On Tuesday, August 30, we hosted a #connectchat featuring Michelle Mekky (@Alpaytac_PR), Vice President of Alpaytac Marketing in Chicago.
This chat was the second installation to the three-part series entitled "Making the Switch from Journalism to PR." Michelle provided her account of what it’s like to work as a journalist for over 12 years and then transition to the world of public relations.
ProfNet: This is Evelyn Tipacti, taking over @ProfNet for our chat. Our guest today is Michelle Mekky, Vice President of Alpaytac Marketing in Chicago. Hi, Michelle! Thanks for being our special guest on today's #ConnectChat!
Alpaytac_PR: Great to be here! Thanks for having me!
ProfNet: Michelle, please tell us about what you do and about your past experience as a journalist.
Alpaytac_PR: I am Vice President of Alpaytac, an award-winning international PR and Marketing firm based in Chicago. I help lead our new business development, oversee account management, PR strategy, and media training for the agency. I was formerly Senior Producer for Fox-TV in Chicago for 12 years. I started as a news writer working the 1 a.m. shift and throughout my career always woke up in the dark to get to work.
lockerpr: Let me count the reasons. @ProfNet: Why did you switch careers from broadcast journalism to PR?
Alpaytac_PR: As a Senior Producer, the days were just as long. Sometimes during breaking news, you could end up working around the clock. Once I started having kids, it began to wear on me. After working with thousands of PR people over the years & hearing every pitch under the sun, I thought once you have an insider’s perspective - you have invaluable skills that truly help in the PR world. Plus they always looked so glamorous and happy!
ProfNet: @lockerpr Thanks for joining!
charshaff: Scanning over the conversation at #ConnectChat w/ Michelle Mekky of @Alpaytac_PR. Part 2 of going from #Journalism to #PR.
ProfNet: Haha glamorous and happy was far away from me! I was behind the scenes so glamorous was never my look! Where is the crossover between journalism and PR?
Alpaytac_PR: As a journalist, you report news every day. It’s in our nature to know what is newsworthy.
ProfNet: @ charshaff Thanks for "scanning" our #connectchat! ;)
Alpaytac_PR: In PR, when you create campaigns and pitch clients - if you don’t understand how the news works, you will immediately fail. The writing skills are also a perfect match. Style may need to be adjusted a bit, but being a good writer, is essential in PR. I think the challenge for journalists though, is learning how to sell. That is something that doesn’t always come naturally.
ProfNet: Michelle, how long did it take you to get accustomed to selling?
Alpaytac_PR: I became comfortable pitching stories quickly because after all of those years being pitched I couldn't wait to do it my way. New business development took a bit longer. I would say after a year of hearing our sales pitch I started to become good at it.
PureBrandComm: What do you think of young PR pros' writing skills as of late?
ProfNet: @PureBrandComm Thanks for joining and thanks for the question.
Alpaytac_PR: @PureBrandComm Hit or miss, of course at my firm - they're very skilled! I'm noticing a lot of new grads with PR degrees have impressive skills starting out.
ProfNet: How did being a journalist prepare you for the world of PR?
Alpaytac_PR: I’ve seen a lot of interesting personalities and egos in my media career. Live TV doesn’t always bring out the best in people! It’s a stressful environment with crazy deadlines. I would often have a commercial break to write a script and get it on air. I always said once, if you can survive a newsroom you can survive the office! My media background has taught me how to work fast, multi-task, and deal with the occasional tough and demanding client. It’s the perfect preparation for PR.
ProfNet: Working in a newsroom certainly helps you develop a thick skin. You learn not to take things personally or at least try.
TeeJayV: Taught me everything that would be asked of me, in a general sense.
ProfNet: Welcome @TeeJayV!
Alpaytac_PR: Yes I will never forget when an anchor called me out in the middle of a commercial break to complain about my script! I cried and took days to recover. Thick skin these days indeed!
ProfNet: Ah the stories we could share...but won't. Were there any skills on which you needed to get up to speed?
Alpaytac_PR: Yes, definitely. As a journalist, I didn’t have a great deal of experience making presentations or using PowerPoint or Excel. In agency life, reporting’s key. There are some pretty incredible presentations developed for new business and client meetings. My best advice – brush up on your MS Office and keep up with the changing technologies new media.
