I’ve always been called an old soul. I wore suspenders as a toddler, was more interested in chess than card games as a child and drove a car in high school that many of my friends described as “grandmotherly.” Lately, my hairline seems intent on making my outer and inner selves line up better, but that’s neither here nor there.
Throughout my formative years – and even still today – I’ve maintained a deep affection for the printed word: in books, magazines and especially newspapers.
It was little surprise to anyone, then, when I ended up earning a living after college as a journalist at The Orange County Register, long before my time at HKA. I learned countless things as I piled up experiences pounding the pavement and speaking with all kinds of people from around the county. But sitting here today with my public relations cap on, one of the most meaningful lessons I’ve learned is the importance – and true nature – of the relationship between journalists and PR professionals.
Starting out in a newsroom, impressionable young journalists often hear seasoned editors needle longtime reporters for “going to the dark side” if they depart the newspaper to take a PR gig. It’s all meant in good fun, but it does illustrate a rather misleading dynamic.
Years into my career, after I’d forged many lasting relationships with reliable PR contacts, I remember meeting a close colleague of mine who had left the newspaper to work in PR at a local university. “So, how are things on the other side of the fence?” I asked. What a thing to say! Did my former colleague now inhabit another planet? Was she suddenly a resident of a foreign country?
In reflecting on my words and discussing the subject with a friend of mine – a PIO by trade – I gained some perspective that has stuck with me. Between sips of coffee, he observed that journalism and PR were on the opposite sides of the same coin – and in no way operating in different universes. Perhaps not an earthshattering notion, but it did help a young journalist – and future PR professional – lock everything into place.
Just like in so many other areas of life, little good comes from keeping those around you at arm’s length. In my tenure, I’ve seen both journalists too quick to dismiss PR pitches and public relations professionals who focus so narrowly on avoiding gaffes that they lock the media out and make things worse for themselves – and the clients for whom the job is to generate public awareness.
But I’ve also seen the opposite – reporters and PR pros who work seamlessly as one unit, operating through mutual benefit and trust rather than barriers and skepticism. These folks were always the best of their respective bunches, hands down. Especially as the world grows more and more connected, I maintain that there is immeasurable value in these lasting working relationships: face-to-face meetings, handshakes, coffee and lunch. It’s stunning how much stronger media pitches and their resulting stories become when these relationships are properly nurtured. Maybe that’s just another old-fashioned value from this old soul, but I’d bet it’s not one that will ever truly go out of style – like my childhood suspenders and high school car.