Moving to the Darkside with…Neil Shapiro

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

I thought it was a mixed bag. There were many PR professionals I relied on to help do my job effectively. But there were a handful of others who I felt did not take the time or effort to truly understand what they were pitching or who they were pitching to. I remember thinking that most PR folks could benefit from spending a few days in a newsroom.

What lured you to the dark side and to Intermarket Communications in particular?

I was in broadcast journalism and worked for CNN, CNBC and Fox News Channel in their earliest days. The emphasis was on being fast and first. When you’re in TV news, you move from story to story so quickly that it’s hard to retain most of what you are writing, producing or reporting. After about 10 years in the business, I realized I didn’t love what I was doing anymore and really wanted to start challenging myself more. I figured public relations was a natural move and since I spent so much time covering stock market stories, I sought out PR firms that specialized in financial services and Intermarket is a major player in that space.

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

There were two things that really irked me about PR professionals when I was on the “other side”. The first was not doing enough research on the show they were pitching and the second was offering me guests they could not ultimately deliver. Those, to me, were deadly sins.

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

Many were shocked because I was on a very promising career path in broadcast journalism that was hard to give up. But they were also jealous that I’d be making more money and would not have to regularly work nights, weekends or holidays. To this day, I still get calls from journalist friends asking for advice on how to make a similar move.

What has been your biggest surprise about PR?

I’m in corporate and financial PR, which is about much more than writing press releases and pitching stories to the media. I have a stable of great clients that have given me a chance to contribute to their businesses on a very strategic level. I work with many CEOs who truly value PR and believe it’s essential to building and protecting their brands. Creativity is more important than I thought it would be and I love being able to learn new things each day. I feel like I’ve earned a real-life business degree.

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

Whether you are in journalism or PR, it’s essential to be a good storyteller. That means being able to identify what’s important, unique and new and then finding ways to effectively communicate that story in a clear and concise way.

What will you miss most about being a journalist?

There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline rush you get being in a newsroom when news breaks or during big events like Election Night for example. But being in PR allows me to talk with reporters all the time and its fun to try and fit my clients into the news cycle when appropriate. I definitely feel like my job keeps me in the mix.

Will there be time for the occasional freelance story?

No time for freelancing but I do enjoy helping my clients uncover interesting stories within their own organizations and then working with them to craft blog posts and opinion pieces. With the rise in social media, clients can sometimes skip the middle man and act as their own reporters, talking directly to their constituents.

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

I would encourage them to think long and hard about making the switch. It’s not for everybody. But I would also say it’s possible to have a very interesting, challenging and rewarding career beyond the newsroom. You’ve got to leave for the right reasons.

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

Do your homework. Study the subject matter at hand, understand what reporters are looking for and know the differences between pitching national vs. local, print vs. television or online news outlets. Make sure you always find a way to make your pitch seem relevant to current events or to the outside world. Don’t make everything a commercial for your client. Reporters can see right through it.

What do you think is the future of PR?

I’m very bullish on our industry. We live in an environment where stakeholders not only expect transparency, they demand it. PR professionals have a wonderful opportunity to help companies tell their stories and connect with customers, shareholders, regulators and other influencers in unique and creative ways. Social media adds to the possibilities. I think you are going to see PR as a major driver of business going forward.

We have an unusual name. What do you think Gorkana means?

Google is a great thing. Food for thought!


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