Crossing over to the “dark side”

There’s a “syndrome” I’ve observed about some otherwise skilled and experienced PR pros who attend my trainings.

I noticed some “symptoms” of this syndrome in Colleen Moriarty as we worked together through my workshop last March.

Over the two days, it slowly emerged that she:

– has a master’s from the prestigious Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
– was transitioning from a successful career covering health for top consumer magazines
– had a great new job with a health network affiliated with a prominent university
– has, as you might expect, GREAT writing skills and a razor-sharp news sense

The challenge was – and this is very common among former journalists – Colleen was overly cautious and reticent about reaching out as a publicist to the very journalists from whose ranks she’d just left. Leaving journalism for PR was more than simply “crossing the fence,” she says. It was “crossing over into the dark side.”

Like most “syndromes,” the most important part was simply recognizing it for what it is. I shared examples of PR pros applying the confidence that comes from implementing proven best practices. We discussed how not to merely meet journalists’ requests, but anticipate them. When you’re making their lives easier, they don’t flame you, they actually THANK YOU.

Since then, Colleen has become comfortable sending cold pitches to journalists – more than just responding to HARO requests and working with friends from her previous life.

One fun example: She invited a Cosmo editor to come for a visit to meet her experts. The editor was interested, but mentioned she doesn’t drive. In a crazy coincidence, during the workshop I had told about the time I hosted a NYT writer who doesn’t drive, so I offered to chauffeur her around to all her meetings, not just mine. Colleen applied that lesson, and the editor was happy to accept her offer. They ended up spending a very fun and productive three hours together and now have a great ongoing relationship.

Colleen also built on the training with her own innovations. After she placed a story with her expert on TV, she took the initiative to write the “blurb” that would accompany the story in the station’s website. The journalist used it almost word-for-word, including a valuable link back to Colleen’s employer.

Colleen says:

“Michael Smart’s workshop is a great place to learn the ropes or retool if you’ve been in the industry a while and need to modernize your approach. He opened my eyes to the value of non-traditional media that have high authority scores and site traffic, getting millions of eyes on my brand. Often, these outlets are willing to backlink whereas some of the top traditional media do not. In the five months since the workshop, I’ve gotten 59 placements (and counting!) in publications such as The Chicago Tribune,,, CNET, Prevention, Reader’s Digest, SELF, Huffington Post, InStyle, and Fast Company. It’s great on this side – I really enjoy helping journalists get great sources!”

My next “Secrets of Media Relations Masters” workshop is in NYC in mid-September. This historically sells out, so we added capacity for 15 more people. But registrations are up this year and it’s still on pace for a sellout. There might be availability after Labor Day, but I can’t be sure.

Whether you’re a veteran like Colleen, or just starting out in PR like – well – Colleen :), this training will definitely deliver immediately actionable tips that will strengthen your relationships with journalists and land more placements. Would love to work with you there.

This article was originally published on August 22, 2019

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