TeeJayV: Definitely. A little time in journalism will make everyone a bit more tolerant.
Alpaytac_PR: @TeeJayV @ProfNet Couldn't agree more!
ProfNet: What skill is essential to do well in both professions?
TeeJayV: Answering questions, not asking. Your particular PR field (medicine). Keeping friendships with reporters separate.
Alpaytac_PR: Writing is truly key for both professions. I have learned that reporters will not read poorly written pitches. We put a huge emphasis on looking for talented writers at Alpaytac because it helps in every aspect of the job. I was trained in broadcast writing, so to transition into PR you have to dig into your creative side. I also think both professions can be extremely stressful. Being able to think on your feet and finish projects quickly is key.
TeeJayV: If you don't write well, you don't belong in either field. Just doesn't work.
ProfNet: PR practitioners are often criticized by journalists. In your view, what are the best & worst things they do when dealing with newsrooms?
Alpaytac_PR: Best: researching reporters, shows, and publications before you call and reading past articles or watching past segments. When you can comment to a producer on one of their recent pieces you instantly show that you know what you are talking about. Blind pitching was one of my pet peeves. I would get calls for the 9 p.m. news, when I was the Senior Producer in the morning. Know the times that are best to pitch. Newsrooms hate to be pitched during shows unless it’s literally breaking news. When you can speak a reporter’s language, you have their instant respect. I had my collection of great PR people who became my sources; it was really hard for me to trust new PR contacts.
PureBrandComm: Do their programs blend in more journalism curriculum? We've seen that; good things seem to emerge there.
CKisMom: Don't contact a newsroom during breaking news unless you are the breaking news. They are busy!
ProfNet: How did you develop relationships with new PR reps when you were a journalist since trust was an issue? Hi, @CKisMom!
Alpaytac_PR: If I received a great pitch and I felt like they got it, I was willing to take a chance. Sometimes you just have a gut feeling.
TeeJayV: Very true. Like any other type of relationship; why go to a stranger?
ProfNet: Do you then find it's easier for you now to develop relationships with journalists since you've been in those shoes?
Alpaytac_PR: @PureBrandComm I've seen it a little bit, but not often. Perhaps it's a growing trend, which would be great.
TeeJayV: Absolutely. To a degree, you know what they want to hear. Less beating around the bush and wasted time.
Alpaytac_PR: Yes it's funny that was one of my opening lines that always helped me break through. Once I told them I was a producer, it was like I was an accepted member of the family! So I teach my staff to at least try to speak the journalist's language while pitching to help them land a placement.
ProfNet: Do you feel you have an advantage over most PR practitioners because you know both sides when it comes to the media?
Alpaytac_PR: I do feel that I have an advantage. Past reporters or producers who transition into PR truly know the news. You just have a gut feeling in your stomach if that pitch will land. At Alpaytac, when we create campaigns for our clients, we have a mix of past journalists and big agency backgrounds. It’s a mix that is extremely helpful and I believe truly gives us an edge.
ProfNet: Did you ever think of doing freelance reporting/producing while also doing PR? Do you think it's possible to do both?
Alpaytac_PR: I have, but I think it would be incredibly difficult – and not only because I’m extremely busy. It would be tough to stay objective. I would want to write about my clients all the time.
ProfNet: Do you think journalists make the best PR people...or the worst?
Alpaytac_PR: You definitely can’t get away with being as crabby as we used to be in the newsroom, but yes, I do believe journalists make great PR people. It’s a completely natural transition for most.
OffThe_Record: Can be good for telling stories, but more skills needed. RT @profnet: Do you think journalists make the best/worst #PR people?
ProfNet: @OffThe_Record Thanks for joining today's #connectchat.
Alpaytac_PR: @OffThe_Record I agree it's not always a completely smooth transition. The bigger the agency, the more you will have to learn.
MWilliamsRHMR: Extremely difficult to do freelance reporting/producing & PR. Your ability to do either well will suffer.
ProfNet: Michelle, are you comfortable being the one who sells a story as opposed to being the one who buys it?
Alpaytac_PR: I’m comfortable selling a story as long as I believe in it. You have to believe your client is the perfect expert for the piece or has the perfect feature for that magazine. If you don’t believe it yourself, it’s much harder to be a natural.
ProfNet: Hi there, @MWilliamsRHMR! Welcome to #connectchat.
