Transition from journalism to PR with David DeCamp | On Top of PR podcast

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On Top of PR podcast: Transitioning from journalism to PR with guest David DeCamp and show host Jason Mudd episode graphicLearn how you can transition a career in journalism to PR with our guest David DeCamp, corporate communications manager at Crowley.

 

Guest:

Our episode guest is David DeCamp, corporate communications manager at Crowley. DeCamp oversees all aspects of company content strategy and publication and directs internal communications, employer brand activities, and personnel.

 

Topic: 

The one with David DeCamp on how you can transition from a career in journalism to a corporate communications position.

 

 

Five things you’ll learn from this episode:

  1. How might you transition from a career in journalism to corporate communications? 

  2. How can you keep up with culture shock as you transition from news reporting to strategic communications?  

  3. Where should you get advice when you want to transition from journalism to public relations? 

  4. How do you balance your time as you manage media relations for an international company?

  5. How do you build relationships with different departments at an international company?

Quotables

  • “As a reporter, you’re sort of a lone wolf. You may be working with a photographer, videographer, or an editor, but it’s a compartmentalized daily chase.” — @DaveDeCamp

  • “One of the things that is really important is setting out and getting advice from people who have practiced public relations successfully.” — @DaveDeCamp on transitioning from journalism to public relations

  • “You have to build relationships with people in different locations because you can’t be in 35 countries at once.” — @DaveDeCamp

If you enjoyed the episode, would you please leave us a review?

 

About David DeCamp:

David DeCamp’s responsibilities at Crowley include overseeing all aspects of company content strategy and publication, including social media content strategy and execution; multimedia content and personnel for digital marketing platforms and websites; magazines; and other material. In addition, DeCamp manages the company’s media relations activities at local, trade, and national levels. He also directs internal communications and employer brand activities and personnel.

 

DeCamp serves on the leadership committee for the Crowley Cares corporate social responsibility program and as a member of our corporate crisis management team, including incident response activities.

 

Contact Resources:

Additional Resources:

Presented by: ReviewMaxer, the platform for monitoring, improving and promoting online customer reviews.

 

Transcript:

 

- Welcome to another episode of On Top of PR. This week we are joined by David DeCamp of Crowley. Crowley is an international shipping company. And David is gonna talk to us about his journey and experience moving from a traditional journalism role into corporate communications, and also the challenges he faced doing that. What you're gonna learn by watching is learning more about his industry and working in multiple countries, learning more about his transition and how you could make a similar transition, whether you're accepting a role in corporate communications from journalism, or maybe you're hiring somebody with a journalism background who hasn't yet worked in PR. I think this is gonna be a great episode to learn from those experiences. And I look forward to sharing that with you right now.

 

- [Narrator] Welcome to On Top of PR with Jason Mudd. Presented by ReviewMaxer.

 

- Welcome everybody to the next episode of On Top of PR. I'm Jason Mudd, your host, I'm joined with David DeCamp. David, welcome to the show, we're glad you're here.

 

- Hey, thanks for having me, I appreciate the opportunity.

 

- Yeah, my pleasure. It's so good to connect with you today. David, we wanna highlight your experience as a past previous journalist who has made the move into public relations. And then we also wanna talk about your current employer and what's going on in the the shipping industry, and just kind of give some of your in your industry insights and best practices for corporate communications. So, David, why don't you take just a few seconds to introduce yourself, give us a couple sentences of who you are and what you do please.

 

 - Thanks, Jason. Well, basically I manage the corporate communications, which includes relations, corporate social responsibility, various on tent that Crowley shipping logistics company puts out on a daily basis, whether it's on social media or otherwise. We're a company that operates in about 35 countries on about three different continent. And we have a range of activities on any given day as a company that operates 200 vessels with approximately 6,300 employees.

 

 - Great David. Yeah, so how many countries did you say?

