Behind the Headlines With Stuart Pfeifer
A former reporter for The Los Angeles Times, Stuart recently joined public relations company Sitrick & Co. In this interview, Stuart discusses his motives for making the switch, the value of a news background and the intersection of journalism and PR.
What was behind your decision to switch from journalism to PR?
It was a tough decision. I wanted to be a reporter for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate enough to live my dream for more than 25 years and report on some amazing stories.
But the newspaper climate has changed. So when I had an opportunity to join Sitrick & Co., where I could learn from Mike Sitrick, the guy who wrote the book on strategic and crisis PR, I jumped at it.
I’m confident that the skills I developed in more than two decades as a newspaper reporter will serve our clients well. I’ve written more than 3,000 articles in my career, so I know how reporters think, what makes them tick, what stories will resonate with them and what facts or issues will make them back away.
What do you hope to accomplish in your new role at Sitrick & Co.?
I want to use my skills to guide clients through opportunities and the sometimes treacherous and intimidating media world, helping them get a fair trial in the court of public opinion. I want to ease their worries and make them feel that they’re in good hands, then prove it through hard work and execution.
How do you think your background in journalism helps you in your new position?
Even though I’ve only been here a few weeks, I’m finding that my skills translate well. Every day I’m researching, writing and communicating with people – much the same way I did as a reporter.
I’m able to tell clients the stories that reporters will likely write, which ones they’ll probably ignore, the questions they’ll ask, and I’m able to frame story proposals because of the news judgment I developed working as reporter. And I’m learning and growing every day.
Mike Sitrick is an amazing mentor; I can learn so much just by watching him interact with clients and reporters.
What role do you think storytelling plays in PR?
It plays a huge role, especially in my interactions with reporters. I can take a set of facts from a client – often facts they don’t even realize are newsworthy – and shape them into a story that will be appealing to reporters.
Pitching a client’s story to a reporter is often the same as writing one, only on this side of things my clients and I have a vested interest in how the story is told.
What is the relationship between PR and journalism?
It’s all about the facts, which are the currency in the battle for public opinion. In PR, it’s our job to get the facts to reporters and help them understand those facts from our clients’ perspectives.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career?
Switching careers after 25 years is definitely a challenge. But the skills translate so well, and the change has invigorated me. Mike Sitrick saw this from the onset of the firm. That is why from the start a very large percentage of his professional staff have been former journalists.
Do you have any advice for those pursuing a career in PR?
I’m biased, but I think a news background – or at least understanding what makes news – is critical. Journalists know what stories will interest journalists, what facts will be problems for clients, what facts are missing from a story. And there is a lot of writing in PR.
The only way to improve your writing is by writing. So working as a professional writer is a tremendous background. If you’re not a clear, clean, quick writer, you’ll struggle – in public relations, and many other professions.
Rapid Fire Round
1. I always thought I’d be… a newspaper reporter.
2. My daily newspaper of choice is… the Los Angeles Times for local news, The New York Times for exceptional writing, national and international news and The Wall Street Journal for business coverage.
3. When I’m not at work, I’m… probably at the gym, running, cycling or swimming. Exercising before work clears my mind, energizes me and puts me in a great mindset to tackle the day.
4. The most interesting thing about me is… I am an accomplished poker player. During the short time I had off between jobs, I won a World Series of Poker Circuit tournament in Los Angeles, beating 1,000 players to claim a $55,000 cash prize.
5. My biggest pet peeve is… people who look to blame others for mistakes, rather than learning from them and being part of the solution.
6. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…this new job. It’s so exciting to start a new career. I feel like a kid again. That, and I know I’ve got to hit the freeway early to beat L.A. traffic!
Image via Stuart Pfeifer
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