Back in 2007 a well-known motoring journalist from a top-selling magazine emailed me to say: “M’dear chap, you do seem to be able to flit between journalism and public relations with quite some aplomb. How do you do it?”
I had just been appointed PR Manager of Fiat UK in time for the launch of the popular 500 city car, having previously headed up the Jeep PR department – with two separate stints in between as a journalist on a big UK car magazine and a national newspaper – so, as well as a kind and generous observation, it was possibly a fair point.
To be fair, I’ve been asking myself the same question for pretty much my entire career. And I guess it all comes down to giving journalists what they want. When you’re a reporter or feature writer, you must give your editor what he or she wants, and on time too. When you’re a PR executive, you’re still giving editors what they want – or at least what their writers want. Get all that right and you’re a long way down the road to a successful career.
This is my first blog on johnstonmedia.com so let me introduce myself if we haven’t met. I’m Tom Johnston, a freelance writer, editor and event manager. I write my own stuff, check and amend other peoples’, offer thoughts and guidance on PR campaigns and help out at shows and exhibitions. It’s an enjoyable occupation – largely brought about by redundancy – and, having built up my experience in this world we call media (meeja darling, meeja…), I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Over the last 30 years or so I’ve been called a journalist, a reporter, sub-editor, desk editor, copywriter, public relations manager… you name it – I’ve been called it (and it hasn’t always been complimentary). I’m even trying to get novelist and playwright tacked on in there somewhere, if I can just get a literary agent to take me and my stories seriously.
I started my career as a young reporter on the Southend Evening Echo and, after five years, made the big move to London to become the first ever reporter of a (then) new car magazine called Auto Express. I became News Editor, Assistant Editor and even Associate Editor, and discovered that having a business card like that from a big, nationwide title made me almost respectable. It certainly gave me access to some of the world’s newest and most exciting cars, allowed me an insight behind the scenes at famous car factories and headquarters, and offered me the opportunity to drive on hundreds of beautiful roads, 4×4 tracks, rally stages and motor racing circuits around the globe.
A job switch to the Chrysler Corporation, the US brand responsible for Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and, following a merger, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Abarth, similarly allowed me to take my passport and fly off into the sunset hosting groups of car, lifestyle and travel journalists on international press events. The corporate life was good. It’s not unlike being a journalist in many respects: there are still deadlines to make, stories to write and interviews to organise (usually for other people though, not yourself), and aside from the growing mass of red tape and form signing you get in a corporation, being the UK’s PR Manager of Jeep, for example, was an interesting and rewarding job.
So when it all came to an end last year and the axe fell (it had been hovering for a while), I decided I would do everything I could to stay as part of the media circus. Not solely as a journalist and not solely as a PR man. But as a freelance mixture of the two.
Was it a good decision? I think so. I’ll never be complacent because you don’t know what’s around the corner, but I am keeping busy, earning a living and enjoying myself. I was certainly hoping that, as a self-employed little person in a big, unforgiving wide world, I could continue to “flit between journalism and public relations” as my writer friend told me I was doing all those years earlier.
Only time will tell, but I plan to be here for the long run so, please, come back and visit me on these web pages from time to time. And if I can help you with some copy, a bit of editing or as a spare pair of hands at an event, you know where to find me. I’ll be flitting about somewhere…