The beginning of your career can truly shape who you become on a professional level as lessons learned during those formative years tend to stay with you.
I was privileged to be able to work in the media as a writer and segment producer for CNN and FOX 5 in New York City before making the transition into public relations, and there were several key journalistic lessons bestowed upon me that are transferable to PR pros today.
1. Clarify and Confirm Everything
Get your facts straight, and never take something at face-value. Your reputation and credibility depend on this.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a journalist presenting an article to your readers or viewers, or a communications professional discussing your client to media or other businesses – having the correct information is critical.
I’ll never forget this conversation: A producer once asked me to identify the color of the newsroom wall. I responded “red.” He then turned to three other news staffers, and asked the same question. They, too, all responded that the wall was red. The producer then turned back to me, and said, “Only now that three sources confirmed your statement will I report the wall color is, in fact, red.”
2. Inquisitive Interviews Uncover Creative Stories
Every good journalist’s greatest skill is their ability to interview. Inquisitive, key questions and targeting sources that may not be the most obvious can uncover some of the most fascinating stories.
The same can be applied to public relations. There are many more perspectives out there than just that of your client’s CEO or executive leadership team. And we’ve all been there when the well seems to run dry, and there seems to be no usable “news” coming from the brand.
It’s times like these when a communications professional should begin to search for other sources related to the company to speak to. For example, if you work with a homebuilder, ask to be connected with the community HOA to find interesting residents or events inside the gates who can serve as a proof point to a larger corporate message.
As another producer once told me, there are always ways to move a ship forward even in still waters – you just need to know how to ask the right people the right questions.
3. Attribute, Attribute, Attribute
When you’re watching the news and the anchor says “According to the [Insert another news outlet here]…” or “It is being reported…” it’s because the current station cannot independently confirm a statement or they must acknowledge the original sources.
In public relations, using attribution can make a stronger case for your client, and lend much more credibility than if a statement is just coming from a PR professional. Referencing media interviews and reviews of your client in collateral – whether it’s a sales sheet, web copy, e-blast – legitimizes your points, and can open up new opportunities within your program. Or, when your pitching media, always try to use a quote as a hook from a report, survey, or organization to frame why said reporter should care to speak with your client.
When I was on the other side of the coin as a journalist, I would always look for pitches that offered a hard news hook or outside proof points to a larger, newsworthy topic.
Take it from someone who has been in both worlds – journalists and communications professionals are not all that different. At the core, we all want the same things: trust and credibility, creative and interesting anecdotes to share with the world, and unique, hard news ways to educate and, in turn, advance the stories that we are so passionate about.