Indy Broadcasters Turned PR Pros

11 min read

Notable Indy TV personalities talk shop about their new gigs in public relations.

You came to know them on TV. They delivered your news with panache and somehow made your day brighter. Now you’ll find these former broadcast journalists on the other side of the screen, working in public relations for some of Indy’s most distinguished organizations.

PR practitioners are to journalists as jam is to bread, often working together to tell their stories. It’s a delicate dance, mind you, very much a give and take. One pitches ideas and suggests stories. The other asks questions and needs interesting sources for their interviews. Both careers move fast and run on tight deadlines.

But as newsroom staffs continue to shrink, more and more journalists are crossing over to the PR side of things, like these five of our favorite Indianapolis journos.

Where are they now?

Who better to talk about the ins and outs of PR and journalism than these folks? Because we all want to know, right? So I asked them a few questions, and here’s what they had to say…

1. Which journalism skills have helped the most in your public relations role?

Fechner – “The ability to quickly learn, process, and relay information has been a big plus—when anchoring breaking news coverage, information’s flying in, and one has to logically compile all relevant details, organizing them on the fly into the coverage. In my new role, that experience has helped with on-call media requests and media pitches about medical topics I’d been unfamiliar with, allowing me to get reporters the information they need.

“I’ve also been shooting, editing, and sending out b-roll and interviews, so knowing exactly what reporters, photographers, and editors on deadline want helps media teams get the exact elements to a story they need on deadline.”

Kirschner – “I have often said broadcast journalism and public relations are ‘two sides of the same coin’ when referring to the skills both professions share. Both require the ability to write well; communicate complicated ideas or information in a clear, concise way; build relationships; and find the stories that appeal to a targeted audience.”

I’ve also found that experience in TV news has given me unique insight in dealing with crisis situations; how to tell a story visually (which is becoming more and more important); and the kinds of stories that appeal to general media audiences.” 

Halvorson – “The speaking and writing skills that were so much a part of my former life are essential in this career. As the spokesman for the Central Division of Kroger, I represent the company in a variety of TV, radio, and newspaper interviews—and I still get to play ‘anchor’ as Master of Ceremonies for many Kroger events. My writing is mostly in the form of news releases, but I treat that responsibility in the same way as the daily writing in my previous role.

In a broader context, it is clear that every aspect of storytelling has a role in today’s corporate world.”

Cline Black – “Definitely the constant deadline pressure of broadcast news and maintaining the ability to quickly react to balls being fired at you from all sides has been tremendously helpful in my public relations role. In my new job, there are many tasks coming in fast and furiously, at all times, and priorities are constantly shifting. But, thankfully I do my best work under pressure and have spent the past 20-plus years learning how to function well in a fast-paced environment.”

Brilliant – “Being able to multi-task and handle multiple deadlines has been an invaluable skill. Also, the ability to quickly ‘translate’ complicated industry-specific information into easy-to-understand layman terms is very useful.”

2. What’s one thing about PR that has surprised you?

Fechner – “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how many journalism skills I’ve used over the past 15 years have translated into public relations. We always joked when co-workers left for a PR job that they were joining ‘The Dark Side,’ but so much is the same, or at least similar—you’re finding a story, finding an audience, and then working to get that story in front of the viewers or readers. Social media, of course, continues to change the dynamic—the ‘audience’ for journalists and PR teams is so fragmented these days, and we’re all still working to find the best avenues to attract people’s attention and engagement, both short-term and long-term.”

Kirschner – I think I was most surprised by the amount of work involved as well as the variety of that work. It’s a wonderful challenge each and every day.”

Halvorson – “I had to chuckle when a reporter called with questions about one particular story. Her topic was not something of particular interest to Kroger, but she really wanted to hear from us, and I declined. She started telling me all of the reasons why it would be a good idea to get our side of the story out. I heard echoes of myself because, in the old days, I made pleas very much like hers in the hope of getting an interview.

“I surprise other people when I tell them how many hours I devote to this job. When I started at Kroger, several broadcasting friends said this would be ‘a good retirement job.’ They don’t understand the pace of Kroger. With the interests of 137 stores and countless commitments to community service, our pace matches or exceeds the average day of my old newsroom. I’m sure that is not a surprise to anyone in PR. It’s a reminder that the demands of many jobs require more than an expectation of the old 9-to-5 schedule.”

Cline Black – “The one thing that has surprised me most about PR is how many hands go into creating a product. It’s a great collaborative effort, and it’s nice to have so many people give input and support. In TV news, we create our story and generally one…maybe two other sets of eyes weigh in and it’s on the air!”

