When Worlds Collide

I haven't always been in the public relations world. I started my career as a journalist and spent 11 years writing and reporting stories ranging from hard news to features. When I made the jump to "the other side," PR, I heard again and again from friends how much easier the job would be for me since I had a news background. I had my doubts. Everything in the PR world seemed completely foreign to me at first, from setting up briefings to writing pitch notes. I started wondering whether there would ever be a correlation between what I'd done in my "old life" and my new career. This past week, it happened - big time.
 
First, a little background. A client of ours, Arbella Insurance, has been working for close to two years on a major effort to educate young drivers on the dangers of distracted driving. The end result is pretty impressive: a 36 foot long mobile classroom which houses two state-of-the-art driving simulators, which give teens a real-life lesson in what can happen when you multi-task at the wheel. Arbella plans to take the "Distractology 101" tour across Massachusetts to train 10,000 new drivers in the next three years.
 
To help introduce the program to the public, we planned a press conference to officially kick off the tour. We spent about six weeks preparing for the event, and to be honest, in the beginning I wondered why it would possibly take that long to plan an event that would last a total of thirty minutes. I had a lot to learn. The next several weeks taught me a lot about how much planning is required to ensure a successful press event, from drafting FAQ documents to prepping the location, and even finding a pair of giant scissors for the ribbon cutting (surprisingly pricey). In my experience, journalists often take for granted just how much effort has been spent organizing the event. They usually swoop in, get what they need and hurry back to the newsroom (I did the same thing for years), often leaving the press kit behind as an afterthought. As I was assembling our press kits before our event, I silently chastised myself for all those times I threw similar kits away after barely looking at them. I had absolutely no idea how much thought and effort went into every handout.
 
It was especially strange to find myself on the other side while making confirmation calls to local TV stations the morning of the event, to find out if they were planning on sending crews. I remember many mornings in the newsroom, answering the phone and rolling my eyes when another PR person wanted to know if we'd be covering his/her event. When I was the one making those calls, holding up the start of the press conference while I was on hold, praying for a "yes" answer from the assignment editors, it was a different story. I got it. I understood the frantic worry of whether any reporters would show.  When I got the dreaded "sorry, we have breaking news and don't have a crew to spare," I found myself huffing and puffing, tempted to ask what breaking news could possibly be more important than our press conference.
 
Thankfully, I calmed down and we had a fantastic event with great media turnout. But the experience gave me pause about how little understanding journalists and PR professionals have of one another sometimes. So to all you reporters out there - will you promise to actually take a look at my press kit, if I swear I won't bug you with repeated calls to your assignment desk? Maybe then we can all find a happy medium.
 
Contributed by Amy Erickson. Follow her @amyerickson.