Journo Bloodbath Opens Up Comm Talent Pool

The recent news of Saul Hansell’s joining AOL as programming director for and recent round of journo layoff bloodbath has re-sparked some interesting conversations.
Everyone I’ve talked with shakes their head in sadness over media’s current demise. Some of my favorite tech journalists have been laid off and several I know personally are surveying non-reporting options: business school; marcom or “PR” jobs; total change of industry; not worrying about it until half the severance is gone…Their system is broken in similar ways to the PR industry, especially agencies. Most have management that wasn’t thinking ahead and are now behind on having digital strategies; overhead is killing both – it’s expensive to have offices and full-time employees with thin margins; The talent pool is stretched too thin (covering too many clients, or too many industries) that deep knowledge is often hard to gain, which hinders depth of execution.

But I digress. Over lunch yesterday with a recently laid off business journo we were talking about the state of things. He said he’d received a call from one of those ginormous Silicon Valley staples which-shall-not-be-named regarding coming to work with their PR team. He wondered if I thought he’d like it. I asked him what he thought he’d be doing.

“I don’t know. I imagine fielding media requests?”

“Don’t do it,” I said. “Unless you’re going to be able to keep writing, and not be a press release monkey, don’t do it.”

“Or they should write press releases if it means it will change the way they are written and perceived, and actually turn into something useful,” opined my pal, Julie Crabill.

He’s too talented and his passion is journalism. If he’s not reporting I’d hope he’s at least able to do something to keep those business writing skills sharp. I’m keeping my fingers crossed an awesome reporting job lands in his lap but until then this new pool of talented writers is a huge opportunity for the PR industry, especially in-house pro’s.

If I was able, I’d snap him up in a heart beat. Part of the reason my company is well known in its industry is because communication is built into our DNA. We’re always communicating in some way with customers, partners, prospects, the broader industry, the media, and the financial community. And what we do is very technical so sometimes it requires a lot of personal touch efforts like with customer events, customer executive retreats, speaking and event attendance, road shows, media tours, private dinners, cocktail parties, large events, tradeshow booths, etc. All in all it results in a heck of a lot of communication in multiple formats.

As I see it, the marketing department has typically dictated the majority of material creation for external use: One sheets, presentations, case studies, product-related materials but people like my journalist friend are perfect additions to any PR or Communications department at a company (which is hopefully tightly integrated into the marketing department, if there is one.) I’m starting to see a very definitive split between the needs for a staff writer for marketing (i.e. more product-oriented marketing) and for PR/communication purposes.

In my role, I have a lot of freedom to express the company’s voice in any number of ways, and this is where a staff writer for my purposes comes in handy. Sure he could write web copy and product user guides for the “marketing team,” or he could write: contributed articles; insightful thought-leadership reports and posts; interview customers, partners and industry influencers for use in any number of places; management of newsletters that go to our key constituents; or overseeing our blog content. I could go on. All retain integrity of business writing, an eye toward the big picture and communicating information and insights to broad audiences.

PR and communications professionals, or whatever we’re calling ourselves these days (Marcom seems closest for me) need to start utilizing this talent in our planning. Take stock of what you need to execute against sales goals; recognize sales challenges; identify customer concerns and map to where your company wants to be in 12 months, and you should come up with a chunk of activities that would give these good journos some work while strengthening your company’s recognition in its marketplace.

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