 

 - 35 countries. We operate primarily in the Caribbean Central America and the US, but we also have operations in Asia and Europe both for the private sector commercial side. And we also increasingly do a lot of government logistics work, whether it's disaster response or government ship management or cargo and transportation management.

 

 - Very nice, okay. Alright though, that's very interesting. And we will get to a lot of that in the second half our show. But let's start out with just talking about, one day you found yourself working in journalism. How did you get the itch to pursue a career in journalism? How did you stumble upon journalism?

 

 - Well, I started working in journalism when I was 17 years old as a young man or young old kid in Indianapolis, Indiana. I was a sports writer in fact, I covered football and basketball. Went to Indiana University on journalism plans. Really never really until my senior year wedded myself to it. But at least for several decades, I was pretty hooked on it, and eventually worked through a series of newspapers in Indiana and Florida, like I said for about two decades. And at that time I left sports writing and became primarily a political writer for most of those 20 years.

 

 - Okay. So what made you decide to transition from sports to political writing?

 

 - You know, I did... Took a lot of thought, but I think one of the things that really drove it was I wanted a little bit more diversity in what I wrote about and what I saw, not that basketball and football, baseball are not on things to watch, but I had really an itch to cover community interests the way people work together to solve and not solve problems. And so I think that drove a lot of decision making. My first job was really fascinating job where I really, in any given week, could cover issues affecting growth from a typical suburban Northern Indiana impact. It was an area that had a lot of natural resource issues. The Amish were a large part of the community in several of those places. So it really allowed me to explore life as a 20 something.

 

 - Yeah, okay. So tell me about when you made the transition to PR, public corporate communications, how did that begin?

 

 - Well, that began in 2012. I was a political writer at what's now known as the Tampa Bay Times. So people may recognize it as the St Pete Times. And just the same way really, the parallels between the decision to be a political writer instead of a sports writer, I felt like I had invested two decades of my life really in journalism, something new. And I had the great opportunity, and it was a great learning experience, probably more ways than I expected to go into communications. But in a political sense for the city of Jacksonville's it's communications director.

 

 - Okay, and so tell me about about that role. And let's start with, what surprised the heck out of you the most moving into you know, the dark side, if you will, of communications from the news reporting side to the PR side?

 

 - Well, I think there's a lot that can go into that move. There's a lot of natural parallels where you use to the rhythms of journalists and even social media influencers. One of the biggest changes that I experienced was as a reporter, you're sort of a lone wolf. I mean, you may be working with a photographer or videographer or an editor, but it's a compartmentalize daily chase. Whereas in that role as communications director, I had a staff, we had longterm planning to do, and there was a lot of collaboration that had to take place in order to be successful on a daily basis or on the longterm. And that switch to a more team based environment was really one of the learning experiences I had in that role.

 

 - [Narrator] You're listening to On Top of PR with your host, Jason Mudd. Jason is a trusted advisor to some of America's most admired and fastest growing brands. He is the managing partner at Axiom Public Relations, a PR agency that guides news, social, and web strategies for national companies. And now back to the show.

 

 - So David, it sounds like you found yourself not only collaborating with a team in a different environment than what you were previously used to working in, like you said, kind of like a lone wolf in journalism, but also sounds like you found yourself maybe leading a team. And so not only maybe entering a new profession at a new employer, but in a new level of responsibility. Kind of talk to me a little bit about that, some of the struggles that you found and some of the inspiration as well.

 

 - Well, that's a very good question. Because that really is people make the transition from newspapers or TV or news media in general. You have to transition to working with new responsibilities in a much larger organization with a much different culture. As you know, I was fortunate to have some mentors and friends who had made the transition. Anyone who's been paying attention knows that there are a lot of journalists who are making a lot of moves into the professional communications ranks from the news media. So in those cases, you know, I was fortunate to work with some great people who I still rely on and call friends today who could give me advice. And I think that's really important for anyone who's thinking about a change, to be able to go to folks who have made the switch and can give you advice to whether it's going to be a good fit for that role. Now, I had managed on a limited basis teams before, but really nothing to the scale. And so that was a learning experience.

