Gorkana Insight & Analysis Team
Ruth Barnett, Sky's Twitter correspondent, recently joined Swiftkey as head of comms. She talks to Gorkana about the reality and surprises of working in PR...
Prior to moving into PR, what was your perception of the industry?
Mixed. I'd worked with some really talented people who were a joy to deal with but there were also some over the years who didn't seem to get how the media works. There's the general perception in the media that switching to PR is somehow 'the easy option' but I strongly disagree - so far I've found the work to be really varied, it is challenging in completely new ways. That said, it's refreshing not to get up at 5.30am every day any more!
How is the reality different to your expectations?
I wasn't expecting so many PRs to be so welcoming and so willing to share knowledge. Several people have passed on some invaluable advice and there's been a sense of camaraderie.
What lured you to the dark side?
The team at SwiftKey. I hadn't particularly considered it before, I assumed I'd be a journalist forever. I had worked with chief marketing officer Joe Braidwood briefly at Sky so we knew we shared the same interest in innovation and getting things done. He badgered me until I agreed to come to the office and meet some of the team.
I was really impressed with the technology and product they've created, a keyboard app for phones and tablets which has won lots of awards and counts high-profile figures including Stephen Fry among its fans. But I was also bowled over by the culture of innovation they've fostered. There's a lot of (legitimate!) doom and gloom around about the economy but I believe this is going to be a real British success story and I want to be part of it.
What advice would you give to other journalists considering the change?
Only make the jump if you're confident you've found a product/ brand/team you really believe in.
What has been your biggest surprise about PR?
In my first week in the job, I attended a Women In Wireless event and heard a keynote by Nokia's CMO Jerri DeVard. She blew everyone away by being extraordinarily open and honest about how she built her career and the personal challenges she faced along the way. That talk helped me realise good PR isn't about presenting a slick facade, it is about telling the truth in a compelling way.
What is your top tip for PRs when dealing with hacks?
Make it as easy as possible for them to cover your story by making it as strong and complete as you can. Understand they're short of time and under pressure. Lastly, realise they don't owe you coverage, you've got to earn it.
What annoyed you most about PRs when you were a journalist?
There were occasions when a story would be covered substantially online but a PR would imply they didn't care about the web and only wanted the story on TV. To me, those moments revealed they didn't understand different types of stories suit different platforms and they didn't appreciate that while they hadn't got the 20-seconds of live coverage they wanted, they did get something that would exist on Google forever.
It's early days, but are you missing journalism?
There are moments when a big Westminster Village story explodes and I automatically think how I'd want to cover it, but I think it's important to keep learning, changing, challenging yourself and it was time to go out into a different kind of environment to do that.
How do you handle your relationship with your former Sky colleagues?
I'm still in touch with a lot of my former colleagues. Journalism is so networked and I have friends and contacts in virtually every national newsroom. I will contact some of them regarding SwiftKey when it's appropriate to, but stories and case studies are rightly covered on their own merits, not as favours.
Who did you learn most from as a journalist?
It's impossible to answer that, I learnt something new from colleagues every day! I tried to seek out examples of compelling storytelling, clever digging or good conduct all the time. A couple of Sky colleagues were wonderfully relaxed and clear-sighted under pressure and I always studied that during big breaking stories. I think the best quality in a reporter is to be endlessly curious, it was inspiring to work with people who were still just as curious about people, how the world works, 20 or 30 years into their career.
And finally, did you ever meet Rupert Murdoch during your time at Sky?
No. To my knowledge he never visited the newsroom in the nearly five years I worked there. I think I saw James across a building once several years ago. And when I covered the hacking revelations on television last summer, the only instruction I got was 'we hit this story as hard as we'd hit any other'.