I SPENT the first decade of my professional life as a business journalist for a national broadsheet. I also worked as a stringer for wire agencies, an editor for international magazines and web sites, and, occasionally, a writer for a homegrown fashion magazine. When I decided to make the jump to the corporate world, I was not entirely sure if my 10 years in journalism have prepared me enough for my next chapter.
For one, I had no experience with a desk job. I was a beat reporter, so I was out on the field almost every single day. I got restless when chained to a desk for too long. For another, I had no idea how to operate in a corporate environment. As a reporter, I saw my beatmates significantly more than my own officemates. We rarely reported to the office. When we did, it was usually just for two to three hours—for staff meetings or roundtable sessions with sources.
Now already a decade into my career as a business communicator, I realized that my journalism training actually gave me more than enough ammunition to survive and even thrive. The seemingly simple things that I took for granted when I was still in the media helped me adjust to the corporate life and hone my skills as a public relations professional. Below are some of those learnings.
1. There’s a story in everyone and everything.
On my junior year in college, I took a class called Specialized Reporting, which required us to keep a small notebook and pen handy: to jot down thoughts, ideas, and observations that may later be developed into stories. This habit stuck with me and was further reinforced when I did my internship at the Inquirer. My mentor Gerry Lirio, then the broadsheet’s City Editor, encouraged us interns to contribute articles for Tales of the City, which featured human interest stories from all over the Metro. He told us that everyone and everything has a story. It is up to us to coax those stories out and weave the words together for those stories to come alive.
This has served me well as a corporate communicator. Having this mindset allows me to see different angles to every story. I see problems and solutions as multi-faceted and can be addressed and presented in different ways. If one solution does not work, another solution may do the job. This is also helpful for strategy formulation, stakeholder engagement, and program or campaign conceptualization and execution.
2. Research, research, research.
This cannot be stressed enough. It is a journalist’s responsibility to report facts accurately and to provide media consumers as complete a story as possible. Before attending a coverage, interviewing a source, and writing a story, they have to do background research on what they will be covering. This allows journalists to have a better grasp of what angles to use, how to develop their stories, and how to package these in a way that is both relevant and interesting to the public.
Corporate communicators have a similar mandate, just with different objectives. We have to frame our stories and positions well to positively influence consumers’ attitudes and behaviors. The type, depth, and breadth of research depends on the communication objectives and target audiences.
3. Create and nurture relationships.
Any communication-related profession relies heavily on relationships with stakeholders. For journalists, relationships with sources are important, as this allows not only better access to stories, but also enough trust and rapport for authenticity to really shine through. For public relations professionals, the stakeholder base is even wider, depending on area of specialization, issues and concerns, and program or campaign.
Knowing your stakeholders is important. Building and sustaining relationships with them is even more crucial, especially during these times of difficulty and change. Like reporters who keep in close touch with sources even when there is no story to be had, we also stay connected with our various stakeholders even when we do not need anything from them.
4. Serve your audience, not yourself.
I remember some of my journalism school professors and former editors reminding us that it’s all about the story, not the reporter. Journalists should have as objective a view as possible so that only facts, and not opinions, are delivered to consumers. Editorials and opinion columns are the only exception. The story itself is the star. Reporters are the medium by which these stories shine.
In the world of PR, this applies to the programs and campaigns we serve to our audiences. While stellar accomplishments are linked to your excellent planning, hard work, and good execution, try not to promote yourself too much, outshining even the results of your communication efforts. There is a thin line between building your personal brand and placing the spotlight on you. Let your work speak for itself.
5. Show, don’t tell.
Both journalists and corporate communicators have words as their strongest weapon. The evolution of the media consumption landscape, however, has added photos and videos into the mix—a testament to how more visual media are viewed as more engaging to audiences.
This does not mean that the written word no longer has a place in this new media environment. Words continue to have power. Striking, well-thought-out copy can spell the difference between a consumer just scrolling past your material and a consumer buying your product, contracting your service, or getting on-board with you on your causes. Well-researched and well-written position papers and press releases can turn the tide of policy and public opinion in your favor.
These five points are actually commonsensical, but it does not hurt to be reminded of these seemingly basic things. In the conduct of our duties, we often get so caught up in the whirlwind of deliverables that we forget about the more fundamental areas of our role as communicators. It is always good to learn from others’ experiences, not just from our friends from the media.
We can all learn from each other, whatever we have done in the past and whatever we are doing now. And after the learning comes the doing.
(To be continued)
PR Matters is a roundtable column by members of the local chapter of the United Kingdom-based International Public Relations Association (Ipra), the world’s premier organization for PR professionals around the world. Abigail L. Ho-Torres is AVP and head of Advocacy and marketing of Maynilad Water Services Inc. She spent more than a decade as a business journalist before making the leap to the corporate world.
We are devoting a special column each month to answer our readers’ questions about public relations. Please send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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