Brilliant – “I’m not sure it’s PR or my current role, but the pace is extremely fast. Yes, the daily deadline pressure is less, but there is still a need to quickly accomplish a variety of tasks on a daily basis.”

3. What do you like best and least about public relations?

Fechner – “One of the biggest perks for me is simply being able to see my fiancé! She’s a morning reporter in town, and she’d be asleep by the time I got home. We could only catch up on weekends before. As for things I like least about PR so far? Nothing yet!”

Kirschner – “What I like is the variety of the work—and the ability to create new ways to communicate our message to both internal and external audiences. I am fortunate to work at a place that values teamwork, with a culture of support. I also like that we focus on service and work to promote a positive message.

There is very little I don’t like about what I do. I would say the approval process takes a little longer than I am used to, which has been an adjustment.”

Halvorson – “Kroger is so active in the community that 99% of my “breaking news” is good news. That’s a tremendous change of pace.”

What I like least is a habit I find among a few reporters. (I hope I didn’t do this too often in the old days.) I’ve presented story ideas to a few people—by phone or by email—and there is no acknowledgment of my message. The lack of response is a little frustrating.”

Cline Black – “What I like best about PR is the opportunity to get to do so many things. I’ve broadened my horizons so much in the last three months and am learning so many new things. I love applying my skills in oral communications, writing, media understanding, critical thinking, meeting tight deadlines, and creating new ideas in a whole new way. The most challenging thing about PR is that you’re on 24/7!”

Brilliant – “I’m most excited to have the opportunity to devise strategy—to think big picture and long term. Much of my personal media experience involved ‘day turn’ stories that required quick conceptualization and production. Now I’m able to sit back and think about things, devise a plan, and then carry it out. My media days involved little planning—it was ‘run and gun’ all the time!”

4. What do you miss most and least about being in the media?

Fechner – “I definitely don’t miss the long, crazy shifts and getting home at 12:30 a.m. I do miss seeing some fantastic co-workers every day (how could one not miss people like Kevin Gregory, Ericka Flye, or Beth Vaughn!), and I really enjoyed handling breaking news situations. I was fortunate to land in a spot with wonderful new co-workers and inspiring stories.”

Kirschner – What I miss about TV is the people—and the ‘noise’ of a newsroom in the process of getting a show put together. I worked at WTHR nearly 20 years, and the people there are like family. What I don’t miss is standing on the side of the road when there is inclement weather!”

Halvorson – “I miss Election Night and being out at the Speedway during May. I don’t miss ‘breaking news’ that isn’t really ‘breaking’ anymore—and I don’t miss wearing makeup.”

Cline Black – “What I miss most about the media is telling great stories, but now I get to pitch those great stories for Indianapolis Public Schools. There are so many great stories to tell, and I’m loving the opportunity to get the good news out there. What I miss least about the media are the early mornings and weekends!”

Brilliant – “The thing I miss most about being in the media is also what I miss least: tight deadlines. An adrenaline rush comes with having to produce in such a short amount of time, but those quick turnarounds also lead to fatigue and burnout.”

5. What advice can you share about staying up-to-date and marketable?

Fechner – “Do your research and embrace the change. The more experiences you have, the better suited you are for whatever comes down the road.”

Kirschner – “My advice is to do your homework. Read about the latest trends in whatever field that interests you. Talk to people in that field to find out what makes them successful, and if you are making a change, how you can utilize and build on the skills you have. Always be willing to learn.”

Halvorson – “I received valuable advice from a friend who went through a similar transition. She told me she created a ‘functional resume’ to show how her journalism skills could be of value in a new field. I followed her advice. I had been using a chronological resume with a listing of my career progression and achievements in TV. I became convinced that people outside of broadcasting couldn’t always see how those skills would apply to their field. I believe part of my opportunity at Kroger came from improving my resume, but I am also grateful to the people at Kroger for having the vision to see potential in someone from a very different business.

“One other bit of advice: if you wind up seeking a career in a different field, it can be frightening to imagine starting over, especially if management makes the decision for you. But when you find the right opportunity, it can be invigorating to learn something new. I’m trusting one Kroger HR motto: ‘Come for a job. Stay for a career.’

Cline Black – “I advise any media professional making the transition into PR to get your hands on all of the resources possible to learn the job and new skills you’ll need to do the job well. I’m blessed to work for super smart people, with decades of experience in PR and marketing, who are patient and supportive in helping me make the transition. I also have an army of great friends willing to listen to my stories and keep me sane!”

Brilliant – “Keep learning. Even as you achieve successes, realize you have much to learn. Continue your professional development and keep in touch with your network.”

A big thanks to these guys for sharing their insights and for the service they continue to provide to our community. As you can see, they’re all real pros!