Alpaytac_PR: @MWilliamsRHMR It would be so difficult to be unbiased. In PR we can't stop thinking about our clients!
MariyamAli: Oh PR and journalism totally compliment each other!
spaetow: @Alpaytac_PR @MWilliamsRHMR Develop schizophrenia, then it's not difficult... ;-)
ProfNet: Welcome @MariyamAli and @spaetow!
BethHawksPR: The secret is to only take clients you believe in & who will listen.
Alpaytac_PR: @spaetow Good tip! Not sure I can pull that off although my husband might disagree.
ProfNet: Hi, @BethHawksPR! Welcome to #connectchat.
ProfNet: What was the toughest thing for you about your transition?
Alpaytac_PR: When I first transitioned into PR, the hardest thing for me to get used to was my phone not ringing right off that bat. As a producer, I was bombarded by pitch calls and emails – hundreds a day. And I will never forget my first day in PR.
spaetow: @BethHawksPR @Alpaytac_PR #connectchat All too true, Beth. And yes, being compartmentalized in your functions is tough to pull off.
Alpaytac_PR: My phone sat silent and I received about 10 emails. I thought to myself, “Am I not popular? What happened to my PR friends?”
spaetow: @BrittaniWood @ProfNet @Alpaytac_PR #connectchat It's difficult to know their language when you are completely self-taught.
ProfNet: I'm sure most who've made the transition from journalism to pr have thought the same thing. What surprised you the most when you made the switch?
Alpaytac_PR: How much I truly enjoyed it and how natural it was for me to sell. I didn’t know I had that in me.
ProfNet: Was it difficult to adjust and how did you do it?
Alpaytac_PR: Any new job is a difficult adjustment especially a completely different career. You can doubt yourself and your abilities. As I met with clients and began pitching/landing stories - I realized my media experience was exactly what I needed to succeed.
ProfNet: Do you ever miss working in television?
Alpaytac_PR: There are days I do miss it. I miss the instant gratification of seeing a segment I worked hard on, air live and go well. I also made some really close friendships working in that environment and I miss those colleagues. It’s been great to see some of them become network anchors and reporters. My newsroom friendships will always be strong.
spaetow: But for journalists this is especially true, isn't it? I mean, that's your life blood right there.
janeco: I have no problems doing both PR & reporting; latter keeps skills fresh.
spaetow: True I would like to say we actually both need each other! So important we both get along.
Alpaytac_PR: @janeco I admire you!
ProfNet: Hi @janeco and @JYocca!
Alpaytac_PR: @JYocca We'll check it out after the chat and let you know. Thanks for the info.
ProfNet: What can a pr practitioner learn from a journalist?
Alpaytac_PR: Journalists can teach PR practitioners why ideas may not always be news and how a softer sell can lead to tremendous coverage.
ProfNet: In reverse, what can a journalist learn from a PR practitioner?
Alpaytac_PR: A journalist can learn that PR people are here to help them. Some of my best segments came through PR people. I want reporters to see us as sources to make their jobs easier.
spaetow: Like Jane I have no problems doing either, although I still need to get the PR angle right more.
ProfNet: Michelle, would you recommend getting a degree in PR/marketing or is the school of experience best?
BethHawksPR: I think most do. RT @Alpaytac_PR: I want reporters to see us as sources to make their jobs easier.
Alpaytac_PR: I generally do recommend either a degree in PR/marketing or journalism. Those that can adapt quickly and fit in really do best. There isn’t much time for training on the job. So the stronger and more relevant your background, the easier you can grow. Though sometimes, depending on the firm’s client base, other backgrounds can help. I have a very talented colleague who studied psychology and it truly helps in management and agency functions as well!
ProfNet: Michelle, this has been a wonderful #connectchat. Thanks for being such a great guest and for the very helpful information.
janeco: Thanks! Was first an editor/writer before moving into PR. Coming from news side was a big help in pitching editors.
ProfNet: Thanks to all of you who joined and participated!
Alpaytac_PR: Thanks and goodbye everyone. It was an honor to be with you all!
spaetow: Thank you for the insights, Michelle. Much appreciated.
OffThe_Record: Yeah, my advice to journalists turned #PR pros is think outside of media relations. More to the gig than that.
kellyinsf: You don't need #PR degree. Those with specialty degree or technical knowledge in client's industry excel too.