WRITE STUFF: 15 pieces of advice for journalists heading to a career in PR

23106362469_a553484d8b_bSo, what is the difference was between journalism and PR? I’ve stopped and asked myself the question this week. I’ve been thinking of how to explain the difference.

For 12-years I was a journalist and rose to become assistant chief reporter of a daily regional newspaper. Back then I would have told you that the difference was news was everything they don’t want you to know. The rest is PR, I’d have said.

Eight years on and director of my own company I know the difference is more to it than that just a lack of shouting news editors and no double murders.

The truth is that if there was a Venn diagram, there would be surprising little between the two. At best, it’s a common use of the English language and the knowledge that news is people. And people like to read about people.

Here are 15 differences

A yardstick of success. As a journalist, your measure is if you’ve got the front page. Failing that, it’s a healthy number of pageleads. As a comms person, it’s a number of things. Chiefly, being able to show the material difference your content has made. The number of foster carers recruited, for example.

Criticism. I say this with love, knowing journalists will take umbrage. There is nobody so thin skinned as a journalist. I knew this when I was one. I know it now too. As a comms person you are like a sniper in no man’s land. Under fire from all sides. Your organisation and those outside will throw things at you.

Professional regard. Journalists are special. Not trusted, especially. But special. They have a Press bench and a Press pass. Doors open. Comms people have a daily battle to have their opinion listened to. Solicitors? Planning inspectors? Doctors? Their word is law. But anyone with spell check and clipart thinks they are a comms person.

Audience. A journalist, in the words of a former colleague only half in jest ‘tries to make old people scared to leave their homes.’ They used to have one main channel. Like the printed newspaper or radio bulletin. Now they have to use more. A comms person needs to know as many of the 40 different skills as possible.

Skills. While the reporter needs more skills now than ever the PR or comms person needs to draw either individually or across a team up to 40 skills.

Diplomacy. A journalist can smile politely and ask why the chief executive has failed to build 100 homes on time. A comms person needs the tact to talk through the implications of how that failure will play out and suggest a course of action.

There are no jacks under it. As a journalist, I’d be encouraged to make a story a bit more exciting by ‘putting the jacks under it.’ Outrage, slam, row. As a comms person you play it straight. You stick to the facts which are always sacred.

Accuracy. Now, here’s a thing. I was more accurate as a PR person than a journalist. There. I’ve said it. The news desk request to write a story to fit a pre-determined idea is a thing. I’ve done it. In comms and PR you need to be certain of your ground or you become the story.

A difference. A journalist can try and make a difference by holding power to account. A comms person can make a difference by drawing up the right content in the right place at the right time.

Planning. Long term planning on newspapers was often tomorrow. The concept of a comms plan to work out the business priority, the audience and the channel is alien.

Obsolescence. The journalist suffers from being in an industry whose business model is being re-invented and as a result there are casualties. Comms as an area is developing.

Hours. Long hours to make sure the paper is filled are common on newspapers – who are often renamed media companies. Hours in comms and PR are long. But it’s rare to be stood outside a burning factory in Smethwick, I find.

Writing. Just because you can write for a newspaper doesn’t mean you can write for the web. Or Facebook or Snapchat.

Your employer and your ethics. You bat for your employer as  a PR person. But you bat for your ethics first. At times you have to know your ground and say a firm ‘no.’

Innovation. There can’t be a more exciting time to be a comms person than now. The internet has tipped up old certainties. The tools we can use are evolving and the guidebook on how to use them you can write yourself. How good is that?

Like many former journalists, I admire good journalism. But don’t anyone think that being a reporter and being a press officer or a PR person are remotely the same.

Picture credit: Mattiece David / Flickr

VIDEO LINK TOO: Incident video footage from firefighters’ body-worn cameras is as good as you think it’ll be

A few days ago I posted about how a straight forward car fire could play out as video.

You can read it here. It talks about the impact of some content shot on a smartphone and posted by a firefighter.

Following from that, a firefighter tweeted this YouTube footage that goes one better. It’s brilliant. It’s shot from a body camera worn by a watch commander. It shows them directing the response to the fire and the impact of the housefire.

