Earlier this year TVC Group appointed former journalist and sustainability communications specialist Ashleigh Lezard as account director to work on The Economist Group’s World Ocean Initiative, a strategic worldwide effort to develop a sustainable ocean. Here, she speaks to The Drum Network about the nature of both roles, whether the lines between PR and journalist are becoming increasingly blurred and the future for both professions.
Firstly, tell us a bit about your background in journalism…
I started as an editorial assistant on the Financial Times' foreign desk and then moved to the publishing side of the business where I was taught 'the ropes'. This was both in terms of writing - how to structure news and features - and also subject matter - financial markets and institutional investing. I was lucky enough to experience how a daily newspaper's newsroom operates and how a features-driven magazine is produced.
Why did you make the leap from journalism to PR?
I wanted to broaden my expertise, particularly on the commercial side, including the ins and outs of client servicing.
What are the main differences working in PR? How much does your journalism experience influence your day-to-day work in PR?
As the need for more 'content' has grown over the years, my journalistic skills in terms of writing for different audiences have come to the fore. Producing high quality thought-leadership pieces to gain a share of voice across all channels (not just in traditional newspapers) is now more important than ever. The main difference is the client servicing side - in PR, the client comes first!
The University of Salford has announced that they would be combining a journalism and PR course stating the 'nature of journalism has changed’, do you agree with this sentiment? Is this the future for journalism?
I think this is ok if you are learning skills such as writing, producing, building a story but there has to be a clear distinction that journalism should be an 'independent, non-partisan' view of what is happening. PR professionals are generally working with someone's/something's interest in mind so it is not independent. The skills are probably the same, but the intentions are not!
Have the lines between PR and journalism blurred?
It’s hard these days to distinguish between viable news sources, the role of quality journalism is arguably more important today than it ever has been. This ensures that those lines are not blurred and remain distinct.
What are you currently working on just now, and can you bring elements of journalism into the work?
I work on two main projects the World Ocean Initiative and the Evidence Initiative. Both require me to think of story angles daily, write and produce engaging content targeted at the audience and also keep up to date with the news. I think a big similarity between PR and journalism is that people that work in the professions have (or should have) a love of current affairs and keeping their fingers 'on the pulse'.
How important are online-only titles and blogs to the PR landscape these days? Or are clients still most impressed by seeing their coverage in a traditional print title?
It really depends what sector a client is in - I think financial and large corporate clients still like to see their names in print but other clients (tech or mission based) would be happy with coverage in a prominent online title like Huffington Post or Wired.
Likewise, do online/social media influencers have a valid role in a contemporary PR campaign?
Yes definitely! Having a social media influencer with a large following re-tweet or mention a company or campaign is a great way to raise profile and awareness. We have recently run a campaign for the World Ocean Initiative which has used prominent 'ocean' and business influencers to comment on how 2018 has been a 'year of action' in the fight against plastic pollution. Dame Ellen MacArthur and Lewis Pugh have provided comments which definitely adds impetus to the message.
As a writer/PR professional in the digital age is it inevitable that you'll begin to distribute video packages rather than simply written releases?
I think it is; people consume video more than any other content so if you want to reach and engage people - you can’t ignore video! During the last year I’ve been at TVC, I’ve learnt so much about the power of a well-crafted brand film. Coming from a more traditional background it has been eye-opening to see how moving image can be used to tell a brand’s story and have such a huge impact. The demand for brilliant brand films and content will only continue to increase.
Ashleigh Lezard, account director, TVC Group