 

 - I can imagine. I have zero interest in working in politics for a variety of reasons. I tell people I like to be able to go to the grocery store and grab a gallon of milk and not get stuck in a conversation where someone's wanting to share their opinion with whatever's going on politically as if I am responsible for it, or can be helpful in that regard. So I can only imagine what that must be like to enter an entirely new profession, and then also have that burden of, you know, kind of everywhere you go you're surrounded by taxpayers who have a strong opinion.

 

 - Well, you know, for me, and this gets back to really assessing the transition and not looking at it from an economic or a next step perspective in a short term. I had spent 20 years in politics. So listening to taxpayers and hearing competing visions was in my wheelhouse more than say if had gone to an insurer and had to learn entirely different-

 

 - That makes sense.

 

 - Mode there. That was an area that played to my background and part of the decision I made.

 

 - Okay, excellent. So for true transparency, I started out on journalism also. And then kind of got recruited into PR because a nonprofit just asked me for some help. And I started helping them with PR and I was like, "this is kinda cool." Instead of reporting somebody else's agenda, I can create an agenda and promote an agenda, and actually have an opinion and an advocacy role, which I really surprisingly enjoyed and candidly never really looked back at journalism since then. And so I tell people all the time, that's the big difference is, you're going from a role of reporting other people's news to kind of setting the agenda or direction of hopefully of how the company is getting in the news. And you know, let's take a minute, just kind of back and forth maybe, and talk a little bit about when people make that transition from journalism into public relations. I think it's at least in my mind, a lot harder of a transition depending on your personality, than I think people realize. And may have talked to you before about how I'm usually a little skeptical when I see an employer make a move of kind of hiring, let's call it a high profile media personality to come work for their company. And suddenly they're the vice president or director of corporate communications, where they went from being on air talent or beat writer. And I'm kind of like, as you mentioned, there are skills that transitioned very nicely. You need to be a good writer and a good communicator, and be able to tell a story and story-tell, and find the facts and all that stuff, but it's a huge difference in my mind. And it sounds like you can speak to that too, you know, going from a role of reporting somebody else's news to suddenly casting a vision and setting the direction and being kind of very active in that role. So I like to see people, and maybe it's just, I'm old fashioned, but I like to see people kind of you know, get some experience under their belt before it's completely just turned over to them entirely. But sometimes that's just not reality. You have one role, like one position and you've decided to hire this person. So anyway David, what's some advice you would give someone maybe who is beginning that transition for the first time?

 

 - Well, that's a very good point on the changing role. Because it's not just a behavior where you're that lone wolf to the team member, but you are trying to influence public opinion and the success of business goals or political goals in a way, you're no longer an impartial observer. So one of the things I went through on my journey was to make sure I was comfortable with that. I wanted to own the fact that we were going to try to influence opinion in a different way than a journalist who's trying to inform, or maybe focusing an informational piece. And so I had to be comfortable with that. I think one of the things that's really important is not only that personal buy-in, but and getting advice from people who have done it, not just the change, but who practice public relations successfully. There all tons of great professional associations where you can meet people who can give you advice. I'm a course partial to IABC where I'm an active member of the International Association of Business Communicators. But there are a number of associations and it's really, really important people making the transition to tap into those resources, because the assumption that you're just flipping a switch between the news world and the public relations world will really set you up for failure if you're not careful.

