From journalists to marketers: How it’s done

I heard some excellent marketing stories last week, and they didn’t come out of any of our region’s Fortune 500 companies or renowned ad agencies.

Instead, they were the stories of former Twin Cities journalists who left the newsroom and launched new careers.

We invited journalists, ex-journalists and possibly soon-to-be-no-longer journalists to Fast Horse to talk about life beyond the newsroom. It was a moving and enlightening discussion — much better, I thought, than a similar event we hosted about 18 months ago.

For that, we can thank our panelists, who gave up an evening to come down and help their professional brethren. Their stories were really about that basic piece of marketing: marketing yourself.

Mark Daly, a former KARE 11 reporter, reminded us that a journalist’s skills apply across a wide range of businesses. Now national media director for Anytime Fitness, Daly said he often winds up as the go-to guy on things that nobody else quite knows how to handle. Assessing a situation, doing some reporting, communicating the result: that’s something news people know how to do.

Chuck Laszewski and Dane Smith both talked about how refreshing it is to be an advocate after all those years of writing balanced news stories. Laszewski, a former Pioneer Press reporter, is now communications director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. Smith, longtime dean of the state Capitol news corps at the Star Tribune, is president of Growth & Justice, a progressive think tank. They like the feeling of promoting a cause they believe in. 

Spending his career in a newsroom surrounded by good writers, Laszewski said he underestimated how valuable writing skills can be in the business world. I can second his point; I often hear from clients who are pleasantly surprised at my ability to efficiently turn out clear, engaging prose.

Nancy Olsen, a former Star Tribune copy editor and city editor, is building a free-lance editing business. She’s taken classes in software, design and business writing, and has built her personal network by joining several professional organizations. She’s taking all the textbook steps, and they’re working.

Olsen said she didn’t know if there really was such a thing as a free-lance editor, but she’s proving there is.

Matt Peiken, a former Pioneer Press arts reporter, attended our first event 18 months ago, just after taking a buyout from the newspaper. He listened to people talking about going into PR, corporate communications or other areas of marketing. Peiken stood up and informed everyone that he was going to find a way to stay in journalism.

He’s done it, launching a daily Twin Cities arts report on video at 3 Minute Egg. “You’ve got to build your own boat,” Peiken told our group last week. He’s slowly building traffic on the site, has several small sponsorships and is optimistic about landing some bigger, more lucrative ones.

All these former journalists have found a way to market their skills in changing circumstances. I found their stories inspiring, and anyone who’s making a career change in this difficult economy — whether voluntary or forced — should take some comfort in them.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Albert Maruggi on 02/02/2009 - 07:39 am.

    that’s exactly right John, part of the transition is done out of financial necessity. Another contributing change in society is social media and the acceptance of more candid conversations coming from companies.

    That means you need to think like a journalist while being paid by a company. In fact, I make this case in the soon to be published Upsize Magazine, the Feb/March issue. Sorry no link to article yet.

    But, as a former television journalist, I’ve made the case for the corporate newsroom before, in this podcast with co-author of the Bad Pitch Blog Kevin Dugan

    Let me quickly add, that I advocate in this new environment, journalists skills, including a bit of objectivity are essential. I don’t believe journalist should use their communications skills to turn into shills for an organization. In fact, it’s their objective eye that makes their skill set valuable to the organization. Good writing skills are not what makes former journalists and asset to a company.

    There is mutual benefit here, the organization that is willing to listen to those objective observations will have a more credible story and will gain greater respect from their audience.

    This is a story with more elements, stay tuned.

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