Monday, March 16, 2015

Secrets on how to jump from media to PR from those who've successfully done it

Former members of the Houston TV, newspaper and radio world share their secrets for landing a PR gig

One of the top questions I receive now is how to leave the media world and successfully jump over to PR?

You know, public relations...what journalists like to call the dark side. It's a world some media pros think is a likely move post broadcasting and newspaper reporting.

But is it? And how do you make the jump?

I got the tips/secrets from former members of the Houston TV, newspaper and radio community who have successfully taken the plunge and are very happy with their new careers.

Jerome Gray
Vice President & Senior Press Officer Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO)
(formerly of KPRC 2 & KHOU 11)

1. Connect with your contacts. Stay in touch with people who are close sources to ask them to keep you in mind should they hear of job openings.

2. Reach out to those who have reached out to you in the past to see what’s out there. For example, if you have frequently served as an emcee for any events or volunteered your time touch base with those groups to see if they know of upcoming openings.

3. Have coffee or lunch with key decision makers with whom you have contact to help you decide which areas you would like to target for transition. Or reach out to others who have made the transition from media to get some tips on finding the right job.

Norm Uhl
Director of Communications and Marketing at the Houston SPCA
(formerly of KHOU 11 & News 92 KROI)

Apply for positions at organizations that place a high value on media relations.

You already know which ones those are. As a journalist, you've already encountered them and know which ones are proactive and which ones avoid the media.

Organizations that value proactive media relations also value people with news experience. I doubt many journalists would be happy in a reactive shop.

Lee McGuire
Director of Communications, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
(formerly of KHOU 11 & KVUE 24)

I really have three pieces of advice here. The first is to network (quietly). You have to let key people know you're thinking about making the jump. A good place to start is with former reporters who are now doing communications. Grab coffee, see them on a weekend, whatever works for your schedule -- ask them to keep an eye out.

The second bit of advice is to think deeply about what you really enjoy doing and what you're good at. No one will hire a TV person just because they were in TV -- instead, it's the storytelling talent that matters; the crisis communications; the rapid and high-quality turnaround of accurate and compelling information; the proven ability to work in a team and deliver a consistent, high-quality product; writing, web design and publishing, social media, etc. These are all skills that are absolutely in demand.

A third thing: express a desire to learn new skills and move forward in your career. Communications is very different than journalism. In many ways it is much harder. If you find the right role, it will be just as rewarding if not more so.

Chau Nguyen
Manager of Community Involvement at The Women’s Home in Montrose
(formerly of KHOU)

Well my situation is a tad unique in the sense that I work in non-profit management. And while I do much of the "public" speaking there, my main role is outreach and fundraising.

I will say this, however.
- Being in media is a major asset when transitioning into PR. Sell, sell, sell the fact that you have insider media contacts unlike others.
- You have skills in speaking and writing.
- You know what media need in press releases and story ideas.

Brian Sasser
Director of Communications EPISCOPAL HEALTH FOUNDATION
(former KPRC 2 Investigative News Producer/National Field Producer )

Network — even when it’s painful. I had been in TV news all my life and knew how to network for story ideas and talk to folks to move up inside the business, but I had never really “networked” for a job outside. If your group of friends, PR contacts, story contacts, family, and even current/past media colleagues don’t know you’re looking for a new opportunity, then they can’t help you. They won’t share that job they heard about. They won’t tell one of their colleagues you’d be great for a position.

It can be a slippery slope when you’re still working in the job you want to leave, but you have to start showing your interest and telling people what you do and how you’d like to use those skills in another job. I talked to every PR person I met while doing stories and just asked different questions about how they got their job and what they saw out there. It was subtle, but it was there.

I never was interviewed for a position where I didn’t have some sort of human contact associated with the job. I never got far applying online to a company where I didn’t know anyone or able to exchange an email with someone I knew through some form or fashion. It was often a waste of time on most online applications. Using LinkedIn and going to a happy hour to talk about changing careers can be painful. It’s often even a little humbling. However, it may be that one conversation that makes the difference.

Sell your ability to be an expert storyteller. In every communications job, you’re really just telling a story. Sell your unique ability to know the elements of a good story. Explain how you’ve turned routine news into creative, compelling stories. Show how you’ve been able to tell a story multiple ways — website, TV, print, social media, video, etc.

Sell you ability to meet tight deadlines. No one in the real world really understands how journalists are used to working with tight deadlines. Give specific examples of how you not just completed a project, but executed it well even under a quick turnaround or crappy conditions. This one skill will likely be respected more than almost anything else you do.

Have a good answer to: “Won’t you just be bored here?” Be ready. It came during every interview.

Joe Stinebaker
Director of Communications Harris County Judge Ed Emmett
(formerly of the Houston Chronicle)

Having helped a few others transition to the dark side, I would certainly think that one way to break in is the same way one succeeds in journalism too -- cultivating sources and getting to know people in the business. Even if it has to be done confidentially, let people you trust know that you’re thinking about moving on. There’s also a decent web site locally, through the Houston chapter of the PRSA. It’s

Steve Fixx
Senior Manager of Internal Communications at Direct Energy
(formerly of 93.7 The Arrow KKRW & Rock 101 KLOL)

When I started the career switch process, my resume was set up in a traditional way. A recruiter friend said it works better when switching industries to instead set up the resume as functional.

Media people sometimes feel stuck and as if they don't have all that many transferable skills. In reality, we have a lot to offer as communicators. We know how to take a message and use a channel to reach an audience. The messages, channels and audiences change, but the thinking behind the process doesn't.

A few things that worked for me:
- Network with all the people you know. I was surprised at some of the people who would help me or put me in touch with a friend that could. It's always best when you have an in for a first-hand introduction.
- Focus on LinkedIn and Indeed. An HR friend recommended I mainly used these out of the job search sites.
- Write the resume to the job. It's an extra step, but I think it is difference-making to re-write the résumé to the job you are applying for. Within the job description, look at the first 4 or 5 things listed. (The rest is often fluff) Think about your experience and how it can be worded to apply to the job. Connect the dots and make it obvious for them.
- The #1 fear most people have isn't a fear of yours. You often hear how people dread public speaking and fear it worse than death. The great thing about media backgrounds is we don't share that fear. When you can do something well that others fear, that's a strength.