4 Reasons Former Journalists Make Great PR Professionals

Every PR professional knows businesses often have insights to share with the public, products to announce and events to promote. And spreading those messages often includes getting stories in newspapers and on TV. But getting a journalist’s attention requires special skills and insight. Aside from the obvious — sharing interesting, compelling content — the best way to get the news media to take notice is to work with former journalists.

Today’s PR professionals understand the importance of adaptability. You have to be prepared to move from one thing to the next without any hesitation. It just so happens former journalists embrace the fast-paced nature of agency life better than most.

That’s why Candor’s staff of marketing communications professionals includes ex-reporters, content writers and editors (or, as we sometimes joke, “recovering journalists”). We’ve produced TV packages, cranked out daily newspapers and kept up with the latest online trends.

Our backgrounds benefit our clients in four significant ways.

Breaking News Won’t Break Us

Months of planning went down the tubes because of an unexpected event? A crisis hit you out of the blue? No problem for a newsie. Whatever a journalist has planned for the day can go out the window in an instant if news breaks or a hot tip comes in. Shifting gears at a moment’s notice comes naturally after that.

We Know What The Media Wants

What’s important to a company might not matter to a reporter or editor. Reporters think of providing value to the audience first. We know how to speak their language, appeal to their interest and even work out the right time of day to send the email or text which can lead to a prime-time package or front-page story. Being on a first-name basis with local reporters has helped Candor land several earned media hits for clients.

We Are Information Sponges

Journalists are generalists. They want to know everything about everything. Even after they’ve left the newsroom, they consume information insatiably. Keeping one eye on the wider world at all times helps the Candor team understand everything from trends in social media to figuring out how issues of the day affect our clients’ strategies. Being information sponges help produce the plans we provide, the way we target audiences and the tone of the content we create.

We Understand Businesses Have Budgets

Anyone who has been in a newsroom in the last couple decades has seen people make hard choices about where to invest resources. We know our clients have to make those decisions year by year, quarter by quarter and even project by project. Budgets aren’t an afterthought at Candor; they’re a key part of understanding the scope and scale of what we can do for our clients.

Journalists don’t have all the answers. But they’ll dig until find them. Candor’s team makes sure we understand brands’ needs and goals, and we do whatever it takes to get there – without breaking deadline.

Does ‘Die Hard’ Count? (And Other Thoughts on Holiday Movies)

The Candor team loves spending holiday time with friends and family. We know it’s meant to be fun, but being around people you love can also lead to strife. Debates aren’t always about politics or who should clean up the dishes: Sometimes they’re about things that really matter, like the best holiday movies.

The Candor team didn’t squabble over which film puts us in the holiday spirit. But we did select a wide range of movies to warm the heart, generate laughter or, you know… demonstrate what it takes to stop an international band of thieves from taking over a skyscraper.

Karen Wicker‘s Pick — It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Jennifer Byrd‘s Pick — Home Alone (1990)

Jim Kessler‘s Pick — Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Ashley Neese‘s Pick — A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Alex Joseph‘s Pick — Christmas Vacation (1989)

Ally Glavas‘s Pick — Elf (2003)

Sandy Meier‘s Pick — How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Larisha Hunter‘s Pick — Die Hard (1988)

Jacqueline Sit & Adam Brooks‘s Pick — A Christmas Story (1983)

Do You Think They Did It?

What would your organization do if an executive was accused of rape and a reporter asked, “Do you think they did it?”

Stories about sexual harassment and assault by powerful men have taken over the national conversation recently. Similar stories have grabbed attention before, including during the 2016 presidential campaign. But the allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein ignited a storm.

Thousands of women around the world used the #MeToo hashtag – and variations in other languages – to tell stories of abuse. They aimed allegations at men in many industries. Actors’ shows were cancelled, news executives lost their jobs and politicians faced calls to resign.

The victims’ stories are devastating. We feel sympathy for their trauma and damaged careers, and we think about the harm inappropriate behavior causes to our nation.

With the spotlight on exposing dirty secrets, every organization should start thinking about how it would handle allegations against senior leaders or other employees.

As with any crisis, the most important thing is to have a flexible plan and to make sure key players inside the organization know what to do in an emergency. It’s like a first-aid kit for your reputation.

Candor helps organizations prepare for crises. Some important questions we ask include:

  • Who is authorized to speak for the company?
  • Who holds the keys to the social media accounts?
  • Which executives should have media training in advance?

