Public relations and journalism are not the same. Although many people confuse the two industries, they serve different purposes. Journalists go out and get newsworthy content and report it for their audience. PR practitioners create newsworthy content based on their client and release it to the client’s public. However, the two have one main common denominator: the art of storytelling.
In the past month and a half, I’ve had the opportunity to have two internships, one in public relations and one in journalism. Though public relations is where my heart lies, I was excited to get the chance to gain some valuable experience as a journalist. I have been working as a public relations intern with Sullivan Branding for a little over a month, but I took a 12-day hiatus from being a PR practitioner to report news for the 2017 National Senior Games in Birmingham. My responsibility for that internship was to interview senior athletes and write stories about the athletes on The Games Daily News online publication. Interviewing someone was something I had very little experience in. Going from working with clients who have stories to tell me to being on my own and having to find a story was a daunting task.
While my responsibilities in both internships have been very different, I have learned so much about storytelling. It is one of the most important aspects of both industries. Without storytelling, it’s hard to engage with your public. Based on my experiences, I believe there are four main areas when it comes to storytelling where journalism and public relations overlap, and I’ve had experiences dealing with each of these areas this summer.
No matter how you get the information for your story, you’re the one who has to create the story for your audience.
PR: I had to write a case study for a client and recreate their success story with one of their clients into this format. Dissecting the story and creating the components of the case study was hard, especially from an outside standpoint and knowing little about their industry, but I was able to do it and find that message they would want to convey.
Journalism: While working at the National Senior Games, I would have to tell the stories of athletes who were complete strangers to me in a way that would do their story justice. I spent many hours thinking of ways to convey a story, whether it be about a couple who has recently started competing in pickleball together, or a woman who still competes in racewalking in her 80s.
It’s your responsibility to get the story to your audience.
PR: I have done so much pitching to journalists in my time at Sullivan Branding that I feel like a pro now! For PR practitioners, getting the story to your public mainly goes through journalists. You pitch stories to journalists and publications so they’ll get the message out to your target audience. I have sent many emails to journalists in hopes they’ll pick up the stories I have to tell about our clients.
Journalism: Working for The Games Daily News, I had to write my story and then give it to my supervisor, who either posted it on the publication’s website or held it as an extra story to potentially post if needed. My stories needed to be worthy of being posted, since these athletes I met deserved to have their stories told. For example, I met a man who has had Parkinson’s Disease for seven years, but continues to play pickleball. When he plays, his tremors almost completely stop, and his activity level has helped slow the progression of the disease. His message is something everyone should have a chance to hear.
Make sure the story connects with your target audience.
PR: All of the clients I have worked with this summer are in different industries ranging from logistics to medical, housing, etc. They each have different target audiences. It is important for us to tailor messages in press releases or campaigns toward that specific audience. It has been so fun for me this summer to learn a little about all of these different industries and practice tailoring messages to specific publics.
Journalism: All of the senior athletes at The Games had a special story. My audiences were senior athletes, families of senior athletes and people who supported The Games. I knew they’d want to read heartfelt stories, so I had to make sure all of the stories I wrote were ones that would grab the reader’s attention and connect with them on an emotional level. When I interviewed a man who has set multiple records for The National Senior Games in swimming, he informed me he was also a comedian. I used one of his jokes in the story I wrote about him to help the audience connect to him and spark happiness as they read it.
Get your facts straight.
PR: I have sat in on many conference calls and a couple of in-person meetings with clients where we discussed what was happening with their businesses and clarified any facts we needed for press releases or case studies. Losing credibility as a PR practitioner, or even a journalist, is probably the worst thing for your career, so I have learned a lot about the importance of checking your facts and sources.
Journalism: I interviewed so many people at The Games, and I wanted to get their stories 100 percent accurate. A lot of what us interns wrote in our stories were quotes, because we knew our audience would want to read the athletes’ own words. Luckily, all of the athletes were fine with me recording our interviews so that I could tell the story, in mostly, their dialogue.
Although the two industries are very different, and at times butt heads, they both have to master the art of storytelling in order to be successful at what they do.
Read some of my stories from The National Senior Games here.