Prior to moving into PR, what was your perception of the industry?
I had great respect for very responsive and effective PR professionals. As a beat reporter who covered the media industries, including broadcast and cable journalism, I appreciated anyone in corporate communications who was open and honest. Very quickly, I learned who was trustworthy, and those individuals were worth their weight in gold.
What lured you to the dark side and to APCO Worldwide in particular?
I actually left daily journalism in 1996 when I departed the Wall Street Journal to write a book, “Conflicting Accounts: The Creation and Crash of the Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Empire” (Simon & Schuster). I had been involved in daily journalism professionally since I was a sophomore at Boston University, and my last job at the Wall Street Journal was as its daily advertising columnist. I was tired of being an outsider, calling people who didn’t really want to talk and asking for information they didn’t really want to give. I wanted to try something new after finishing my book. I thought my skills could translate well in the world of corporate communications. I wanted to be an “insider” and have the ability to shape stories. APCO interested me a great deal because of the diversity of clients, the fact it is employee-owned, and that everyone I met when considering joining the firm was smart, personable and had chosen to stay at APCO for a long time.
What annoyed you most about PRs when you were a journalist?
That’s easy - anyone who was dishonest. You had one chance. If you lied to me, that was it. Also, annoying were those who weren’t available, stalled, or who didn’t know what I was covering. Additionally, anyone who would give an exclusive to a competitor, then send me a press release later only to call to determine my interest. Those were short, unpleasant conversations.
How did your journo colleagues react when you told them you were moving into PR?
Not one person questioned why I made the change. In fact, several asked how I liked it and how could they make the change.
What has been your biggest surprise about PR?
The process. Sometimes, I think, it shouldn’t be this difficult. To me, it’s all about the story. Jay Leno often says his job is, “Write joke. Tell joke. Get check.” As a former journalist, I think in a similar way: “Think of story. Frame story. Pitch story.”
What lessons did you learn in journalism that are easily transferable to PR?
The ability to ask questions, understand complex issues and then translate them into easy to understand sentences very quickly. Also, how to work well on a tight deadline, and how to recognize a good story in ways others cannot.
What will you miss most about being a journalist?
To weave a good story and have it read with my byline.
Will there be time for the occasional freelance story?
Yes. In fact, I had a major piece in the February 2014 issue of Vanity Fair. It ran in the US edition and it was the cover story in the UK edition.
What advice would you give to other journalists considering the change?
Do it. You’ll be on the inside looking out instead of the other way around. You can shape stories. Your opinion will be valued.
What is your top tip for PRs when dealing with hacks?
Show respect for what they do, but don’t be afraid to be a strong, respectful advocate for your client. Also, don’t accept the premise of a question if the premise is incorrect.