Nobody can anticipate every crisis. But every organization should be ready. Sooner or later, a wave will hit, whether it comes from a natural disaster, workplace accident or from an executive’s misdeeds.

How will you respond?

Keeping It Real on Social Media

Did you see the story recently about coffee shops shutting down Wi-Fi to force people to interact? What about the memes of people glued to their mobiles in front of great works of art? Have you heard high-school dances are going extinct because teens would rather just Snapchat each other?

Everyone bemoans what mobile technology has done to personal interactions. But who would really give up their devices? Our pocket computers provide many advantages – including deepening our connections with loved ones – and someone without a digital connection would miss out on too much of the modern world.

The desire for connection creates challenges and opportunities for brands. When brands try to reach an audience, they must compete with millions of other companies, celebrities, friends and loved ones, cute animals, mainstream news sources and verbose politicians.

To break through, successful organizations need to find ways to make emotional connections with the audience, rather than just providing information.

One great way to make sure content – especially on social media – feels authentic is to imagine speaking to a real person. When I worked in internal communications, a conference speaker reminded people not to write for a generic group such as “fellow employees.” She suggested picturing someone specific, like Carol in accounting, or John from IT. Writing as if I were sending an email to a coworker helped me keep things simple and clear.

Brands must also remember what the audience wants. People who have already taken the time to like a Twitter account or follow on Facebook have demonstrated an interest in a product or service. They want information about upcoming events and new offerings. But to build trust and loyalty, users must sense a real person on the other side of the screen with real emotions – and perhaps a sense of humor. Nobody wants to read dry, corporate copy; so don’t write it.

Listening truly sets people apart on social media. Traditional media relied on “we say, they listen” communication; the technology required it. Too many organizations act as if things still work that way. They Tweet or post on Facebook without a plan for the next step. Anything interesting online draws shares, likes, comments and reviews. We recommend group organizations designate a person, process and culture for responding quickly and consistently. It’s the key to being seen as more than self-promotional.

Candor doesn’t believe any of this is easy. Making every follower feel as if they’re the center of attention may be the greatest communication challenge we have. But when organizations set authentic connections as the goal, they take a huge leap toward generating a loyal, passionate audience.

Taking it Old School to Learn New Lessons

Hip-hop music may seem like the new kid on the block. But rap has topped charts since at least 1990. (I promise to make that the only oblique reference to Vanilla Ice in this post.)

Beats and rhymes have been influencing culture for more than 30 years. Many of today’s executives and decision makers grew up on Run-DMC and other pioneering MCs and DJs. And the genre holds lessons for nearly any business or organization, regardless of the audience.

At Candor, we’ve found five outstanding lyrics to remind us of the principles of our profession.

  1. “Ain’t no future in yo frontin’” – MC Breed & DFC, from “Ain’t no future in yo frontin’”

Don’t lie. That’s it. It is the foundation for everything we do at Candor, and we hope it guides every client we represent.

Of course, everyone preaches honesty as the best policy, based on idealism and simply doing the right thing. But staying true to reality holds special importance when dealing with the media or the public. Whatever a falsehood hides, it will look much worse when it gets splashed across the internet.

A good public relations counselor will help emphasize the positive, but everyone on the team must commit to avoiding false statements.

  1. “La di da di, we like to party” – Slick Rick, from “La Di Da Di”

A common caricature assumes PR pros spend all of their time planning and hosting parties. It’s an exaggerated image, of course.

Putting on excellent events for our clients is part of the job, and we are happy to help (and share in the good vibrations). We always remember, though, a party is more than just a good time.

Besides theme, invitations, timing sheets and talking points, we remind clients to think beyond the details and remember the message. We help them consider what guests should learn at a party, press event or open house; how they should feel when they leave; and what ideas should stick in their mind when they leave the venue.

  1. “You can plan a pretty picture, but you can’t predict the weather.” – Outkast, from “Ms. Jackson”

Candor boasts of its ability to plan ahead. We look days, weeks and months into the future to help our clients find opportunities and avoid hazards.

As Oklahomans know, no forecast is certain. Conditions change rapidly, and we always prepare for contingencies. Even when we spend long hours developing a detailed, months-long campaign, we know it could get torn up and tossed out the window. It happens when a new bill is filed at the Capitol, when news breaks somewhere else in the country or when someone simply comes up with a better idea.

It doesn’t bother us. We expect to adapt.

  1. “I’m not a business man. I’m a business, man.” Jay Z, from “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”

Brooklyn-based rapper, producer, sports agent, media mogul and NBA team owner Shawn Carter had a hard-knock life. But he understands something fundamental about branding: it always matters, and everything a team does affects the image.

