I always knew I wanted to be a writer. My earliest memories are centered in the living room, dangling off the couch and listening to my mother read an assorted mix of fairy tales and fables. By the time I was five, I was already assembling “books” fastened together by folded sheets of paper. And at nine, I was the editor-in-chief of my own handwritten class newspaper.
I suppose it was to no one’s surprise that I decided to major in journalism, though to many, the leap from J-school to PR isn’t as intuitive. Yet PR and journalism are bound tightly together, and throughout college, from feature writing workshops to internships at the Staten Island Advance and New Paltz Times, I fostered skills that would prove essential within the PR World. Here are some of the most valuable things I learned:
With newsroom staffs being cut everywhere from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal, the modern day reporter is busier than ever. To compensate for the loss of resources, journalists must be prepared to take on hefty workloads, often with tight deadlines in tow. As an intern at a hyperlocal paper, I found myself juggling five to nine stories a day, ranging from longer-form features and news briefs to obituaries. When work becomes unruly, it’s best to let go of rigid rituals and take things as they come.
Rather than trying to meticulously control situations, I learned the value of improvisation. Sometimes that meant leveraging the train ride to city hall by drafting a feature by hand. Other times, I’d use smoother mornings to complete all my phone interviews and free up my afternoons for uninterrupted writing. The same can be said for PR: there will be days when you’re stuck in an endless stream of meetings and weeks when you can’t pry yourself away from the phone. But if you go with the flow and work when opportunity presents itself, you’ll watch your productivity soar.
Respect For the Deadline
While an endless to-do list is an eyesore, deadlines teach reporters and PR professionals alike how to work quickly and efficiently. When tasked with multiple assignments under strict time restrictions, writers learn how to prioritize projects by lead time and importance. You may find that this means switching between tasks instead of completing them one at a time or manning multiple projects at once. Whatever the case, working on deadline keeps you honest, quickens your pace and trains you to churn out quality content, even under pressure.
Dare To Be Different
Journalism is a cluttered space. With top tier press, industry trades and the emergence of DIY blogs and content hubs, it takes a creative, strategic mind to stand out in the crowd. Whether to score an internship or drive eyes on content, journalists are taught to take a bold stance in their work and think outside the box. In a world where clicks matter, headlines that draw curiosity and features that inspire commentary perform best. The need for differentiation also applies in PR. Creative pitches are the ones that stand out in a frazzled reporter’s inbox and provocative, forward-thinking bylines will earn the coveted Ad Age placement.
Understanding the Bigger Picture
On a small scale, journalists are challenged to find how a single story or vignette fits into the larger narratives society is telling. More broadly, journalists-turned-PR-pros have invaluable experience working on the opposite side of the media spectrum. As a journalist, you likely shifted through scores of pitches and adapted bland press releases into vivid anecdotes. You’ve had to interview company execs and emerging thought leaders, some more prepared than others. Being on the flip side helps you understand the pet peeves and policies of journalists and deliver content that will not only stand out, but be of greater value. PR and Journalism do not exist in a vacuum—insight into both professions makes PR professionals stronger, more effective workers.
No matter what your major, your time in college and at related internships will foster invaluable skills that can be leveraged both inside and outside your industry. Think strategically about the experience you can bring to the table and then let yourself shine.