Broadcast journalism and PR cultures are ‘Worlds apart’, says comms pro

move from BBC to PR
Move from journalism to communications
Nick Meir

Nick Meir is an executive communications coach, comms strategist, and speaker. In addition, his Linkedin profile tells readers that he’s a BBC escapist!

Yes, Nick is one of the thousands of people who began life as a journalist and then transitioned into communications. In Nick’s case, it’s been a highly successful change. He is founder and director of a global consultancy – A House Called Alice.

His firm advises and supports executives, marketers and sales team in the delivery of constant stories to their respective audiences.

Nick worked for two years at WE Communications after spending for 11 years BBC London as an editor, producer, reporter, and presenter. As a broadcast journalist, Nick developed program formats, led editorial teams, worked on many flagship program, and delivered great audience numbers for both network television and network radio.

In part one of a two-part interview with Nick, we look at what it’s like making the leap from broadcast journalism into communications. Is the transition fairly easy, and what prompts reporters to make it in the first place? If you’re a journalist thinking about making this leap (and we know many are, given the state of media outlets today), you’ll have a bit of insight into what this career change feels like and how to navigate any challenges, too. Part two will explore leadership communications.

Shifting from a focus on story to a focus on clients

What was it like moving from the BBC as a reporter/producer to your first role in communications, which was as VP, Editorial and Broadcast Strategies, WE Communications?
In a word: challenging. The two cultures couldn’t be further apart. In journalism/program making there is a very singular focus on two things: Story and audience.

I’m probably sticking my neck out here in saying this but in my experience the focus in the PR world is much more on the client and the agency’s relationship with the client. Making TV and radio  is all about telling compelling stories, relevant to the respective audience, and the dynamic of a programming team is based on that key objective.

Agency life is much more focused around driving revenue and billable hours balanced against creating a great campaign/content for the client. Secondly, the leadership styles in the PR world are a world away from the leadership styles in the broadcast world, and given that leadership drives culture its easy to see where bringing journalism into PR can prove a tricky fit.

How did it feel at the time, and did you miss the fast-paced world of news? Did your office ever feel just a little bit too quiet?
Tough question. It wasn’t so much the cut and thrust of daily deadlines that I miss – in many ways agency life can be just as frenetic, but I did (and still do) miss program making. There is nothing more exhilarating than making a program which is watched by six million people, and which can make a real difference (which is what I used to do on BBC Watchdog). And being part of a newsroom when there is a major breaking story . . . well . . . There is simply  nothing to compare!

How did the change of roles feel, being the one contacting reporters and pitching ideas or stories, or dealing with their requests for interviews or comments?
I often advised other members of the team on story structure and ways to tell a particular story but, ironically, my team rarely got involved with pitching stories. That was done by members of the account teams. Let’s say that relationships with journalists were viewed as precious commodities to be guarded at all costs!

Most journalists are driven by a big streak of curiosity and some – particularly in the broadcast world – are said to have pretty impressive egos. How do these qualities play in the world of communications?
Hah! I guess that is where the two worlds do collide. There are some pretty big egos in the broadcast world (mainly in the on-screen talent) but I’ve met some individuals in the PR world that could out-do even the most precious of TV Divas! Journalists tend to be very territorial about their stories which can lead to issues when the 10 O’clock news comes calling wanting a piece of the action, and PR execs can be very territorial over their client relationship. But in pure ego terms . . . the two worlds most definitely bear comparison!

Transferable skill: seeing the world from the audience’s perspective

How did your time as a journalist and producer help prepare you for the world of communications and consulting? Did you have skills that helped you with your comms work that maybe even graduates from communications and media programs lacked?
If I was to pin down the most transferable skill from being successful in journalism to being successful in comms consulting it is being able to view the world from the audience’s perspective. Corporate culture can very often get consumed by its own culture and deliver comms/marketing campaigns that satisfy the need of the internal audience. Being able to call this out is incredibly valuable. And asking the all important editorial question “Why should the audience care?” can be very powerful.

I guess the other skill/personal quality is being able to influence people. I guess I’m a little old school but I do think practical experience trumps qualifications every time. A client of mine is one of the smartest marketers in the business. Her background was in the military. She is a superb leader and brilliant strategist but her paper qualifications and early working life would be classed as anything but blue chip. Paper qualifications rarely tell you the story of the individual!

And the flip-side of the coin, presumably you’ve worked alongside some comms graduates in your career? Have you ever felt out of your depth, of that you had to study or read up on something quickly to remain on equal footing?
I’ve certainly learned a lot from some incredibly smart people and some of my current clients are truly wonderful people who are incredibly talented at what they do. But I wouldn’t say I’ve ever felt out of my depth. I guess clients employ me for my pragmatism, editorial experience, and my profound love of coaching people to become more effective story tellers and communicators.

Most of what I do isn’t based in academia, it’s based on industry experience and common sense.

Storytelling is one of your agency’s core services. In addition to that, has journalism equipped you with other specializations, such as media relations or crisis management?
I have done a fair amount of work in crisis management. And there is definitely a strong crossover in the principles and practices of news gathering and crisis communications. Understanding how to get the flow of accurate information from one part of the organisation into another, disseminating that information, and then delivering that information to key audiences is something that the average newsroom does every day. And that is the main tenet of an effective communication function (crisis or otherwise).

I wish I’d known . . .

What do you wish you’d known before going into communications?
Hmm  . . . I’ve always worked in communications. In my early career I was a teacher  – that is the hardest comms job on the planet. But if the question is ‘what do I wish I’d known before going into corporate communications?’ . . .

I wish I’d understood earlier that not everyone has the same passion for telling great stories (even if they say they do).

Are there any other tips you have for a reporter thinking about going into communications?
Stay with your passion for the story. Stay with your passion for serving your audience. Understand that corporate culture is very different to newsroom culture. As a journalist, you should be brilliant at building relationships. That skill will come in very handy. One other thing . . . learn to bite your tongue . . . a lot.

Executive Communications Coach Nick Meir

Nick Meir helps businesses and executives better engage with their audiences by being authentic and focused, among other things. He is passionate about story telling and helps clients become better leaders and communicate their vision. You can find Nick on Linkedin and Twitter.

Sheelagh Caygill

Sheelagh Caygill is a journalist and content marketer. She has worked for newspapers, news organizations and in the corporate and non-profit sector in Canada and the U.K. She is a Director at Gocontentmarketing.com and is available for freelance assignments. Contact her via the contact form or Linkedin.

Add comment

Follow Us

Follow us! And if you'd like us to explore a topic or want to suggest someone to be interviewed, please get in touch via our Contact page.