When a CEO speaks in front of hundreds of people, it changes how people see her company. When a volunteer greets a guest at a groundbreaking, it can make people more likely to donate to his nonprofit. When a spokesman is running errands on his off hours, his demeanor could affect coverage of a hot-button political issue.

Nobody needs to be image-obsessed, but everyone in every organization needs to feel part of the team, so they feel responsible for projecting professionalism and trustworthiness.

  1. “I gotta say, it was a good day.” Ice Cube, from “It Was a Good Day”

No matter the field, no matter the role, work is challenging. At Candor, we make time to celebrate our victories. We keep our clients updated about their media hits, newsletter opens and social media mentions. And when something special happens, we celebrate with snacks and sirens in the office. We stay positive through the day by bouncing ideas off each other, giving constructive feedback and talking about our common goals.

It’s just the way we roll with our homies.

Rough Landings Made Right: Don’t Leave Your Audience Up in the Air

Coming home from a vacation in paradise always hurts a little. On a recent trip, poor corporate communication made it worse, until a quick-thinking flight attendant eased the pain.

After spending several days in the pool and on the beach south of the border, the flat concrete expanse at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport felt like the last place I wanted to be. I just wanted to get through customs and get home to my dog.

Then the pilot took to the intercom.

“Well, folks. It looks like there’s still a plane at our gate,” he said. “So we’re going to wait here a few minutes.”

I groaned. People around me shook their heads and muttered.

Then a flight attendant picked up the mic.

“Ladies and gentlemen, because our flight was faster than expected, we’ve arrived at the gate about 20 minutes early, so the gate isn’t available. We should still have you off the plane on time.”

People nodded. Shoulders relaxed. Visions of sprints to connecting flights evaporated. Thumbs flew over keyboards as everyone updated friends and family.

I give the pilot points for trying to get information to the cabin quickly. But if he had taken another moment to carefully consider his words, he could have left people with a positive impression, rather than giving passengers one more reason to grumble.

The pilot and the flight attendant, employees of the same airline, delivered essentially the same news: Passengers were going to be trapped with each other for a few more minutes. But they took different routes and got very different reactions.

The scenario carries three lessons for communicators and companies:

  1. Transparency matters. When companies explain WHY something is happening, not just WHAT is happening, people are more likely to view the position kindly. That’s especially true if customers face inconvenience.

  2. Messaging matters. The words communicators choose can play a decisive role in whether people cringe or cheer.

  3. Every employee is part of a brand. Organizations must make sure any potential representatives are on board with messaging and understand communications are critical.

At Candor, we’re always ready to help organizations craft messages to improve how people receive them, even when the news isn’t all good.

Why I Didn’t Have to Sell My Soul to Leave News

When I decided to leave the world of news – again – for public relations, I knew what I’d hear from friends and colleagues: “Going to the dark side, eh?”

I was right. Though I think people who say that have the wrong idea.

Working as the managing editor of The Journal Record for two years put me on the front row of business and politics in Oklahoma City. I saw great drama: Entrepreneurs with big ideas and the drive to turn them into reality. Figurative and literal earth-shaking events in the energy industry. Political careers peaking and crumbling. Changes in practice and perception across the statewide economy.

And when the opportunity to join Candor came along, I saw it as a chance to participate more directly in those activities.

Some think PR agencies push fluff without regard for truth. But I’ve never seen it that way. Professional communicators take great pride in helping people get their messages to the masses, and we know it’s never worth it to risk our reputations by being dishonest. You may not always agree with our clients, but when you see something in public discourse that fits your view, a professional communicator probably helped get it out there.

We’re not trying to steal money that used to go to mass-media advertising. We help people and organizations find the best, most efficient ways to share their stories with their audiences.
Sometimes that means a high-impact event or a buzzworthy social media post. It often means keeping websites stocked with information that gives a realistic view of an issue or a company.

At Candor, it also means sometimes telling a client that he or she needs to rethink a concept or move in a new direction. Sometimes it even means declining to take on work if we don’t think we see eye-to-eye with a prospect about how to ethically and responsibly act.

A public relations and business consulting firm doesn’t have the same watchdog responsibility as a journalistic operation. But we do hold ourselves to high standards. The focus of my work shifted, but I won’t have to give up any of my dignity or ideals.

Some have said I left the forces of good. I see a chance to shine a spotlight on the businesses and causes that make our community better.