industry continues to face incredible challenges. So, we sat down with five former journalists who are now PR pros to get the insider scoop on their transitions. Our panelists were:
- Jeff Bennett, manager of financial, corporate & dealer network communications at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA); former Wall Street Journal reporter
- Brenda Craig, VP of integrated communications at Henry Ford Health System; former KDKA-TV (CBS) assistant news director
- Ron Fournier, president of Truscott Rossman; former publisher and editor of Crain’s Detroit Business
- Ed Garsten, integrated media consultant at Franco and senior contributor at Forbes.com; former Detroit bureau chief and correspondent/anchor/producer at CNN
- Jennette Smith Kotila, chief marketing officer at MCCI; former editor at Crain’s Detroit Business
Our moderator Tim Moynihan, editorial director at Airfoil Group (thanks to Airfoil for hosting!) led a great discussion about some great topics:
The mindset of shifting to PR
The ‘behind the scenes’ of journalism and PR have some commonalities, but on the whole, there’s a lot of adjusting when making the switch.
- “Journalism provided a cynical mindset for me to think critically – it takes a few years to transition from journalism to PR.” – Jennette
- “As a journalist, when people said ‘no,’ I thought they were hiding something… So, I’ve really learned how to always tell our story in good times and bad to remain transparent.” – Brenda
- “PR and Journalism are rooted in storytelling. A reporter wants to tell AND find a story, which gives you the ability to see what the true story is.” – Jeff
The most important advice for being a successful PR pro
The panel had a lot of valuable insights on successful PR work.
- “It’s so important to know what the media person is covering (their beats, what they’ve recently covered). As a PR pro, when you’re pitching broadcast, provide the elements of the story (interviewees, pictures, etc.) and hook them in with a sticky subject line, and give them what they’re interested in.”- Ed
- “Make relationships with media (get coffee, go to the bar, etc.) so that you have an understanding of who they are and what they care about.” – Brenda
- “In journalism, you work in a small world: your editor/boss and you write a story and edit it… But with PR, you have to have a plan B and work in a bigger world with more people.” – Jeff
- “A story has to have a lead, protagonist, conflict and resolution. If instead it’s something that’s self-serving, people are going to see through that and the media won’t pick it up.” – Ron
- “A key skill is to get inside the mind of the author and know who you’re writing for and what they sound like, and what platform it’s for. Writing is the common denominator for almost anything.” – Ed
- “Clients say, ‘I want to be in Wall Street Journal’ and you have to dig into why/what’s the news, etc. so you can craft the story well.” – Jennette
Many thanks to those who attended, the panelists for their insights and Airfoil for hosting. Check out our upcoming events to join us next time!
Megan Bonelli (formerly Peterson) is a Senior Account Executive at Franco and a Detroit PRSA board member/blog committee chair.
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