Media Moves

Frankie Flack: Biz journalists, stay out of PR

January 28, 2015

Posted by Frankie Flack

So 2014 was a down year for journalism. I don’t base this on any stats about circulation or ad revenue. I base it on the number of phone calls I get from reporters who are looking to make the leap to PR. And 2014 — like 2013 and 2012 and … well, you get the point — was a busy one for those calls.

It amazes journalists when I tell them (most of them, anyway) that they’re a bad fit for the gig. After all, they say, they can write. They know how the media works. They’re smarter than your average bear. PR should be a no-brainer for a hack looking to switch sides.

But here’s what they get wrong:

  • It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I know a shitload of reporters. But I also talk to a lot of reporters don’t interact with a lot of their peers. Sure, they’re in with their co-workers, maybe a competitor or two, but I’m frequently underwhelmed by how thin the Rolodex is for guys looking to make the leap. A baby flack is talking to a dozen different journalists a week, easy, building relationships. That’s what reporters are competing with when they consider PR.
  • We don’t do dissent well. The combative journalist is so common it’s practically a cliche. Reporters are practically encouraged to have shouting matches with their editors. Every lede is an opportunity for heated debate. I don’t have that freedom. I get one shot — if I’m lucky — to make my case to my client. If they want something different, even if it’s dumb, I’m expected to be a good soldier. Swallowing your pride on something like that is a skill set that’s foreign to a lot of journalists.
  • We do process well, but communications badly. You know what drives hacks-turned-flacks nuts? Process. Getting stuff signed off by a hundred different people. And all of that stuff isn’t outlined in some concise memo. It’s done in PowerPoint, which is Satan’s way of trying to incite workplace violence. Most PR pros who come from media try to avoid the process, the meetings and the PowerPoint, which is a great way to get your colleagues to hate you.
  • Writing is less important than you think. For all the crap written about the rise of “brand journalism” or whatever the hell they’re calling it today, the writing being done in PR shops (or digital agencies or marketing consultancies or whatever) still pales compared to what most media outlets are cranking out. A handful of brands might have interesting blogs or vanity magazines, but those opportunities are far more rare than you’d guess by reading the breathless coverage of the brand journalism phenomenon.

    If you’re OK with that, if you can check your ego, if you have a bunch of peers in the media, if you’re OK shutting your trap when you disagree with you client, if you’re willing to accept that you’ll be writing less in Word and more in PowerPoint, then drop me a line and we’ll do lunch.

    But if you think you’re going to leverage your insider status to teach us knucklehead flacks a thing or two, you’ll be in for a world of hurt and frustration. But I won’t hold it against you, and beers are on me if you ever make the leap.

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