By Inbar Kneller
There is a little journalist in every PR person, regardless of whether they have a media background. Some see these two professions as different sides of the equation, but they’re too similar to be considered true opposites. It’s why the comms revolving door is used so often.
My career path was no different. I first embarked on my journalism journey as a translator, where I fell in love with the pace and adrenaline of the press. After I realized I was heavily infected with the journalism bug, I joined Israeli Channel 12’s Foreign Desk as a researcher. Later I moved on to coordination and editing roles, where I was in charge of filtering and highlighting the most important news of the day around the world.
When I crossed the bridge over to the world of tech PR, I found myself using the very same set of tools I had in the news: What is the story? Would my mom, neighbor, or friend be interested in it? Why? What value does it bring to readers? Throughout my years as a journalist, I learned what motivates me most is the constant drive to be curious, creative, and accurate while finding the best way to tell any story. Those are also some of the most important skills for a PR person looking for the best way to present their clients’ announcements.
Two Sides To Every Story?
For many, myself included, transitioning from journalism to PR required some getting used to. Contrary to what the political extremes think, journalists are trained to be impartial and independent, and maintain a strong commitment to presenting both sides of any story. PR reps who would attempt balancing a product’s strengths with its weaknesses when pitching a reporter, on the other hand, likely won’t keep their jobs for long.
That transition into suddenly having to advocate for one client or one product can be uncomfortable for ex-journalists, but working in PR doesn’t mean blindly pitching any story the client asks you to push. Here, journalism skills, such as attention to detail and editorial judgment, come in handy. Are the facts the client presented correct? Is there really anything newsworthy here? Is this truly an industry first?
Fact-checking is every bit as crucial in PR as it is in journalism. Let’s imagine that the client presents the PR team with a story he refers to as “groundbreaking” and “first of its kind,” and says it should be on the main page of TechCrunch. But when they send over the materials, the team realizes this is just a product update that two other competitors have already announced. And then let’s step into the shoes of the TechCrunch reporter and imagine we were pitched this story—would we ever write about this?
Even if the client insists this is the biggest news story out there, as PR reps we have to make sure the facts the client presents are correct. If it isn’t truly a first-of-its-kind product, and we take the client’s word for it without checking, how can the reporters take future client news seriously?
A Match Made In Heaven
Making the move from journalism to PR can also be a bit of an awkward experience, considering now you find yourself approaching former colleagues to pitch them stories. I can’t say it wasn’t a bit weird for me too, but after I shook off the cringe, I saw it as the huge advantage it actually is. It’s easier to successfully pitch a reporter with whom you spent hours in the editing room or took coffee a few days a week.
Reporters receive dozens if not hundreds of pitches every day, so it is truly impossible to keep up with all the emails, let alone actually read them thoroughly. That is why making sure every story targets the reporter that is the perfect match is key. Having already been on the receiving end of PR pitches, I knew how annoying it is to receive a pitch for a story that has nothing to do with a field you’re not even covering.
As a journalist covering foreign news, I would sometimes receive pitches around government officials attending different conferences in Israel or an Israeli company launching a product abroad. These could be interesting stories per se, but they weren’t at all related to what I was covering. When I made the transition into PR, my inner journalist came in handy again, helping me ensure every story arrives in the right reporter’s inbox in the way that best fits them. It’s truly the magic ingredient that can take any outreach to the next level.
Let’s face it—the vast majority of announcements aren’t breaking news stories. It is easy to be drowned in what the client is asking to highlight or the message they want to get across. But using your inner journalist can help look at a story from a broader perspective and say: “No, there is something missing here”.
There is always a way to make what seems to be a boring story into something worth talking about. Newsjacking, data, or a controversial quote are only some of the ways that could make any story more appetizing. It is always up to the PR rep to channel their inner journalist and ask, “Would I have covered this?” If the answer is no, maybe our former self can help us find what’s missing.
At the end of the day, there is a journalist in every PR person. News is unpredictable and public attention shifts on an hourly basis. Regardless of your background as a PR person, each of us should treat our inner journalist like a magic 8-ball we can shake every day with our morning coffee. It’ll always have the right answer.