04 Mar From Journalism to PR: Approaching Crisis Situations from Both Sides of the Coin
A conversation with Miller Ink’s Ryan McCrimmon on the differences between the fields of journalism and PR
What is your professional background?
I spent seven years as a political reporter and editor covering Congress and the White House for POLITICO and Congressional Quarterly/Roll Call, with a focus on economic policy areas, including taxes, trade, agriculture, climate change, and the federal budget. Most recently, I was a newsletter editor for POLITICO. I studied journalism and Middle Eastern history at Northwestern University, where I spent my last semester writing about Texas politics for the Texas Tribune in Austin.
What is your role within Miller Ink?
I’m a Senior Strategist and part of our crisis division.
What is your specialty at the company?
A combination of media relations, writing, and crisis management. I spend a lot of time pitching reporters and helping clients engage successfully with the media. I also write and edit a wide range of material for our clients, from press releases and on-record statements to op-eds, speeches, ESG reports, strategy documents, internal communications, and much more. And I work on many of our crisis accounts, helping clients navigate complex, fast-moving situations, in which every statement and action – or inaction – can have major implications for their business or reputation.
What does the day-to-day look like as a Senior Strategist at Miller Ink?
Every day unfolds differently. One day might include weekly meetings with clients and other Miller Ink team members, writing copy, pitching reporters, and managing long-term projects like a website redesign or planning a groundbreaking event. The next day could be 100 percent focused on responding to a new crisis matter, providing high-level guidance to the client, drafting press statements, managing media inquiries, or conducting in-depth research on the relevant issues – and doing all of it at a high velocity. One thing that is consistent day-to-day: Every day involves a huge amount of collaboration with other Miller Ink team members and our CEO, Nathan Miller.
Do you have any tips for individuals looking to get started in journalism?
1. Read a lot of news. This is the best way to learn how to write and think like a journalist, and to really learn the issues that you may end up covering yourself.
2. Be thoughtful about what you post on Twitter and other social media. Maintaining credibility and professionalism is crucial to succeeding in the field of journalism.
3. Find stories or topics that you truly care about covering, and be relentless in pursuing those stories. Don’t chase the same stories that everyone else is already writing. To the extent possible, carve out a “beat” that interests you and begin to establish yourself as an authoritative voice on that topic, no matter how small it is.
At the same time, keep an open mind if you’re assigned to cover something that doesn’t interest you at first. My first job out of college was writing about the federal budget – a topic that sounded fairly dry, and one that I knew nothing about – and I ended up absolutely loving it. It gave me an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of Congress and to write about every major political issue, from climate change and health care to gun safety and immigration, through the lens of federal spending programs.
What are the top 3 differences between working in PR and working in journalism?
There are surprisingly a lot of similarities. Both professions revolve around telling stories. They’re both fast-paced and often high-pressure. And both are changing rapidly to adapt to new technology, an ever-accelerating news cycle, and growing distrust of institutions in the media and beyond.
How do you approach a crisis situation?
Generally, start by meeting with the client to understand the situation and their goals. Listen actively and ask questions. It’s an obvious but vital step to assess all the vulnerabilities and opportunities, consider potential courses of action, and establish trust with the client.
From there, every crisis is different. But there are a lot of lessons that carry over from one case to another, and we leverage our experience from previous crises to inform our approach to new ones.
What is the most important aspect of a crisis communications strategy?
Being proactive and moving quickly. Getting ahead of the news cycle instead of scrambling to react to it. Timeliness is critical in virtually every crisis.
What is your favorite thing about working at Miller Ink?
Honestly, the people. We have a talented and collaborative team, and everyone at Miller Ink brings a unique background to their work here. It’s a really fun and supportive group, too. I also appreciate our diversity of clients – spanning industries from retail, housing and nonprofits to biotech, cybersecurity and fintech.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Basketball, boxing, and playing chess. Trying new coffee shops and breweries around LA. Most of all, hiking and exploring with my very good dog, Bailey.
If you were a punctuation mark, which one would you be?
An em dash. It’s versatile and can dramatically enhance a sentence.