Posted At: April 9, 2008 12:10 PM
by Mary Elizabeth Roberson
While in college, students always complain about the amount of writing courses that they have to take in order to get a degree in public relations. Many see these classes as mundane and useless. These students find themselves asking, “Do we really need to know this?” The answer is yes.
No matter what area of public relations you enter, you will have to do a great deal of writing and it is very likely that you will work with the news media and journalists at some point. It is important to know how journalists work in order to build important relationships with them and, in turn, to get your stories out. So what is the best way to do this? Have experience in journalism.
Before Michael Sznajderman became the senior communications strategist at Alabama Power Company, he started off in journalism with experiences including positions as an editorial writer for The Birmingham News, a Washington correspondent for the Tampa Tribune and a copy editor for the Japan Times in Tokyo. He did not realize how much his experience in journalism would help him in public relations.
Sznajderman acquired many skills while working in journalism, including curiosity and the desire to “break” stories, good writing skills and the ability to break down complex issues into simple, explanatory writing.
After 18 years of experience in journalism, Sznajderman was ready for a change and turned to the field of public relations. Sznajderman looked for a job in PR and found an opening at Alabama Power that was a good fit.
“While my title as senior communications strategist has not changed in some time, it involves many ‘jobs’,” said Sznajderman. “These include reputation manager; event planner; community liaison; company spokesperson; writer of press releases, speeches, video scripts, promotional materials, talking points, slogans, etc.; editor; design consultant and message constructor.”
While working in PR, Sznajderman found that the same characteristics essential to be successful in journalism, also held true for a career in PR.
“The skills I needed in journalism, I also needed in PR,” said Sznajderman. “You still have to have curiosity and passion, or at least a sincere interest, in what you are doing and the desire to learn.”
Sznajderman has seen many benefits from working in both journalism and PR; the most beneficial to him has been his experience with the media.
“My years in journalism help me understand what is truly a story that we can sell to the media,” said Sznajderman. “It helps me understand their needs, their deadlines and pressures and helps me gauge the impact of our activities through the prism of the media.”
According to Sznajderman, while it is important to have good writing skills and a passion for what you are doing, it is also imperative that you have a “good moral compass.”
“I view myself as much a ‘reputation manager’ as a PR person,” said Sznajderman. “A big part of my job in defending and enhancing the reputation of the power company is in advising our employees and executives about the importance of doing the right thing, and what our actions would look like if they are written up in the newspaper. That’s a pretty good barometer for keeping us on the track.”
So, how are the two fields of PR and journalism linked? Both fields require excellent writing skills and the ability to process information quickly. A broad knowledge of issues and current events and the ability to work with people and to communicate effectively are also needed.
“While a career in journalism is not necessary to be successful in PR,” Sznajderman explains, “in both careers, honesty, integrity, accuracy, keeping your promises and doing your homework are the hallmarks of the true professionals.”
Have you had experience in journalism that has helped you in public relations? If so, how?