Beyond the Pitch

I’ve been going to the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) convention for years – as a journalist. This year, I appeared on a workshop panel with new colleagues from the world of public relations.  Appropriately titled, “Transferring Journalism Skills to PR Careers,” the 90-minute panel featured a discussion about PR as an alternative for journalists and journalism students seeking to transition from traditional media.

I was joined on the panel by seasoned PR pros Trisch SmithCorey Dade and Theola Labbe-DeBose – Lynnette Williams moderated.  We all shared our stories about working in PR and I was able to share my personal journey coming from nearly 20 years at the Associated Press. I admit to thinking that PR had to be a breeze when I was being pitched daily by communication folks from firms and elsewhere. I also remember thinking I could do a much better job than many of those pitching me.

As I move toward a third year in public relations with Hager Sharp – I can confirm that the work is so much more than press releases and pitching.  The truth is, PR careers require the same newsgathering and storytelling skills that journalists use day in and day out. More than that, in PR you need to have deep project management and budgeting skills, an eye for new business development, strong organizational skills, and above-average people skills. At Hager Sharp, it’s also about moving the target audiences of our clients toward behavior change. In other words, it’s all that and a bag of chips!

So, what did I have to say to the room full of journalists and students at NABJ? Before moving to the “dark side,” put on your reporter hat and do your research. No one agency is like another. Look for a firm that aligns with your values. For me, it was working on causes to improve education and healthcare that made sense in my move from the newsroom to the office. Go in with your eyes wide open and be prepared for a very different pace of work. Depending on your entry level, you will still be expected to write press releases and pitches but you will also be expected to write strategic communications plans, build client budgets, and respond to requests for proposals.

Being able to relate to both sides of the multi-platform communications world makes a difference. And being able to share my perspective at NABJ was an extra bonus. If you are reading this, and you aren’t a member of NABJ or another professional media organization – I have one question – what are you waiting for? Whether it’s NABJ, the Society of Professional JournalistsNational Association of Hispanic JournalistsAsian American Journalists AssociationNative American Association of Journalists, or Association of LGBTQ Journalists – there are media-related memberships available.

I’ve been able to make the most of my membership, making new connections with editors and reporters with CNN, MSNBC, Reuters, National Public Radio, FOX News, CBS, ABC, NBC and numerous others. For a PR professional, it means learning more about what they really need. And, it can mean the difference between an unanswered call or ignored pitch and actually earning the coverage you need for a client.

Lisa Matthews
Vice President