Ever since I was a little girl, you could say I’ve loved writing and photography — it started out with my first disposable camera, ramped up with joining a scrapbooking club and culminated in creating “The Powell Times,” my version of our family’s very own newspaper with details about birthdays, field trips and visits to our grandparents’ house. It was the start of being in touch with media, and although I can cite slightly more impressive bylines now, I’ll never forget the smaller-scale creative projects I came up with.
It only made sense to attend Kent State University to get a journalism degree, so in the fall of 2014, I moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio to pursue a career in magazine journalism. Momentarily I considered switching majors, but in my heart, I always knew that reporting, editing and content-creating were the things I was best at. Having one year in post-grad under my belt, it’s wild to see how my eyes have been opened to even more possibilities as a result of this diploma.
As my relatives would say, journalism is evolving — and I would have to agree. Structurally, media people have to think on their feet to present the news in new ways. Our society, specifically my generation, might respond to online content with more enthusiasm than they would a print publication. Although a sweeping generalization, we have to recognize that information can take on many different forms: an email newsletter, a longform article, a tweet, an Instagram caption, a press release, a broadcast story, a piece of citizen journalism captured on an iPhone. The media landscape is becoming wider and longer and deeper. And so it goes with the job market for those in communications-related fields.
When I graduated college, I never imagined sitting in FACTEUR PR, a PR and marketing studio in Ohio City nine months later, whose founder also has a journalism background. I didn’t think journalism and public relations were polar opposites, but I also wasn’t sure what aligning the two looked like. Today, I can say with confidence I do now! Studying and working with the art of fact for so long (since the days of the high school news magazine) has given me a deeper understanding and appreciation for the public relations “side” of this line of work. Here’s how:
In almost every writing-intensive class I took, story ideas were the first step to a healthy semester. Some would use whiteboard brainstorming sessions, others would use prompts and others would assign beats to each student. It was always our responsibility to establish the “why,” narrow the “what” and find the “who” willing to help us craft an authentic, fair piece. This was a challenging process! A grade would depend on someone in authority getting back to you with a phone call, email or text, approving your request to meet with them and setting up a time within their oftentimes busy schedule.
I believe in the integrity of this system — it has produced some of the most wonderful stories I have had the pleasure of reporting. But as a trained journalist and an emerging public relations person, I see there’s no harm in letting public relations help guide your pitches. If you’re a journalist who receives an email from a communications person, it’s easy to be wary of their motives: are they selling me something? Are they persuading me to do something? Is this ethical?
If the public relations person is doing their job in a truthful way, they will present you with only the facts, operating as a messenger to inform the journalist about something engaging going on. They will act as an ambassador for a brand, event or organization to not only inform you, but to assist with art, logistics and communication. They act as a liaison from one busy person to another busy person, syncing up calendars, details and email addresses.
I used to get nervous when a public relations person would set up a conference call with me and my subject — now I welcome it! They are there to help things run smoothly, especially in something as complex as a phone conversation, where timing and intonation are key in asking questions and expressing the right message.
In my photojournalism minor, I was taught photography primarily from the perspective that it would later be joined with an in-print or online news article. While this type of straight-out-of-the-camera photography is essential to the market, there’s something to be said about planned shoots. They serve different purposes, but their heart is the same: to notify you!
Social media, particularly Instagram and all of its mechanisms, has become a great short form way to tell people what’s going on — whether from your publication’s headquarters or on-the-go. There should be no shame in using this platform as a way to get your message across.
What’s phenomenal about social accounts is the adaptability they offer. If the demographic for your product, event or message is the baby boomer generation, it may be more wise to utilize a Facebook post to get the word out. If you’re looking to engage with millennials, Twitter or Instagram might be the preferable route to take. One realization I’ve had since working with trained public relations people is that this practice is not manipulation — it’s communication, and it’s a two-way street. The correct distribution of information is simply important in reaching the greatest number of people with your message you’ve worked hard to put together.
Timing is everything! Whether you’re a journalist or a public relations professional, it’s important to set and meet deadlines. And when you’re a public relations professional, those deadlines should be created with the journalist in mind.
If you’re pitching to a newspaper journalist, it might be easier to notify them in a more last-minute fashion. Employees of newsrooms are well aware that our communities are constantly telling stories, and their job is to be on high alert for emerging details that will better serve their readers.
However, if you’re interested in pitching to a magazine journalist, a message well in advance will be appreciated. I never knew how real this was until I began working for Ohio Magazine. The Cleveland-based publication, which covers all things Buckeye State, operates on a month-ahead deadline schedule, often researching and writing stories for about two weeks, then fact-checking and finishing stories for the next two. I remember being assigned a piece about holiday lights shows across the state — I was calling people near the beginning of November for information. I felt like it was Christmas time for about two months.
Larger scale publications work even further in advance to create their lookbooks, articles, Q&As and round-ups. If you take a look at the editorial calendars for Better Homes & Gardens, Woman’s Day and Town & Country, you’ll find deadlines for June occur in mid-March. It’s helpful to take a look at these pages, typically available on brands’ websites, to get a better understanding of their pace.
For every single journalist, there are six PR professionals who are at the ready to help guide a story. Having experience now on both sides has definitely offers an edge: insight into how to best collaborate together. We’re excited we get to do that each day at FACTEUR PR.