Making the Transition from Media Hack to Law Firm Stooge

We see the notices almost daily about a reporter leaving the news business and moving to the (more lucrative) in-house communications positions.

Just last week it happened again as a senior legal affairs reporter is leaving the San Jose Mercury News to join leading global law firm Orrick. It’s a good get for the PR team at Orrick, because after all, who would know better how to work with a lawyer and sniff out a story than an experienced journalist. But leaving a career as a journalist to join a firm is much more than just a change in job, it has to include a change in mindset.

As the Internet has made reporters’ lives more stressful more and more are choosing what appear to be the greener pastures of PR. It’s a transition I successfully navigated nearly 16 years ago, and requires some thought and reflection.

Here are a few for reporters who are making or thinking of making the transition to consider both before making a change and on day one in a new position:

  1. Don’t lose track of the bottom line. A potential story may be newsworthy and interesting, but unless the article or news item fits within the strategic marketing plan of the client, don’t waste your time with it. Just getting the name of your firm or lawyer into the article isn’t the goal.
  1. Learn to be a team player. Many successful journalists are used to work alone, keeping their editors updated on an “as needed” basis. That’s a formula for failure in a law firm marketing and PR environment. Everyone needs to keep everyone else informed about their efforts and where things stand.
  1. Learn the political landscape of the firm and work within it. Often, you may have an excellent idea for pitching a story or for making a particular lawyer a go-to source on a topic, but there will always be other considerations in determining who should be the right source. Perhaps another partner sees herself as the real expert on the issue. Perhaps there is a potential client conflict down the road that isn’t obvious to you. Perhaps that lawyer that you have in mind isn’t regarded as an effective spokesperson for the firm. Listen to the objections and move on to a new idea.
  1. Be aware that traditional PR is only one of many ways to accomplish your publicity goals. Earned media is still highly desirable, but it now co-exists with blogging, tweeting, webinars, client alerts, and many other vehicles to reach clients and potential clients. Think of your expertise in media relations as one of many weapons in the firm’s arsenal and appreciate what others in the firm bring to the table.

But, don’t forget why you got the job. The main thing is to not lose your passion for finding news. Those skills will serve you well at a firm and keep you grounded when you face a new set of challenges.

And welcome to our side; we are happy to have you.