I earned my bachelor’s degree in journalism, because I’ve always known since the day that I learned how to write that I wanted to be a writer when I “grew up.” The spring of my senior year of college while many of my friends were getting job offers and figuring out where they were going to move based off of whatever job they accepted, I wasn’t having as much luck — because I was spending the summer backpacking through Europe, and this plan didn’t work out so well for the companies’ desired June/July start dates… (I like to think I made the right decision though, because Europe was fantastic — and you can’t even go there right now, so…)
When Conner got a job first, and it was based in LA (not somewhere that I would have strongly opposed moving to) it was perfect — LA is a hub of the media industry that I could start building my career in. We moved toward our adult journey together in the land of the overtly fabulous, in a 400 square foot studio apartment in DTLA which was basically sitting on top of the 110 South freeway overpass (super glamorous LA living? Not really, but it’s all about starting somewhere.).
I found a job working in luxury travel/hospitality PR, and I learned more about the media world in a single year at this company, which felt like a media bootcamp, than college as a whole was ever able to teach me about working in PR/media relations — and I enjoyed the opportunities I had in the position of being a storyteller. After a year at this job, it was clear that this venture wasn’t the best fit for me — and that’s when I first started freelance writing. After another brief but enjoyable stint at a travel PR agency and a run in with a global pandemic that eliminated my job, I turned to freelancing full-time.
So, after spending most of my full-time career technically in the PR world, I already had the best media contacts. I had been hearing about and interacting with these writers and editors for two years, now. All I had to do was prove myself as a talented writer, interviewer, and dedicated storyteller — and be lucky enough to have them give me a chance, in the first place.
My favorite part of the media industry is still telling peoples stories, and building relationships. By being on both sides of the media industry as a PR professional and freelance writer I can appreciate the victories and challenges that come from both positions.
What both sides forget sometimes (and I know that I’m guilty of this too) is that one cannot thrive (or for that matter, SURVIVE) without the other. (Good) PR folks send writers great, interesting ideas. PR folks coordinate interviews, share photos, send neat and tidy blurbs of information that you need to write the story — which takes a lot of work off of your plate as the writer, when you’re writing a roundup story that’s featuring seven destinations, and you only have two days to gather all of this (hopefully factually correct) information.
On the other side, PR folks cannot survive without writers!! In my personal role as an Account Executive in PR, wooing writers was basically why I had my job: it was all about creating good media relationships and “placing” stories. If you’re not familiar with the media industry I hate to burst your bubble… but most likely that article that you read about featuring a cool looking Alaskan cruise wasn’t just “coincidentally” written about, for that magazine you were reading. If it was in a lifestyle publication, most likely a really talented PR person “placed” that story by connecting with a writer or editor at the magazine and convincing them that it was interesting enough for you — the reader — to want to read, and talk about with your friends (drawing attention to the magazine, the ads in the magazine — UVM’s, print circulation, it’s a whole other thing…).
Writers were (are) like Gods to me (I know, it sounds so dramatic — but I was fascinated by the concept of being able to have a job that let you write about interesting things for a living) and PR people need writers to cover stories about their clients, in order to prove to their client that the money they’re paying for PR is well-spent (that’s a whole different topic — but paying for GOOD PR is usually a lot more effective from my experience, than paying for ads directly, because with PR you have the opportunity to craft the story that you want to more than once).
Overall, here’s what I’ve learned from my time working in both PR and freelance writing that in my opinion is valuable for each side to know about the other:
Working in PR, your job is to place stories featuring your clients. This means constantly being up-to-date on the latest trends and knowing what’s coming next so that you can be ready to pitch it out (writing a “good” pitch is important) and get coverage with your client in the story that comes out related to these newsworthy trends.
Working in PR is hard. You spend hours brainstorming, drafting a pitch, editing that same pitch, building a media list with people who you think could be a fit to tell that story (which requires careful thought, because a beauty editor at a lifestyle magazine is not going to be interested in the latest travel trends about where you can take your dog with you on vacation) which is challenging because this is constantly changing as people are hired, fired, and move on to new publications.
