What Journalism Can Teach Us About Public Relations

I recently saw a discussion on LinkedIn on whether “ex journos” should lead a PR team? An interesting thought popped into my head. Yes, it’s late and I do my best thinking late at night. Rather than asking why former journalists shouldn’t lead a PR team, I think the better question to ask is what journalism can teach us about PR (and social media. As a former journalist turned PR/communication pro, I can humbly say I’ve learned a great deal about marrying these key functions together and blending best practices from both worlds to achieve high ROI and success with PR and social media tactics and strategies.

In my past experience as a journalist, I have managed a magazine for three years, wrote and produced news segments for NBC and CBS affiliates and wrote for several publications. I was able to take away some invaluable lessons from my journalism career. Marketing, PR and social media pros can learn a thing or two when it comes to their respective fields to not only educate and inform but engage and connect with their target audience. I’ve outlined here are a few key highlights that journalists look for when it comes to securing their interest.

Authenticity – Journalists can spot fake versus authentic on the drop of a hat when it comes to resources and experts. Their job is to seek out and speak with industry experts to validate and support their story. Our first lesson in Journalism 101 is to be authentic and understand what the reporters are looking for. Don’t just point them to anyone in your company because you want coverage. By placing the right resource with your key contacts, you’re building trust and a relationship.

Further, don’t pitch just to pitch. Find out if there is a fit with the story that the journalist is covering. This way, you’re building your brand as the “go to resource” for future stories. Another takeaway is to be authentic in the content and information you decide to share with the reporter, customers and prospects whether it’s part of a pitch, press announcement or whitepapers/ebooks. People, especially reporters will call you out if it’s all fluff and BS. They want to know that the information you’re putting out there is authentic and trustworthy, not just another sensational marketing or PR tactic. This creates distrust and your future pitches and announcements will fall on deaf ears and become  lost in the noise.

Research – Journalists have to spend a great deal of time and effort on research to not only craft their stories but validate their credibility. Part of their job is to verify all sources and ensure the information they’re covering is authentic before it hits the public. This is another important lesson that we can learn from journalists. Whatever topic you’re covering, be sure to do your research, back it up with data and fact check your sources. When we craft pitches, write press announcements or blogs, etc. be a hawk when it comes to verifying information and finding key data/proof points to support the content. Use your journalistic eagle eye.

For example, by blindly citing that mobile devices pose the greatest risk to data with no other relevant research to support it, your content can become a sensational statement to capture people’s attention. Today, with information overload, people want relevant information that can help teach them about something new. They want a trustworthy source to provide them with guidance and information.

Engaging and Building Relationships That Last – In a recent blog post by Journalistic blog, one statement stood out to me: publications don’t cover your story, real people do. Without an established relationship with the journalists, you are one of many if not hundreds of PR folks pitching to them via social media channels or email outreach. Imagine how many press releases and pitches they have to go through on a daily basis. Be relevant, spend the time to reach out to them, comment on their articles, and serve up your experts or other experts you many know who might be a good fit for their story. Knowing your audience is key.

Also, try to engage face to face and find out what they’re writing about, what they’re interested in, and how they prefer to be approached for media stories. Once you have an established relationship, connect with them on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. and follow their updates and discussions. This shows the reporter that you’re investing your time in learning more about them.

In the same vein, companies don’t read your content or evaluate your products, people do. Find a way to create a nurture program with multiple touch points that includes content to help educate and keep them constantly informed on the latest data. This way, customers and prospects know that your brand is investing your resources and time to keep them abreast of the latest trends, challenges, and best practices.

Create compelling content – Reporters are constantly covering different types of stories and their challenge is to create compelling news that their audience will want to read about.  Their job is to identify news that will inform and engage their readers. The discipline I’ve learned during my career in journalism is defining content strategy and writing compelling content. This has taught me to carefully select, structure and write compelling content, whether it’s for a pitch, blog, ebook, newsletter, press announcements, etc. It’s called content strategy – across your marketing, PR and social media functions. Writing great content is key in building thought leadership as well.

For instance, for our latest ebook that we launched called Shift Happens: The Evolution in Whitelisting, we did our research and understood that this was hot topic that was very relevant to our industry. We knew that we had to take this ebook a step further and structure the content to define how this technology was transforming the security market and what the overall impact would be. This launch was supported by a blog series, webinars, etc. that would cover different angles. Without compelling content, your efforts will go unnoticed. Why spend all that time and resources putting together content if it’s going to be just another boring material that no one will read? Not worth it.  


Become the Expert – Many marketing, PR and social media pros have this misconception that they don’t need to know everything. Especially in PR, some believe their job is to take the content and pitch to see who is going to bite. False. Just like how journalists have to be the experts to write a good story, ask the right questions, and know the right angle, so should you. Ignorance is bliss. By becoming the expert, you will understand how to structure and build great content. Further, this also helps you in your ability to build better relationships with the journalists. I am constantly engaging with influential bloggers and journalists and they will ask me about our market, products, etc. I have to be able to respond and speak intelligently. By doing so, this lets them know that I’ve done my homework, I know what I’m talking about, and they can trust my information or resources. If you don’t know enough to talk intelligently about your company, market, and products, you’re in for a world of hurt – not only in the field of PR, but marketing. Don’t get lost in the weeds.

Tell the Story – Reporters have a responsibility to tell a story through an objective lens, while making it compelling. While marketers today want to push products, marketing jargons, services, and promos down your throat, they’re missing an opportunity to tell their story in an interesting fashion. There are many ways to tell your story – through your customers and experts. Customer war stories are great examples of getting your story out there.Even your press announcements should tell a story even if it’s about the product. Make it compelling enough that a journalist can grasp the story by writing a great headline.

Do you agree? What other lessons can you learn from journalism?



  1. Many spot on thoughts, Cindy. I like the authenticity riff especially. As long as, of course, the journos aren’t of the ‘shock jock’ variety that go for the lowest common denominator in a story and obfuscate the key issues. And there are some desperadoes out there…

    Just to clarify, the discussion I started on LinkedIn was based on when ex-journos move straight across from their life on the dark side to heading the PR function, a move I think is a BIG mistake for a bunch of reasons, some of which are explicated here: http://bit.ly/b41av4

  2. Thank you for the inclusion in your blog. I found your blog to be very informative and glad you’re covering this area. Thanks again.


  1. […] obvious reason why ex-journos can be excellent PR pros is that they should be very good writers who write compelling content. Writing is the most important tactical characteristic of public relations. It’s even more […]

  2. […] Kim of The Marketing Journalist thinks so. In a recent post she discussed how journalists can transfer their skills into a successful PR career. She discussed […]

  3. […] the LinkedIn group Women of Web 3.0 Group, acts to settle the everlasting debate in discussing how journalists can teach and benefit PR. As aformer journalist turned PR professional, Kim announces that blending the key functions of […]

  4. […] can bring a few things to your toolbox also.  Cindy Kim The Marketing Journalist writes about What Journalism can Teach Us.  A few she names are: Authenticity, Research, Engaging and building relationships that last, etc. […]

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