It’s not every day that journalists make the move to the PR world, but SHIFT Senior Account Executive Mike Kelly did just that. Formerly a producer and content coordinator at NECN, Mike decided to make the transition to the other side of the fence this past June. We wanted to hear first-hand about what the career shift has been like (pun intended), what he’s learned thus far and advice for PR pros who want to build better relationships with reporters.
What led to you making the change from journalist to PR pro? And on that note, why did you choose SHIFT?
The ultimate catalyst for the change was lifestyle. After nine years of fluctuating schedules (including my shift being 4:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.), breaking news, working holidays, and now with a baby on the way, I knew I needed some sense of normalcy in my life. When you’re in the media you have a lot of interactions with those in the PR world, so it’s a very natural transition. Let’s face it, as a journalist you’re essentially the gateway for an individual’s or company’s public relations efforts.
I produced a business show for almost two and a half years and made many contacts through various pitches and interview segments, which included fellow SHIFTer Jena Rossi. Looking through SHIFT’s portfolio of clients and body of work, I knew it would be a good fit for me. I made an inquiry about openings, and the rest is history.
What inhibitions did you have about making the move, and how did you overcome them?
The biggest inhibition was familiarity. After getting a masters in broadcast journalism and spending nine years at a TV station, it was a daunting task to think about doing something else. Age-wise, I’m also probably a few years older than other people in a similar role across the industry, but it’s something you adjust to; I haven’t found it to be as awkward as I was expecting.
When it comes to media, I had an obvious familiarity with the big national TV outlets and newspapers. But seeing just how many different trade publications are out there was pretty scary. I also had to overcome some journalists’ perception that the PR world involves constant nagging. I received 50-plus pitches a day, many that obviously were not a fit for me, so sometimes you can have a negative view of the industry.
Getting my mind on the other side was key in the weeks before I started, so I started paying more attention to all the pitches I received and looking at what stood out to me. I also wasn’t a fan of taking phone calls, so I had to get used to the idea of calling people I’ve never talked to before who might want nothing to do with what I have to tell them.
What do you see as the biggest differences between journalism and PR?
The biggest difference is the day-to-day work flow. When I was a producer, I knew exactly what I had to do every day: Research the news, format my show, react to changing news, write my show, execute the show. If there was breaking news, I adjusted and went with it, but for the most part when I left the station at the end of the day, the work was done. Tomorrow was another day to start fresh.
From what I’ve seen in PR so far, it’s all about big picture in terms of balancing multiple clients and figuring out what you need to do as the week progresses. I now write goals on my white board and check them off throughout the week – knowing that I might have to add something else up there and remove something that’s not as important. At the end of the day, you write it up again knowing that when you come in the next day, there’s something else waiting for you that you couldn’t get to.
What skills have been most transferable between the two professions? Are there any new skills you’ve picked up that you weren’t expecting to need?
The most transferable skill is concise creative writing. I was trained to be able to get across the main point of the story in 25 seconds or less, which means about three or four tight sentences. I always found that long-winded pitches were prime candidates for immediate deletion, so I’ve tried to bring that news writing style here.
The other skill that transferred nicely is an overall awareness of current events. I was constantly on Twitter in the news world, and that hasn’t changed. I think it’s very important to be up to date on current events, whether it’s for rapid response purposes or just being able to talk to a journalist or contact about what’s going on in the world.
I wouldn’t say it’s a new skill, but I’ve definitely had to work on time management and scheduling. Coming from a very structured industry to a more free-flowing and evolving workplace makes you re-evaluate your day-to-day priorities.
Oh — I’ve also had to become much better at Excel. And Gorkana. And Lync/Chatter/Yammer/whatever other communication network is out there.
What have you enjoyed most about the transition?
I’ve definitely enjoyed the culture. In getting feedback about SHIFT, I knew that it was a great place to work and nothing about being here has changed that so far. I think I’ve most enjoyed the communication. Coming from a workplace where you were lucky to have one staff meeting a month to having multiple team, manager and agency-wide meetings in the same week is refreshing.
What aspects of the transition have proved most challenging?
Being in the media gives you a broad view of many topics, so you know a little bit about everything (business, technology, health, science, crime, etc.). Having to become super focused on very specific B2B clients was definitely eye opening. Programmatic ad exchange platforms and data analytics were not exactly prime fodder for good TV, so I’ve really had to try to immerse myself quickly.
Much of journalism centers on storytelling. What role does this play in your current role?
It plays a huge role. Storytelling becomes very important when you’re dealing with clients who may not be the most exciting. You have to figure out how to pitch them in a way that makes them appealing. Being able to pull out the little tidbits and highlight those unique traits comes with being able to tell a good story, whether it’s a 25-second TV script or a two-paragraph pitch with bullet points for a potential story.
In your opinion, why do some say that journalists make the best PR people?
I actually don’t necessarily fully agree with that statement. There are many journalists who make great PR people, but I think that’s only true when it comes to in-house and corporate communications. It’s much easier when you’re the one voice shaping the message for a hospital, corporation or governmental organization. In my short time at SHIFT, I’ve already seen some brilliant creative minds that I don’t think any journalist could outdo. If a journalist can break through the wall of TV/news speak and branch out and expand their writing skills, then they could definitely make a great PR pro. Journalists do know how to spot those interesting nuggets and tell a great story. In the end, good communication and storytelling can trump all.
What advice would you offer a journalist looking to follow your lead to the PR world?
Weigh your priorities. There’s a reason newsrooms are full of young people. So few people make it to the corner offices without getting burnt out. If you do decide to leave, make sure you find somewhere that fits in with your goals both career-wise and culture-wise. Figure out your role and exactly what you’re going to be doing. The first few weeks will be tough simply because you’ll feel like you’re twiddling your thumbs, but that ends soon and it really ramps up from there.
As a former journalist now in the PR field, what advice do you have for PR pros in working with journalists?
Make a connection. I was always more likely to read and respond to a PR pro who I had successfully worked with in the past. I always appreciated it when they knew specifically what I was working on, or saw a trending topic and thought it might be a good fit for my show (even if they weren’t offering a guest). Try your best to determine what they need and when. If you help them one time, they’re definitely more likely to come calling on you when they’re in a pinch.