Can reporters make great PR people?

by admin on August 8, 2011

Today’s question–can you master skills you don’t have the day you start a job?

Poynter (source below) asks whether or not former reporters successfully make the switch to the public relations industry. Most respondents to their survey agreed they do.

I urge caution.

Do great baseball players make great coaches? The obvious answer is no. Both positions require unique skills unrelated to the other.

The same applies to public affairs. Reporters have useful skills but when new to the PR profession, they need tons of handholding. They will be doing lots of things they have never done before.

Reporters can become great PR people, but it takes time and patience.

So why should we in the government, associations and nonprofits care?

It’s a matter of understanding who you are going to hire and what they are capable of on day one.

There are endless skills that make for good PR people and media relations is just one. Subject matter knowledge, public speaking, budget, photography, social media, marketing, external relations, internal politics, writing for organizations and the mundane tasks of list maintenance (e-mail, Twitter, Facebook)  and working with limited support are all necessary components of being in public relations for our organizations.

And for all their knowledge of the reporting profession, a print reporter often doesn’t have a clue as to the needs of someone on the electronic side of the media. Their view of the world is often one dimensional and seen through the eyes of their former profession.

Don’t assume that a print reporter can do a live “stand-up” for the evening news. It’s fun to watch them for the first time–it’s like viewing a train wreck unfolding. It’s especially amusing to see them do ten a day when the news ranges from bad to hostile.

These are skills that take time to learn.

But this question goes beyond reporters; it also applies to PR people from corporate world.

People in corporate PR who have limited contact with lots of nasty, reactive media (the great majority ) and buy their publicity are almost hopeless when it comes to the hard-knocks world of government, association and nonprofit public relations.  Here there are intense demands from media and not a penny for publicity.

How do I know this? It happened to me after I came from 10 years of national campaign-related PR to assume a director’s position for a huge-multi-layered state agency. My first day I handled a crisis that involved multiple media interviews and live television. My staff (experienced public affairs people) watched in complete and utter amusement.

I find it amusing when so many on the corporate side advertise themselves as experts; they would be completely lost when they lose the support of staff, advertising budgets, writers, photographers, website and research people.

In the corporate world, they send out e-mail responses to reporters or do media stand-ups with a smile and a “stick your your message” approach to the interview.

In our world, accountability and acessability  are demanded. A smile and an ability to stay on message regardless as to how silly it sounds will get you and your organization in unrepairable hot water quicker than you can imagine.

In our world, the demands are endless and the support almost nonexistent.

Almost anyone can buy publicity. It takes real skill to earn it.

Like former reporters, corporate people can make the transition, it just takes time and patience and an ability to treat someone for shock.

Best, Len Sipes




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