During the three years I spent as a journalist I probably uttered the words, “I hate PR people” at least 200 times. That probably sounds a little surprising considering my father has made a career out of public relations (and it paid for my journalism degree), but I always reasoned that he was one of the few “good” people in the world of public relations and everyone else was just looking for a free handout from those of us with the power to publish.
Did I ever actually hate any public relation professionals? Absolutely not. In fact, most of those I’ve met have been quite personable and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them (which I guess means they were doing their job well). However, as the editor of a magazine that often ran over 300 pages and had an editorial staff of only five (yes, five), time was always short and finding time to talk to PR people was seldom a priority.
As an editor, I made it my job to write, edit and plan content and anything I did beyond that seemed to take away from the quality of the magazine. Basically, I hated fielding phone calls from PR people looking to sell me on a product that my readers “just had to know about.” In the triathlon industry there are a lot of really bad products, so I seldom gave those trying to push such products the time of day. I instead gave them my voicemail, which I seldom checked.
That being said, within the triathlon industry there existed a certain subset of PR pros that I got along with quite well. I always took the time to talk to those in charge of promoting events instead of products. As a dedicated triathlete, I feel triathlon is the greatest sport on Earth, so anyone looking to promote the races deserved more than voicemail. In particular, I held Stephen Bourdeau, the International Triathlon Union’s Media Manager (read: PR dude), in high regard. Bourdeau’s job was to promote triathlon’s Olympians and Olympic-qualifying events to as many media outlets as possible—a very noble job as far as I was concerned. I held his job in such high regard that when Bourdeau told me he was leaving ITU to start a family, I applied for his job.
I’m now in my third week as Media Manager for the ITU, and while the job is a bit of a departure from my previous gig, staying within the triathlon industry has made for a smooth transition. As much as triathlon has grown over the past decade, at its core, it’s still a small community and I can already tell that the three years I spent getting to know the major players in the community will be invaluable.
I’m certainly no expert when it comes to public relations (I now have 15 days of PR experience), but I think working in the media prior to taking on PR is vital. As an editor I received dozens of story pitches each week and I quickly learned the difference between a good pitch and a bad pitch (and a really bad pitch). Understanding the needs and capabilities of the reporters I’ll be working with will help me work with them when it comes to developing stories that are both positive for the ITU as well as relevant for a given publication’s readership.
Switching from journalism to PR was certainly not an easy move, but I’m happy to report that so far there are no regrets. I’m glad I made the move early in my career, because I feel like after a decade or so as a journalist I would’ve been pigeonholed for the rest of my career. In my [limited] experience, there are two types of journalists: Those who stay in the field for their entire career and those who make the move to public relations. At 24, I feel fortunate to have the flexibility not to get stuck in either one of those groups just yet. I’m enjoying the hectic, fast-paced and dynamic work of public relations, but I miss the peace and concentration of writing and editing.
As I’ve learned after only three years in the real world, you can never predict where your career will take you next. I certainly plan on returning to journalism at some point in the near future, but for now, I’m enjoying the view from the PR side of things. After a few years of this, I hope to have a new-found respect for the public relations profession—maybe then I won’t let all of those incessant PR calls go straight to voicemail.
(You guessed it, Brad Culp is my son. A Miami University journalism graduate, he started his career as an unpaid intern for Triathlete Magazine and eventually became editor before moving to Vancouver last month where he is Media Manager for the International Triathlon Union.)