Going over to the dark side (or so they say)
Updated: Aug 14, 2019
Since making the transition from working in trade press to PR, or as it is more commonly referred to in the business – ‘going over to the dark side’ – the change has been an interesting one for (re)insurance journalist and publisher Sophie Roberts.
I haven’t completely converted. My freelance persona wears a few hats, including writing trade press articles and producing industry conferences. However, having entered the world of PR through working with the team at Lysander PR and other projects, these experiences have given me a bit of an eye opener into how the industry views PR and how that compares to the journalist lens.
As a journalist, and maybe not everyone will agree with me, but I really did think I was in some rarefied atmosphere. It was always a hard one to sell to my friends in the pub on a Saturday night, but among my fellow journalist peers, it was completely fine to admit – “I write about insurance and I love it!”
We knew parts of the job were a big deal. Getting face time with formidable industry players like John Charman, the game changing individuals like Brian Duppereault and Inga Beale, and the inherently ‘nice guy’ CEOs, respected throughout their companies, such as Hiscox’s Bronek Masojada, and Axis Novae’s Matthew Fosh, was a real privilege.
Of course, during interviews, there would be the odd titbit now and again, a passing comment once the recording device was turned off, but to come down slightly from that rarefied atmosphere I referred to before, a lot of the time, journalists are only being told what the industry wants to share. Lesson number one from the ‘dark side’.
More likely than not, someone with a PR hat on is sitting in the background carefully constructing the right messaging to ensure the individual is saying the right things about the subject at hand and is a good reflection on the company.
Having been a journalist covering the re/insurance industry for almost seven years now, I’ve been on the receiving end of literally thousands of press releases and have attended numerous press events, put together and conducted by both internal and external press agencies.
As I bridge the gap from journalist to PR, here are a few takeaways I’ve observed over the last 10 months that I think companies should keep in mind:
Exclusives are inevitable – own them, don’t disown them
o Not all exclusive news is bad news, but it is true that more often than not, they can derive from pieces of information business would prefer to either keep under wraps or release in their own way. The thing is to be proactive, get on top of it and don’t get angry with the journalist. They’re just doing their jobs, they weren’t your leak.
Managing client/journalist expectations
o Journalists know it’s important for PR representatives to get their clients or internal colleagues out in front of the media, but manage expectations. What they think might be news, journalists might not and it’s not mandatory to write something up after a meeting.
Don’t just talk about it because everyone else is…
o …Have something meaningful to say. The adoption of technology is a good example of this. At an event I attended recently, one delegate posed the question to a high-level panel on the subject of technology adoption – “How much is what you’re saying is marketing vs how much is this actually a reality?” As we continue to live in a world where external company communications are scrutinised in much greater detail, this is still something some companies are getting wrong.
Don’t sell, inspire
o As a journalist, I was always told to consider a press release in a wider industry context – ‘how important is this?’, ‘what else can I look into?’, ‘Is this part of a wider trend?’, but it’s hard to do that when something is bogged down in marketing speak and isn’t really saying anything. This is also applicable to event presentations and panellist contributions. Insight only, please.
When I think about it, it really is an incredibly exciting and interesting time to be part of this industry and I truly believe that – these aren’t just PR words. There will be winners and losers, new players bumping out old players, a complete change in workforce as the old guard bows out and with that, a turn in culture and attitude to technological transformation.
The way this is communicated through internal/external PR and in the trade press is paramount and as we see more journalists cross the border – as it were – over to the dark side, this communication can only get better.
As I continue to journey across the border, while keeping one foot firmly where I can remain inspired by the great journalists covering this thriving market, there is some good common ground – at least we can still talk this through over a good lunch. May good press relationships, good stories and thought provoking content continue to flourish. I’ll cheers to that.