It’s powerful as-live content. You can see it here:

As West Midlands Fire Service say, this pilot is becoming adopted service-wide in the New Year.

What’s the advantage? Brilliant content that captures an incident as it develops. As body camera footage this doesn’t get in the way. There is no issue of a firefighter breaking off from what they are doing just to film. There’s also the benefit of good quality footage that can be used for training and internally as well as shared online and on TV.

To a former journalist like myself, I’m fascinated at how the round of phone calls to fire stations is being replaced by a round of social media checks.

A downside? It’s possible that downloading the film, editing and uploading may prove fiddly. But do the benefits outweigh this? It would seem so.

Would this work elsewhere? It’s tricky to see how day-to-day police, NHS, housing or ambulance footage could be used if people were included on the content. Yet, this Oldham Council video with a Go-Pro does give a taste.

Class, be more like West Midlands Fire Service.

I can’t wait to see the content that emerges from it.

WRITE LINES: Of course poetry is good communications, it goes for the heart


Poetry? In good communications?

There’s a few lines of verse I have to be careful with because when I read them my eyes always fill  with stinging tears. I can’t help myself.

You may know them. They are from AE Houseman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’. He was inspired to write them after climbing the Clent Hills in North Worcestershire and looking towards Shropshire in the distance.

They are lines filled with a sense of loss. Soldiers in the First World War often took them with them into the trenches. Wilfred Owen carried a copy with him.

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

I was reminded by this by an unconference session at GCS North in Manchester earlier today. Poetry in communications was floated as a session idea almost as an afterthought. Feel a lump in the throat? I do.

Here are two surprising things. First, Houseman never knew Shropshire well. He was from Bromsgrove. He would see the hills in the far-off distance to him they were a place that were just out-of-reach. Second, Houseman for all the passion of those lines was outwardly a cold man. An academic of the Classics he was an unemotional fish. But he believed that poetry works best when it aimed at the heart and the emotions. I think he’s right.

All too often creativity is squeezed out of a comms job, one person remarked.

Yet, a piece of creative writing can – at times – connect better with people than the formal tone.

There is a tremendous video used to promote Dublin that marries spoken word poetry with images. It’s a powerful thing. You can see it here.

It goes back to the heart v head argument I’ve written about before.

But poetry can also serve to articulate something. One attendee at the session with a condition remarked that writing verse about his condition helped him articulate it in a way he couldn’t in conversation. Another said that a back-to-work colleague overcoming depression once communicated through a poem as she felt awkward talking about it.

If you are struggling to find the right words poetry to appeal to the heart could help you.

Picture credit: Mark Peate / Flickr

PAPER LOVE: Seven local newspaper stories… I cried at number two and you’ll never believe number six


chairLocal newspapers, like the mob, has a habit of pulling me back.

For 12-years I worked on local papers writing whole forest-pulping amounts of stories on everything from table-top sales to triple murders.

More than a decade since I sent my last nib the industry keeps tugging at my coat tails.

Today, I read an earnest defence of local newspapers blogged by Ian Carter. You can read it here. In it, he defends the industry against the accusation of clickbait, listicles and falling standards. In particular he siezes on a well-documented story of a frontpage story of an out-of-date pasty being sold. It’s five years ago. Or, rather as this is newspapers there are CAPITAL LETTERS to show OUTRAGE:

“As part of the case for the prosecution, he digs out a story published five years – FIVE YEARS! – ago by the Folkestone Herald.”

Hey, maybe Ian is right. So, I’d like to share some more contemporary work in the style of a listical featured in the excellent Angry People in Local Newspapers Facebook page you can see here.

