Digital PR and journalists have a symbiotic relationship: we need them to cover our content campaigns in news stories, and they need neatly packaged data that provides insight into Americans without having to conduct an entire research study themselves.
The realities of the news industry – layoffs, Venture Capital acquisitions, understaffed newsrooms, and 24-hour news cycles – require journalists to find new stories constantly. Digital PR pros know that the right content campaign can further the narrative in all the ways a good journalist might be looking for.
Especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Great Resignation signaling career shifts across huge sectors of the American workforce, it’s no surprise that some journalists might be seeking greener pastures, or at least ones where they don’t have to get up at 3 a.m. for the morning newscast. What better career transition than pivoting to digital PR, one of the best jobs for former journalists? Here’s the case for why every digital PR team needs journalists on staff.
It takes one to know one. Journalists know what they want, and former journalists will know exactly what current journalists want. One of the most important digital PR skills is identifying newsworthiness, and former journalists are experts at seeing what makes something newsworthy.
They can scan a data set and find the most interesting pieces of data and create the storyline that best communicates it to a wider audience. The headline becomes a PR pro’s pitch subject line, and the lede becomes a media pitch. Former journalists know how to communicate news, and this linguistic familiarity translates to better pitches and more targeted angles that current journalists will appreciate.
This informs content creation from top to bottom. Former journalists can brainstorm ideas inherently plugged into the news, execute content campaigns with an eye for including newsworthy data points, and spearhead outreach with these throughlines of newsiness that makes for great, high-performing campaigns.
Newsworthy PR is practically second nature.
Agency life is challenging: new clients can come in on ambitious timelines, or maybe a major breaking news story happens to be relevant to a campaign that’s mid-production. Crunched timelines can be deeply stressful, but happily, former journalists are no strangers to looming deadlines and high-level execution on condensed timelines. Whether it’s near immediate story turnaround for breaking news or even 24-hour deadlines for features coverage, journalists almost never feel like time is on their side.
This presents a great strength to agencies that hire journalists. Journalists are agile and able to pivot deadlines as needed and keep their cool while doing so. And at agencies that really value their employees like DTC – our staff of journalists-turned-PR pros is able to do so without losing sleep or even a sense of work-life balance.
Through tight team communication and collaboration, we’re able to share the work without logging huge amounts of overtime. We simply plan, share, and execute.
Journalists understand that the news cycle is 24/7 and constantly changing. They’re always looking for the next story, or another story to add context to the next story. This constant need for information and elaboration of storylines makes for a hyper-awareness of how long certain things will stay in the news.
With a volatile economy, elections, climate change, and the ever-present threat of similar events to the COVID-19 pandemic, the news cycle always has a nontrivial chance to break wildly and into crisis mode for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Rather than let this consume a PR pro with anxiety, former journalists see it for what it is: an opportunity to showcase versatility and agility in the face of an unstable news cycle. We can know which campaigns to pause, which outreach angles to tweak to connect to major events, and more: because that was our job as journalists.
Journalists often come from either under-resourced or understaffed workplaces: whether they’re solo freelancers like myself or worked in broadcast news like many of my colleagues here at DTC, chances are we’re much more used to a workplace that had less than what we needed.
Through adversity comes ingenuity, however: we’ll keep analyzing a problem to solve it, whether it’s how to crack subject lines or even tweak content for better play in the news. Rather than wait for problems to be solved for us, we’ll work to solve those problems: it’s no coincidence that one of the core values at DTC is “Sweep the Floor.” We’re unafraid to roll up our sleeves and really dig deep into data, analysis, or outreach, without the pretension of entitlement to coverage.
Problems are meant to be solved- a key skill journalists current and former share.
Industry trends and controversies, while interesting, will never suck former journalists into Twitter beefs about relevancy or tangential content.
After leaving journalism, a career covering fires, crime, and elections, digital PR Twitter, or inter-agency rivalries just don’t have the same cachet. They’re much more inclined to stay focused on the work of creative storytelling and let the rest sort itself out.
Making the leap from such an insular career track is hard, but we’ve already shown how journalists are a must-have on any digital PR team, and why digital PR is one of the best careers for former journalists who want to transfer their hard-earned skills. How do you attract them?
It turns out, it’s pretty straightforward: leaving journalism for a career change tends to be less about the work itself and much more about the work conditions.
Many journalists, especially those with a broadcast background, come from very low pay grades with unorthodox and intense work hours. Offering competitive pay and a standardized, 40-hour work week can go a long way.
Senior Digital PR Specialist Maria Szatkowski cited “the ability to sleep at night” as an exciting perk of transitioning after a career in news, along with higher pay and flexibility.
Content Strategist Jenn Tracy was similarly thrilled for a transition to a career with flexibility and pay. While this is largely the norm for most workers, journalists are coming from especially precarious jobs– stability is key.
Besides a standard work week with weekends off, paid time off (PTO) is a huge motivator for journalists looking to jump into the private sector.
Not only that, but higher quality health insurance and professional development incentives go a long way.
Nearly every former journalist on our team cited seeking a company that values transparency and accountability for management as a top priority. Whether coming from genuinely toxic environments or simply wanting a higher level of leadership accountability, journalists will value a company that prioritizes them and whose leadership understands that service leadership is key.
Not only that, but a leadership is needed that understands there IS a learning curve for newly transitioned journalists and structures an in-depth training program to onboard new hires. Jen LeMair, outreach manager, was thrilled to pivot to an industry that “continues to invest in skills, training, and professional development,” while Szatkowski pointed out the opportunity for career advancement that simply wasn’t there for news.
Structured onboarding and a robust training program will speed up former journalists on any skills they might not already have and give them an opportunity to transition to the different hours and pace of working at a business or agency.
Mental and physical safety in the workplace is a must: journalists are used to being on the front lines of breaking news– no matter whether that news is good or bad. This is harmful in the long run for both mental and physical well-being.
Seeing an agency that prioritizes company culture and ensures that its employees are empowered to do their best work can be very persuasive for former journalists. Knowing that overtime is very rare and that physical safety is never in question will result in calm, cool, and collected workers who are game to try any challenge- and take the time to perfect their craft in the process.
News can be thrilling: being at the forefront of breaking news, providing the public with necessary and helpful information, and the excitement of shooting on location are all high-adrenaline experiences that journalists know and love.
The flip side of that, however, is the feeling that the news never stops- and so they can’t stop either.
A company that prioritizes work-life balance, encourages employees to shut down after work and hires more people before subjecting the current team to overtime, will seem like a dream to former journalists.
As you can see, attracting journalists isn’t hard if your company already prioritizes its people: just make sure you’re clear about pay, benefits, training, and leadership accountability. With that comes independent, capable employees who have many translatable skills and an innate sense of what’s needed to earn top-tier media coverage and make it rain high quality, high DA links for every campaign, start to finish. Seems like a pretty good tradeoff, right?