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“Where the &%$# is that assignment?” Transitioning From Journalist to PR Professional
Journalists have a well-deserved reputation for swearing that would make a longshoreman blush. Guilty. That’s not to say they don’t know how to tone it down when appropriate. But there’s a different standard of acceptable language in public relations that doesn’t exist in a newsroom.
Spoken and written words in the public relations world are of utmost importance. They could mean the difference between success and failure; PR professionals must be polished and polite when dealing with both clients and peers (particularly junior staffers). I quickly learned in PR that I can’t be as brutally direct. Saying, “The client is expecting a quick turnaround on this assignment, so could you please make every effort to expedite it as soon as possible?” will work far better in my new role than, “Do it now,” which works much better in a newsroom, where less is more.
The Huffington Post recently reported that “the use of expletives in the workplace helps enhance group solidarity and serves as a mechanism for stress relief,” according to the study conducted by researchers at the University of East Anglia. And while that may be true, I think everyone can agree that dropping a swear word at a client meeting would have the opposite effect.
Newsrooms are not the smoke-filled, alcohol-fueled pressure cookers they once were, but they can still be volatile workplaces where folks get into shouting matches over words and their search of the truth. It’s passionate. By definition, public relations professionals work out differences, align messages and negotiate positive outcomes. It’s not surprising that some people find the transition unbalancing. However, good journalists are able to assess situations and act accordingly to get what they want. It is by honing this skill that they can turn themselves into effective professional communicators.
This skill needs to be applied across the entire spectrum of the public relations field, from email communications to meetings with clients and their audiences. Well-thought-out language that is carefully delivered, even in an interoffice email, can mean the difference between getting the result you desire and getting ignored. This is true whether it’s directed at colleagues or clients.
I personally checked my language upon starting with H+K, knowing that salty language most probably wasn’t smiled upon. Furthermore, I curbed my tendency to be short with directions and responses when it came to assignments. In my previous life, reporters knew when to ask for more information and when to keep quiet when it came to approaching a stressed-out editor. Much more patience is required in the public relations field as I am now in more of a mentor role than ever before. There’s much to be gained by embracing that role, both for me and my junior colleagues.
Journalists who are able to alter their previous personas and channel that passion for language into a different kind of strategic approach will be the ones who succeed in the public relations world. It’s still passionate, but just in more refined language!