 

 - Absolutely. And one technique I've learned also, you know, I'm in the agency side, you're on the corporate side, and previously on the government side, and that is that, I have found people who have the skills to make that transition, I believe, but they have a hard time, I call it kind of shedding that skin of journalism, right? And they don't want, or are unwilling, I guess, to take on an advocacy role. For example, we were hiring in our Tampa branch and I was doing kind of a final interview with a candidate that we're really thinking about, I mean, we were very close to hiring. I could tell he still had that kind of, and you and I know what we're talking about, that cynic journalist still was very strong with him. And you could feel it on the phone, you could sense it, his skin like had the scales of cynic on it, you know? And anyway, David, I just said to him, I said "hey, here's some of the clients that I think you would be working on at our agency. Talk to me about them, what do you know about them today? What's your impressions of them? What are you excited about doing working on them for, what are you excited about the opportunity you have and what gives you concern?" And as we went through the list, I mean, he was just critical of every company. And he had previously worked kind of as an investigative journalist. And so you could tell he wanted to roll up his sleeves and really dig deep into finding any scandals that might be going on at the company and all this. And I said, "okay, but what if you're out there trying to build a good reputation for them and tell a good story about them and a couple of them?" He's just, "I just don't think I could do that." And I'm just like, why? And he got into the personal things, "well, they produce equipment, and so I'm worried about their carbon footprint and that kind of thing." And so it was very eye opening to me, I guess, just that you have to be careful that people understand that their role is changing. One thing I see that a lot of journalists are surprised about is that, and I hate to say, but it's the truth, a lot of quotes are manufactured. So we're recommending a quote for a spokesperson or a CEO, and sometimes those are new to the field, number one, they don't like canned news releases or canned quotes from news releases, we all know that. But for them to genuinely think that it was authored originally or initially by the CEO or whoever the spokesperson or subject matter expert is, is not reality. And so I can remember one time we had a new journalist come work for us, and she was writing an announcement for a client. And she literally just, as she always would, picked up the phone and called the CEO's office to get a quote for the news release we were working on. And meanwhile, the CEO is number one, unaware that this announcement is being worked on, right? 'Cause he just hasn't seen it yet. Number two, this journalist was actually arguably prominent in the industry, and so they're wondering why is this journalist suddenly calling, looking for a quote about story that I don't even know about that how in the world is it out there yet? And so we had to do some damage control obviously, and looking back, I think it's kind of comical. But she just thought if I'm writing a news release about this announcement, surely I've got to talk to the CEO and see what he thinks about it. And so part of that training David is, the CEO is actually looking for a recommended quote, even if he doesn't even use it, he or she would like some input as to what we would recommend so that they can then tweak it to their liking. And very similarly I work better when somebody started somewhere and at least gives me, "nope, I don't like that, or, yeah, that's kind of interesting." So what were some of your surprises, David?

 

 - My transition was pretty abrupt. I literally was serving as a state's correspondent in Tallahassee, Florida for the . I spent a month doing that. I was based in Tampa Bay, but during the session, the newspaper would staff up, and you'd live in apartment for a month during the week, so I went to that. I literally went to Argentina for two weeks, turned off the voicemail and everything. So I get back and I have some calls about the opportunity in Jacksonville, and over a period of a couple of weeks I interviewed, got to know the mayor and various people involved. And in short order I really was in a position and ethically I wanted a clean break. You really can't do both for two weeks. And so I literally stop working at the newspaper on a Friday. And on the next Monday, I was communication's director for the largest municipal government in Florida. Now within days that my welcome to the show moment was the governor of Florida at the time, and the mayor and others, with some lawmakers were doing an event in Jacksonville. And I found myself advancing it, and staffing it, and learning as I go. But I literally opened a side door and the governor of Florida walks in, and the first person he sees at this event is someone he recognized six days earlier is covering his administration, which he had exactly that look on his face. And I had to explain what I was doing and that was there. I think one of the things that put me though on that was, you know, to your example, is that taking a blinders off of journalism that they're getting used to the idea that while your journalism experience is great, you can prepare for an interview in a way that maybe someone else can't. They're paying you to advocate for them and to give them the recommendations. And I think once you're in, you have to be in and get that buy-in on a personal level that you're there, because I just don't believe crisscrossing back and forth is a way to do either job well.