You could spend ten hours brainstorming an idea and writing a pitch and building a list of 200+ people and after sending the idea out, you’re lucky if more than two of them respond (unless it’s like, a REALLY GOOD idea or something groundbreaking…)
When someone is interested in the idea, then you have to go through the entire process of coordinating how to share the extra details for the story. Does the writer need a quote or an interview? Will the client you’re representing with this pitch be able to get back to you on time with the information that the writer needs in time for their own deadline? There’s a lot that goes into this process that I don’t think writers realize happens — and most of it is out of the publicist’s control…
Once in a while though, everything comes together and a writer/editor accepts a pitch, all deadlines are met and a phenomenal story is told which equals some great ad revenue equivalency for the client. Everyone is happy! See how easy that was? But no, not really…
When I was working in PR I remember admiring freelance writers and watching them travel and explore and like, get paid for it basically twice — because first, they were literally getting paid to write an article for a big name publication which was (is) my dream — and second, they were enjoying curated experiences created by us hardworking PR folk (something I didn’t mention in my PR section… the headaches of organizing press trips. That’s for another article) and just taking advantage of the free (often luxurious and customized) hospitality.
Well, now that I’m over here on the freelance writing side I am still in LOVE with the practice but it’s more stressful than I had ever imagined, in a multitude of ways. Also, right now, there aren’t any free travel goodies or press trips anyway, that’s not something that’s happening for us freelance writers at the moment — but it’s still fun for me to connect with such interesting people and learn about and share their stories.
Freelance writing takes a lot more dedication and ambition than it appears to, from the outside. You have to generate your own ideas by yourself (you don’t have a “team” like you do when you’re working at a PR company to strategize together) and then write the pitch (a skill that I’m very grateful to have learned in my PR days: how to write a timely and interesting, attention-grabbing pitch) send it out to just that ONE right person at the right time (no massive 200 person lists this time, because if more than one editor says “yes” in this situation it’s not good for you. They will not be happy, and you cannot write the story for more than one outlet about the same idea).
And if by the grace of the freelance writing Gods, everything comes together with exactly the right precise timing and luck (editor sees your note out of the 1,000’s of public relations AND freelance writer pitches in their inbox each day — and actually likes it, trusts you to write it for them, is willing to work with you even though you’ve never connected before, etc…) then YAY you get to write the story! That’s the first victory, and the quickest step, to be honest, from my experience because they’re either interested in the story or they’re not, and then you can move on. Or, (most of the time) you never hear back and a few days later if I haven’t heard back, I usually try someone else with my idea.
Once the story idea is accepted, you have to find sources that fit the criteria of the idea you pitched your editor, organize interviews, record the calls (making sure that you ask for permission first, of course) so that you can quote them correctly, transcribe the interview (which takes FOREVER. A 45 minute interview should in theory, take 45 more minutes to transcribe if you’re doing it right…), write the story, edit the story, stress out about whether the story is good enough (this also takes a long time, if done correctly) and 100% factually correct and that you didn’t make one single mistake — because it’s about a person or a person’s business you’re writing about it, and they matter and they’ll care if it’s wrong. So, you fact check, turn in the story, a glorious editor kindly edits the story for both AP style issues (which you didn’t do so great with that one class you took about it in college) and clarity.
Then, the editor asks you questions about the article to clarify details that the reader might not understand, which means that you have to go back to your source to fact check again. This takes more time if it’s a roundup story that you’re coordinating between dozens of PR people, properties and businesses.
Also, it’s important to note that a writer is nothing without a good editor — so shout out to all of the amazing editors I’ve been lucky enough to work for, so far. Thank you for giving me a chance. I didn’t have an editor for this article, so if there’s a typo or a mistake, well — it’s all on me.
On the same note, it’s important to realize that if you’re in PR, oftentimes freelance writers have little to no control over when the story comes out, and sometimes even what edits are made to it, before it’s published.
I feel terrible when a story comes out and something is just slightly different, but the person or place I wrote about is upset that something (even if it’s small) is off — it might have been decided by the editor that it would be more effectively written in a certain way, and that’s ultimately their right to make the final decision as the editor for the publication.
When everything comes together and the story is turned in and officially posted, it’s the best feeling in the world. The people you worked with to make that story happen are (usually) happy, and you got the chance to promote someone’s business and/or hard work, and to make a difference in someone’s life by telling everyone to recognize their hard work. You got to learn new things, create interesting connections with new people, and do something meaningful with your time and talent that’s contributing to the betterment of the world (in my opinion) — even if it forced you awake at 5:19 a.m. freaking out about whether you spelled everyone’s name right and had all of your facts 100% correct… (oh man, being out here in LA and three hours behind in time from NYC, where most media publications are based, is a whole other issue. I’m not awake at 5:48 a.m. PST, when someone emails me asking for something timely, which is a challenge).
So — what are your thoughts about freelance writing versus public relations? Did you learn anything about the other side of the industry from reading this article? Let me know! I love what I do and wouldn’t change it for the world at this moment — but both sides of this industry are incredibly hardworking and one would not be able to survive without the other.
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