What a Degree in Journalism Taught Me About Public Relations

How can a background in journalism help you in PR?

By Melissa Lewelling
The Hoffman Agency, San Jose

Choose wisely, because the rest of your professional life hangs on this one decision …” is not what I heard when choosing my major for college.

In fact, the adults in my life were so insistent that I would change my major at least twice, they almost seemed to encourage it. Instead, I decided to stick with one major, but remain flexible and seek versatile skills and experience — and it’s proven to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

Let there be no misgivings: the transition from student journalist to entry-level PR professional was not entirely bump-free, as I imagine transitioning between any two fields has some sort of learning curve. Additionally, there is nothing wrong with actually majoring in public relations, if that’s the field you hope to work in one day.”

However, because of its widely applicable skill development, graduating with a degree in journalism has its PR benefits too, especially if you managed to take a couple of PR courses, or minor in PR, along the way. Here are just a few of the things my degree in multimedia journalism taught me about public relations:

1. It’s All About the People

People are the No. 1 focus for any journalist. Without a face or an anecdote, a story is just facts and figures. Similarly, people should be the No. 1 focus in any public relations campaign because the way your business’ products and services impact the lives of others is the real heart of any announcement (although this is a lesson that some business-to-business communicators seem to still be learning).

 2. Edit Like Your Comma Could Kill

Well not really — that’s a little dramatic — but writing and editing are just as important in public relations as they are in journalism, although not all of your content will be out there for the world to see the way a news article is. Between the briefing sheets, pitch development and even client relations, PR produces a lot of content – and it’s just as important that every piece is in tip-top shape. Additionally, if using the wrong adjective or a boring introduction could mean the difference between getting coverage for your client or not, good writing skills can remain a life-or-death asset (at least for that article).

3. Find the Story — and Convey Why it Matters

Admittedly this is a lesson I’m still working on in my pitch writing, but it’s an important one. The same way journalists have to capture a reader’s attention in less than 10 seconds and give them a reason to stay, public relations professionals have to prove to a journalist in 5 seconds that they have something of value to offer and give the writer a reason to want to speak with their client. Digging through content to reveal a gem that sums up the entire story — and being able to convey it correctly — is a skill that applies to communications in any field, but especially journalism and public relations.

At the end of the day, any major with transferable skills such as writing and networking can be an asset, especially in communications, so don’t let your degree limit your professional dreams. Take a step back to connect the dots, and then just go for it.

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