 

 - Yeah, for sure. I grew up in journalism, sounds like very similar to you in the early '90s. And I remember editors just pulling me aside and saying, "well, just don't ever cross over to the dark side." You don't ever wanna work in PR. Of course, and these are all people who are either working in PR or something very similar to it today just 'cause market forces. Or you get to a point, and many argue the PR profession is a young person's game, and I would argue that in some ways, so is journalism. A lot of people get into it early and find themselves taking those skills elsewhere. So alright, David, well, we are running short on time, so I wanna talk to you about your current role at at Crowley and how did you make that transition?

 

 - I guess I should be honest, the voters helped me make that transition. The mayor I worked for did not win reelection, in full disclosure, is term limited after four years anyway, so it was not a longterm position realistically. So after I left, I had the benefit to do some consulting work and a few months in between, and this goes back to what we're talking about, really started working from a position of, I need to find a place that has a good culture that takes advantage of what I can do.

 

 - Okay, good.

 

 - And Crowley was that, where it's fast paced, they wanted someone with a media relations experience. And it really gave me a culture that embraced what I had. In fact, one of the VPs I work for is a former newspaper writer from back in the day. So I guess one way to look at it is, he knows how I'm wired a little bit.

 

 - Yeah, that's your DNA.

 

 - Yeah. And it really is important that when someone is making a switch, I feel like, particularly into the corporate world which was new to me, that you take stock and add. And it just worked out well for . They wanted someone who's done content to speak to some of the political resistance, you have to engaging that way. I really wanted to get into the real world. Politics is very short term, and this is long term. So it fed a lot of need. On an any given day, including today, I can be working on something for Central America, Alaska, and keeping track of a ship in Asia from a media relations or communications opportunity. Crowley has a great culture for that. And I was really pleased to have the opportunity to come to that.

 

 - Yeah, that's great. I know a lot of our listeners work for companies that have a global footprint very similar to you. Any tips or advice on work life balance when there's so many time zones in so many countries, and so much activity going on?

 

 - I mean, I tell my team, the people I manage or peers that dedicating that time to yourself, however much you can give in the morning is crucial for me. I blocked time on the schedule, it's focus time. It's different now, environment we're in obviously, but it's very crucial to have that airspace to think and prioritize.

 

 - Right.

 

 - And I also think that you really need to build the relationships with the people in those locations, because you can't be in 35 countries at one time.

 

 - Yeah, no way.

 

 - But to be able to support people and also draw upon their experience, you don't have to own every issue, but you have to build relationships just as any other group does. I consider the business units, my clients or my customers. And I wanna have a positive service oriented relationship with them. So they view me as an asset at a strategic level.

 

 - Excellent. I'll tell you what, that is really good advice. And I think we'll wrap up there on that piece of information. I had many more questions for you, but unfortunately we've run out of time. David, thank you for joining us today. And look, if our audience, our listeners, our viewers want to connect with you, what's the preferred way for them to reach you?

 

 - The best way is on LinkedIn, I'm there. I'm sharing Crowley content and other resources. And tend to be as responsible as possible on that. I really appreciate the opportunity to come on and talk about what I've run into, and what I've succeeded at and what I haven't.

 

 - Yeah, well, we didn't get into what you haven't, but you've had very good success, David. I'm really proud of you, to see what you've accomplished. I've enjoyed our relationship as we've gotten to know each other more and more over the years. And again, if there's ever anything that we can do for you, let us know. Otherwise again, thanks for being on the show today, sharing some of your experience and insight. And hopefully the viewers at home will take away from this conversation, what to look for in their next position they may be exploring or when they're hiring. And also learn a little bit more about interacting with reporters and journalists, which is so foreign to some people in marketing and public relations. And that's what our show is here to help people do, is learn more about PR and I guess how to be on top of PR. So, David, we thank you for joining us today, and look forward to connecting with you again soon.

 

 - Thanks a lot for the opportunity, Jason, I appreciate it.

 

 - Yeah. Be well, my friend.

 

 - [Narrator] This has been On Top of PR with Jason Mudd presented by ReviewMaxer.

 

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