At a recent Public Relations Society of America event, I met a young job seeker looking to break into the PR world.
The job seeker, Barbara Scurry, mentioned a PR niche she was potentially interested in, and a God-awful interview I had last year with an agency focused on that niche came to mind.
Here’s the all-too-true story:
An in-house recruiter calls me out of the blue after seeing my profile on LinkedIn. She says I was a potential great fit for a senior-level position at the agency she contracts with. We schedule a phone interview.
The interview goes glowingly. I agree to a formal interview, in person, with the CEO. I’m thinking, while I love my job, a position with that level of management is a challenge I’m up for.
Over the next week, I learn everything I can about the agency, its market, its clients. I spend time thinking about my own strategies if hired, what I bring to the table, what my management style is, and so on.
Only I never get to talk about those things.
That’s because the entire interview consists of the CEO grilling me on why he thinks my credentials aren’t up to snuff. “We have at least a few Senior Account Executives with more agency experience than you,” the CEO says. “Why should I bring you in at a higher position?”
Honest question…but didn’t you call me? I think. I explain why I’m cut out for the position.
The CEO says things like, “Former reporters don’t know how to write press releases. I’ve found they can’t deal with the massive amounts of back and forth it takes with the client.”
I tell the interviewer I’ve written more releases than I can count, including some for law firms. “You don’t get a more fine-tooth-combed eye than an attorney,” I say.
The CEO then says something that really takes me for a loop. “You’d think former reporters would make good PR people, but I just don’t think they do.”
You’d think it because it’s logical, and, in many cases, true, I think. I find myself articulating why the agency would want someone with journalism experience. At this point, I’m pretty certain I don’t want to work there.
This goes on and on. I never get to talk about the things I prepared for. I only get to ask about three questions at the end. I leave the interview feeling, “What in the hell just happened?”
A few days ago, I had a discussion with a former journalist who became a VP at a major agency. He said he’s often had to proselytize that journalism experience should be equal to agency experience.
But…do journalists actually make better PR people?
Often, they do. Sometimes, they don’t.
Many journalists think PR consists solely of flacks sitting around a table scheming to get stories pitched. It’s much, much more than that. There’s business strategy, marketing strategy, social media, messaging. There’s a lot of creativity involved. There’s the ego thing–being the pitcher instead of the pitchee. Then, there’s account management. I learned this is far more difficult than managing sources. It was a learning curve for sure. Some journalists may not be cut out for it.
But I will say this: A year of quality journalism experience is easily equal to a year of major agency work. I’d rather take a person any day of the week with six years of reporting / editing and three years of small agency / consulting experience over any recent college grad with only three years of major agency experience.
News judgment, especially business-news judgment, for the most part is learned with experience. I can tell you that from the years of horrible pitches I’ve received as a reporter. Further, former journalists know it’s about being a resource during times they don’t have a story to pitch.
It’s a no-brainer. For me at least. If you want communications strategies based on real-world experience, and more quality news coverage, my advice is to hire some people who actually know what a newsroom looks like.