A journalist learns to love his unexpected career in PR

June 16, 2015

Writer’s block is such a pain.

I encounter it at different points every day, and, more often than not, spending a second or two away from the page gets me started again. Sometimes, though, it’s worse than that, and I try to re-read something I wrote previously to remind myself, “You’ve done this before. Relax and keep typing.” Last week, a piece came up that I didn’t necessarily struggle to write. I really just didn’t want to. Any writer who says he enjoys writing is lying at least part of the time. We don’t always like writing. We like having written. It makes us feel good, like we’ve done something. So, when I struggled to get started on this piece, I opened up the last thing I ever wrote for my college newspaper – my senior column. I’d link to it here, but I imagine none of you care what 23-year-old me had to say about almost anything.

Reading the piece made me laugh a bit. I prattled on and on for 800 words or so about my hopes and dreams and how I decided journalism was the profession for me in the first place. When I finished, my only thought was how mad 23-year-old Joe would be with 29-year-old Joe. I wanted to be a reporter. The kind we see in movies, not the kind that actually exists. Six years later, here I am, writing case studies for B2B tech companies and 1,500-word articles about cyber security systems as part of a public relations and marketing firm in Boston. And that was just Monday. Tuesday came with a press release for a marketing technology company and a 700-word piece about integrating different apps for better customer service and sales processes. The worst part of all? I like it. A lot actually.

There’s this perceived divide between the two professions that I understand in a way. Journalism is about finding the truth. PR is about shaping it. Or, that’s what everyone thinks. That’s what I thought, too. A career as a reporter is a noble profession. It’s difficult, endlessly frustrating and never pays nearly as much as it should. My friends are reporters. They love their jobs, most of the time. The funny thing about PR is that nearly every person I’ve met genuinely loves what they do, too.

Our clients are entrepreneurs and enterprises in industries of all kinds, but there’s one major thing they all have in common. They want their companies to do well because they believe in their missions. When someone who took a major chance to pursue his dreams hands you the keys to his company’s image, you own that. It’s a massive undertaking that must be treated with care and respect. No matter which part of the job you’re doing – pitching a storyline, staffing an analyst briefing or trying to help a product manager find her voice in 700 words or fewer – the responsibility is significant. That wasn’t what I wanted six years ago when I left college for the final time. It didn’t take long for me to get into it, though.

I leave here some days, and call my parents. Just checking in the way every other 20-something doesn’t do nearly as much as he should. My mother and my father both ask me to explain what I did at work that day each time I call. The next 5 minutes are always painful. My parents were both born before 1960, and the Internet isn’t exactly something they understand. After trying to articulate the reason I do everything I do around here, I always fall back to the same thought, “Today, I helped our clients reach a goal.”

Sometimes that means writing articles for contribution to publications, other times it means putting together a case study or writing a press release to highlight company news or momentum. It means something different every day.

When I was 23, I wanted to be a reporter, and I didn’t care about anything else. I’m 29 now, and I work at a PR firm. It’s true that I thought I had my career path well figured out. However, I didn’t really understand what I wanted to do. Journalism isn’t about writing. It’s about telling people the information they need to make up their minds. That’s really it. Public relations isn’t all that different. There’s a different approach to the information, of course, but it’s still only about doing our best to tell important stories.

There’s at least one other thing the jobs have in common – writer’s block is still a pain.


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