Seven local newspaper stories… I cried at number two and you’ll never believe number six

  1. CHAIR DESTROYED – Westmorland Gazette. It’s all kicking off in Kendal. However, the anonymous spokesman would have offended my old news editor greatly.
  2. CARNFORTH CIVIC HALL GETS NEW VACUUM CLEANER – Westmorland Gazette. Yet again, the Gazette is on the money. But no picture of the new Henry? Shoddy work!
  3. POLICE NOTICEBOARD LOCKCHANGE ROW ERUPTS – Wigan Today. Can nobody stop 2016 from being such a year? Bonus point for glum man next to the noticeboard.
  4. RESIDENTS PLUNGED INTO DARKNESS AFTER STREETLIGHTS TURNED OFF AN HOUR EARLIER – Lincolnshire Live. Never turned off. Always plunged. Good work.
  5. AN UN-BEAR-LIEVABLE SNAPSHOT! – Cambrian News Can I see the teddy bear in the sky like this one lucky reader? No, I can’t actually.
  6. CREME BRULEE TERROR – North West Evening Mail The very WORST kind of terror.

So, join me to jump for joy, raise a glass to fine quality local journalism and look sad next to a pothole. There is a post I’ll write on newspapers and where they feature in 2016. This isn’t it.



BLOGVEMBER: A blog a day experiment and a viral dog video

Seven years ago I started to blog and everything that I do now is influenced by that decision.

I’m changing the way I blog.  Just as an experiment for November first. Maybe for good. Maybe not.

After talking with Ben Proctor and being impressed by Amanda Coleman and @gwynnek I’m going to post something every day. Sometimes on comms2point0. Sometimes on LinkedIn. Always here.

What is blogging? It’s thinking something through publicly, then keeping a public record of it to share.

Why change? Because I want to see what impact it has on how I do things. And because I quite fancy a place to develop half-thought thoughts as short reads or possibly longer. For the past couple of years I’ve been writing about things that I’m running a workshop or a session on. That’s fine. But I’d like to expand beyond that too.

Why #blogvember? Because a month feels achievable. Some content every day.

Why a dog video? Becuase I really don’t like reading pronouncements from other people about how they use social media. Just do it, chap. Go on. But this public declaration just to myself is sugared with a viral dog video just for you.


Just look at the little chap’s face.

PUBLIC PRAISE: ‘I can sleep easier at night thanks to a press officer.’

This is the greatest thing you’ll have seen about public sector communications in a long time.

A tweet from Unison featuring a poster celebrating the back-office staff who play and under recognised role in making the UK a better place.

It reminded me how long it’s been since I’ve seen something that publicly praised communications people. Or the public sector.

All too often run down by people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing they carry on.

Putting in the extra time, going the extra mile, thinking up new ways of communicating because they want to do their job better.

I spent eight years in the public sector and was always struck at the hard work and dedication I found. Often from people who were not recognised. I’m the third generation of my family who has worked in the public sector and you know what? I’m proud of that. In my heart I haven’t left.

So, if you are a press officer, communications officer, manager, head of comms, marketing assistant or digital specialist working anywhere in the public sector ‘thank you.’

Keep doing brilliant things.

And thank you Unison for shining a light on the work they do.

Can we have more of this, please?

Cheers to Antony Tiernan for spotting and sharing this image.


LOVE ACTUALLY: When you’re communicating head v heart, heart wins

24959597261_299c0c94d4_b“How?” said one person in the packed room. “How the hell did that happen?”

More than 20 people were crammed into a small room with a dozen chairs at commscamp in Birmingham for the topic on Brexit.

After 40-minutes of pulling apart the claim, counter-claim and post-fact democracy one moment of clarity emerged of how the campaign ended as it did.

Leave won because they appealed to the heart not the head.

Remain lost because they appealed to the head.

As a piece of clarity it’s drifted into my head several times since.

That big pile of numbers you’re trying to communicate? Can you find something that appeals to the heart?

Stop. Think of times when you’ve been moved by the heart. Me? More than 12-months ago the refugee found that when three-year-old Aylan Kurdi drowned and was fetched from the surf by a policeman.

In the US, the family of the dead war veteran Donald Trump picked on appealed to the heart too.

Look around you and you’ll find more.

The ability to understand with the head but tell a story to appeal to the heart is priceless for someone looking to communicate.

Do you?

Picture credit: Bex Walton / Flickr