The career switch to comms from journalism is still a thing. Look no further for proof than the signing of Mike Persak here at Water & Wall. Mike joined the agency this year from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where he covered the Pirates. Meanwhile, and less recently (which is something like 12 years ago), Matt left his job at Forbes for PR and hasn’t looked back. Not that there’s much to look back at considering one can’t even find the links to the stories he wrote. So, we had this idea to ask each other questions relating to journalism and comms, from lessons learned to advice for the next gen to how they gave up their bylines. You can find those Q’s and A’s right here.
Matt – For me, change was as much my decision as it was forced. The Financial Crisis led to massive budget cuts at Forbes in January 2009, and I got laid off in Round 1. It was like being a coveted NFL Draft Pick, but with none of the upside.
Matt – Like 10 minutes before the global markets crashed, I was in the early stages of interviews with Bear Stearns. One day it was a done deal and the next day the company no longer existed. I guess a number of endings led to a beginning. It wasn’t so romantic or poetic during.
Mike – I feel personability is everything in journalism. Well, maybe good writing and reporting skills help too. Nonetheless, whether it’s building sources, gaining the trust of interviewees or just building a social media following, bringing personality into your work helps gain the trust of readers, and handling your work carefully and diligently will show sources that they can confide in you without getting burned. I like to think that’s the case in comms too, even if it’s a little less public-facing. It stands to reason that clients will want to work with the people they like and trust.
Matt – I got into PR in July 2009 following seven years of writing for newspapers and a dot com with a magazine attached to it. It was about the start of a decade-long bull market and I happened to join an agency that focused on financial services, so business was good. It’s also where I met Andrew Healy, who gave me a crash course in how this side of media works. Ultimately, it was just like reporting or writing in that you had to know your audience. In this case, the audience is the client and their clients. That’s it. Everyone wants to win and ideally that’s true and that’s not so much the case in journalism, which is part of the reason I left.
Mike – I’ll miss a lot! Don’t get me wrong, it was time for me to leave, but I’ll miss the baseball press boxes that served as my office, the relationships built, even the feeling of seeing your name and picture on a story in the newspaper (well, mostly on a website but still). It was a frustrating job for me at times, but I’m willing to acknowledge that I got to do and see a lot of cool things.
Matt – Be as much a marketer as you are a question asker and writer. You know the adage that you should do the things that no one else wants to do to get ahead? It’s not quite expressed in those words, but you get the idea. Well, journalism, especially print journalism, takes this more seriously than any other profession if you want to get noticed, if you want to advance. I was a journalist at a time when self-promotion wasn’t so much a thing. Twitter launched in 2009 and I was out of the game by then. I bet a majority of the population was using flip phones too, so news wasn’t as available as it is today and it seemed to be everywhere even then.
Mike – Don’t lose your creativity. I remember that when I was a student journalist still, there were no real harsh restrictions. There was nothing we had to write about, necessarily, so we had freedom to chase what we wanted to write about. Professional journalism has a way of grinding you down, because there are so many things you have to write about. Just don’t lose sight of the reason you joined in the first place, and fight for things you really wanted to cover and accomplish.
Mike – I think sports writers deal with PR folks differently. I didn’t really need outside pitches to get a story for the day. Sure, I’d get emails from sports drink companies or gambling websites and the like, but every day I got to go into the clubhouse and talk to my interview subjects directly, so I didn’t really need a PR firm’s help connecting me with whomever. That said, the team’s internal PR people are saints. Believe it or not, players in this day and age don’t always feel the need to talk to print journalists! Imagine that!
Mike – This is going to sound petty, but there just wasn’t a lot of thanks to the job. My email was attached to every story I wrote, and social media is important, so every reader is ready, willing and able to tell you exactly what they think of your article, with no real understanding of how hard you worked on it or how long your day has been. I found it hard to detach and realize that none of those people were my actual boss.