It’s often referred to as “going to the dark side,” but the switch from broadcast journalism to PR is about as common as putting a press release on the wire. With transferable skills, it’s not surprising that many journalists eventually gravitate toward PR, which offers regular schedules and higher salaries—but the industries are very different and the transition isn’t always easy.
I personally made the switch after nearly a decade working as a reporter, anchor and producer in local TV news markets across the country and can attest to the fact that the transition is intimidating. But after checking my ego at the door and absorbing PR tactics and terminology like a sponge, I can honestly say it’s the best career move I’ve ever made. My day-to-day might be wildly different from my days in the newsroom, but there are lessons I learned in broadcasting that are relevant to the work we all do in PR.
1. Highlight visuals.
In broadcast news, there is no story without visuals. If someone agrees to an interview, but doesn’t feel comfortable going on camera, you find someone else to interview. While the standard isn’t as strict for print and digital, it still applies because media is a visual medium.
Almost every story you read has a picture to accompany it and I guarantee every reporter or editor would welcome an original photo over stock imagery.
To streamline the process and prevent the last minute scramble after a reporter asks for a headshot ASAP, work with your clients ahead of time to determine if there’s a visual element to an announcement. If there is, but budget is an issue, make it clear that it doesn’t need to be captured by a professional photographer. We all have smartphones, most of which have stellar cameras, so if there’s an opportunity to capture some behind-the-scenes footage to amplify a pitch, encourage your clients to take the initiative.
Especially in the post-pandemic media landscape, where broadcast interviews are being conducted via Zoom due to safety concerns, the quality is less important than having a visual representation of what you’re trying to promote.
2. Keep it simple.
When drafting a script for TV news, we’re told to make it conversational. In other words, write the way you talk. Since most people don’t talk in long sentences, each sentence should be brief and focused on one idea. And since the audience can’t easily revisit sentences they didn’t understand initially, scripts should be simple, direct and clear.
These tips should also be applied when writing a press release, pitch or any other form of media-driven content. Even reporters specific, niche technology are trying to write stories that appeal to a wide audience with less expertise. Put announcements into layman’s terms to ensure it makes as much sense to your 80-year-old grandma as it does to the CEO.
This also means brevity is key. Since the average article is 600-800 words and the average broadcast segment is a minute and thirty seconds, get out your red pen and prioritize the most important details.
3. Timing is everything.
In local broadcast news, reporters work on a daily deadline. At my last gig, my news director would decide what story I was going to do around 10am and that story would air in its entirety as soon as 4pm. So, between 10am and 4pm, we would have to schedule and drive to interviews, conduct those interviews, and then write and edit the story. And while that timeline isn’t as strict in print and digital news, reporters are still coming up against it, all the time.
With that in mind, speed is key. The end-of-day or weekend concept doesn’t necessarily exist in a journalist’s world, since many are working odd shifts outside of the Monday-Friday, 9-to-5 standard. So, if a reporter responds with interest, get back to them immediately, if possible.
With breaking news, deadlines, and fierce competition, reporters’ attention spans are often brief, so take advantage of the rare moments when they have time to engage. And when they don’t engage, try to have empathy for the stress that often coincides with nonstop deadlines, odd schedules and meager paychecks.
Yes, public relations folks and journalists are “frenemies” and equal partners. But as a PR pro, you’ll have more luck if you recognize that journalists operate under a unique set of requirements and restrictions. The more you can help clients realize and respond to those, the more success you’ll have.