As the fallout continues to resonate in the PR world a week after the revelations of the Burson-Marsteller “Whisper-Gate” scandal, we thought it appropriate to offer some tips for journalists who enter the world of PR.
With the dwindling ranks in the news media, the PR industry is seeing more and more journalists reinvent themselves in the world of PR. Two former journalists working for B-M were at the heart of the affair involving a whisper campaign by Facebook against Google.
The mass migration makes sense, because the skill sets are similar. Journalists know how to convey good stories, and, with a slight change in focus, those storytelling skills can be used to get the word out about a product or a company.
But PR is not journalism, and a whole new set of rules apply. The most difficult job for ex-journalists who make the switch is to shed the newsroom mentality that “the news” reigns supreme. It could be the case that you’re hired to make sure a client stays out of the news. And “news” about a client is only news if the client says so.
Here are some real-world tips that might help in the transition:
1. You’re no longer a public watchdog. You have a vested interest, not in the news, but in your client. Consider your client as your new editor/producer, and they have the final say on what news is.
2. Journalists don’t care that you were once a journalist yourself, nor do they care what you think the story is. Sorry, but once you leave the newsroom, you are out of that club. Get used to it.
3. You need to be comfortable with receiving privileged information that can never see the light of day in the media, no matter how good a story it makes. You now are the protector of your client’s interests, even if it means certain news will never get out.
4. You can maintain friendships with your journalist friends, but beware that you crossed over into the PR world and, no matter what connections you may have, you and your client may get crushed in the news cycle. Maintain that line, but always be mindful that juicy news stories have destroyed many friendships.
5. Be ever mindful of where you stand ethically. Of course, some journalists-turned-PR pros let the pendulum swing too far; they feel the stringent ethics of journalism no longer apply, and they get a tad careless, if not downright reckless. Just because you’re in a new industry, one that some of your colleagues may frown upon, don’t lose your sense of ethical judgment.
(This blog post also appears on PRDaily)