Moving to the Darkside with…Ned Potter

Prior to moving into PR, what was your perception of the industry?

I'd worked with people in the field who were wonderful, who helped me get timely, accurate information when I needed it. And, well, I'd worked with an occasional bad egg as well. I think of the field as varied. As varied as any.

What lured you to the dark side and to RLM Finsbury in particular?

I had some incredible experiences as a reporter, but I don't think there's anything I can tell you about network news that you don't already know. I finally called a friend (okay, okay, she'd worked at the White House) and asked, "Who does good stuff?" I wasn't thinking of a particular field. She had a very short list. She named RLM Finsbury, and she named a former New York Times reporter who, by the time I met him, was about to join RLM Finsbury.

What annoyed you most about PRs when you were a journalist?

Oh, there were cold-callers who didn't know how to take no for an answer -- even if I said, "Look, I'm on an insane deadline. I'm going to hang up now" -- but that was rare.

I also received an occasional way-off-base pitch: "I hope this email finds you well." Those emails found themselves deleted.

I appreciated information from communications professionals I’d come to know as reliable. My suggestion is that if you don’t know the reporter, just get to your point. An effective pitch ought to read like a news story. Only better.

How did your journo colleagues react when you told them you were moving into PR?

I was touched and a little surprised. I got a very warm sendoff, and in the hundreds of we'll-miss-you messages there was an undercurrent of envy. I've had calls from several old friends asking if we have openings.

What has been your biggest surprise about PR?

This isn't a surprise at all. I'd instead say it makes me proud. Maybe I got lucky by coming to RLM Finsbury, but I find myself among smart, nice people with very high standards. Trustworthiness matters above all. I admire the sense of ethics I've encountered.

What lessons did you learn in journalism that are easily transferable to PR?

Happily, the essential ingredients of storytelling are the same -- sizing up a situation, bringing clarity to it, turning it into a useful narrative. That's a process I enjoy.

Having seen major crises from many sides (I covered the Chicago Tylenol murders and the Exxon Valdez oil spill), I'm also sensitive to how poorly-thought-out messages, taken out of context, can blow up on people. I've seen it happen much too often. I’ve also seen others who earned public trust by being truthful. What a quaint idea.

What will you miss most about being a journalist?

I did have my share of adventures -- I've stood with a polar bear on the Arctic coast, followed a shaman around an Amazonian forest, tried to land a space shuttle simulator (I somehow didn't crash), seen the crowded disarray in the West Wing of the White House at night. I was told that I may have been the first person to use the word “cellphone” on a network newscast.

But I have enough war stories to tell that if ever I have grandchildren, I'll bore them silly. I will not miss the middle-of-the-night calls, asking me to put myself at risk for some story that I don't think is terribly important.

Will there be time for the occasional freelance story?

Happily, my colleagues at RLM Finsbury have encouraged me to write for publication whenever I can find the time, and give talks as well. It's a wonderful way to show that we are good at science communications, which we take seriously, and which can only grow in importance. I've actually gotten to do some thoughtful pieces that I'm not sure we would have tried at ABC.

What advice would you give to other journalists considering the change?

I'd urge them to consider it seriously. At its best, it's another place from which you can provide information that will make people's lives better.

What is your top tip for PRs when dealing with hacks?

Hmmm. A hack. Isn't that old slang for a New York taxi driver?


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