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Q&A with Corporate Reporter Jesse Noyes: Developing PR Skills for Decade Ahead

This is a post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

As the media around us continues to change and evolve, PR practitioners are adapting: we’re participating in social media, creating new content to appeal to many different audiences and using various new media formats in our efforts.  So, is what we’re doing still “P.R.”?  Or do we need a new name for this enhanced role we play?

Arik Hansen blogged recently that we PR pros are evolving into media producers and that “companies will be looking more and more for a professional with storytelling skills. And photography skills. And video producing and editing skills.”

Last year Eloqua was one of the companies that hired its own media producer. It brought Jesse Noyes (@noyesjesse) on board as a corporate reporter.  I decided to follow up with Jesse on his experience over the past year and ask him if he has any advice to help PR pros develop skills for this new type of role.  He was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions:

How is being a corporate reporter unique?  How does it differ from traditional reporting?  How does it differ from PR or other marketing functions?

Well, first, the role of an in-house reporter for any brand is not journalism in the traditional sense. Your role is not necessarily to break news, and I don’t think I’ll be hearing from the Pulitzer committee any time soon. You’re there to create editorial content, whether it’s articles, podcasts, videos, etc, that educate or inform or even entertain your audience. While many of the topics I explore might be pertinent to my company or my industry, I’m not here to tout a product or service specifically. Eloqua has charged me with creating stuff that will delight and engage people working at the cross roads of marketing, sales, social media, cloud computing and tech in general – not to sell.

In terms of PR, I have many former newsroom colleagues that have gone on to this field, with great success. But it was never for me. I don’t communicate with the media, pitch stories to news outlets or blogs, or work with analysts. I have great co-workers who do that. Honestly, if you’re calling me to arrange an interview or get a quote, you have the wrong guy.

That said, how does corporate reporting incorporate aspects of traditional journalism and aspects of marketing/PR?

There’s a new mantra within marketing: “Think like a publisher.” That’s all well and good, but I think brands need to take an even bigger step and think like an editor. The publisher at most outlets is supposed to have little involvement with the actual editorial content. In this day and age where publishing tools are cheap and easy, you need the professional skills of an editor and reporter to differentiate yourself. This requires some very basic, but hard-learned, lessons from journalism. Interviewing skills, research skills, proofreading, an ability to jump from subject to subject, even industry to industry, on any given day – these are the purview of the corporate reporter. My purpose is not only to produce great work, but to elevate the content of those working at every level of the company. Those skills are hard to come by, and why I think more brands will be pilfering from newsrooms in the future.

What skills do you think are most important to the corporate reporting role?

As I noted above, the ability to switch from subject to subject, solid editing chops, and expert interview skills are probably the most fundamental. When I started out in the newsroom, I had great editors who made me feel great about my work, even as they ripped it apart and showed me how to do it right. That kind of editing finesse is critical within organizations that want to act as publishers. I’d add an ability to tell a story, is something that can only be learned with time and a lot of tapping on the keyboard. It doesn’t come naturally all that often.

Can any size/type organization benefit from having a corporate reporter on staff?

Absolutely. Large companies benefit by having someone who can oversee the editorial quality of their content, and to push back when it sounds too much like marketing speak. Small companies benefit from someone who can help position them as market leaders, cutting through the noise without a huge budget on their side.

Do you employ different types of media in your reporting, e.g. video, audio, photos?

All of the above.

Who is your primary audience?

People who want to elevate their sales and marketing. This can range from those just starting out in their careers to those at the highest level within an organization. I have written about and interviewed people working at professional sports team to software-makers to business thought leaders.

What kind of response/feedback have you received from Eloqua’s customers/prospects?

By far, the feedback I get from our regular readers is the most encouraging. Often I meet people at conferences or other events, and when I say I work for Eloqua I hear, “I love the content you’re producing!” That’s the best feeling.

What is the hardest part of making a career change for those “old school” journalists who are adapting to market changes and leaving traditional journalism for corporate PR or marketing positions?

Honestly, I think it’s just wrapping your head around it. You work for a company that sells something to someone. Many journalists would struggle with that. But it’s not really that different. I worked for newspapers and ultimately those papers were a business with skin in the game. At the same time, if the company wants to keep a reporter on a short leash, they probably shouldn’t even make the hire. The relationship won’t work if some brand manager wants to control every period and comma.

For PR and marketing types, I think it’s realizing that writing, editing and narrative skills aren’t just polish. They’re critical to your success. And you can’t just take a night class and say you have “reporting skills now.” You have to find the right people and build a relationship with them internally. Luckily, at Eloqua I work with smart people who see the value in a sharp editorial product.

What lessons can PR and marketing types take from traditional journalism folk in this new world?

Interview people. Write everyday. Understand that people care about a good story, not your product. I was always baffled by PR people who would call me and expect me to just write an article about their company. My readers cared about wider trends and changes in the market, not just about some brand’s CEO. Do the work to find the bigger story, and you’ll have more success getting your brand’s own story told.

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on LindsayOlson.com. You can find her at www.kprcommunications.com. Learn more about Alison Kenney.

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