Jumping From Journalism

Two former media pros lean on contacts, relationships and experience to open their own PR shop

Photo: White Hat PR partners, Scott Taylor and Lisa Brandt

IT’S A COMMON enough career trajectory these days that journalists barely bat an eye at it anymore: a former journalist, squeezed out by an industry in transition, jumps ship to public relations. You automatically become the target gentle ribbing here and there—jokes about selling out or joining the dark side.

But for former journalists Scott Taylor and Lisa Brandt, leaving the struggling media industry offered an opportunity to do PR in a new way.

“When you’re a journalist, you’re a storyteller,” says Taylor. “And for me, the evolution from that is to continue to be a storyteller, which is what you do in communications.”

Taylor, a former London Free Press reporter and Metro London editor, has teamed up with longtime AM radio personality Lisa Brandt to launch White Hat PR, an outfit that is approaching public relations and communications from the perspective of two journalists who have spent more time butting heads with PR reps than working alongside them.

They’re hitting the streets with years of experience being on the receiving end of the service they’re providing, a type of inverse play that has plenty of practical applications…

“We both want to be positive, which is why we chose [the name] White Hat,” says Brandt. “The good guy always wears a white hat, right?”

The pair say they aren’t planning to focus on any one area or sector, but are keeping positivity at the centre of their work. That, naturally, comes with some boundaries. They are willing to take on politicians as clients (though they haven’t yet), but aren’t willing to go to bat for one side or the other of a contentious issue like bus rapid transit.

They’re also casting a wide net in terms of mediums and are excited to explore new media options like podcasts and social media—things that, ironically, are posing existential challenges to their previous employers.

White Hat officially launched in July and has already landed a half-dozen clients. Taylor admits that, for his part, he’s running more on enthusiasm and a determination to approach the work differently than he is relying on years of experience as a PR agent.

“We’re still getting our sea legs under us,” he jokes. “We’re still pretty new and it’s a new industry for us.” (Brandt has a bit more experience than Taylor. She’s written a handful of books, including a business how-to title called How to Make the Media Want You.)

Even so, they’re hitting the streets with years of experience being on the receiving end of the service they’re providing, a type of inverse play that has plenty of practical applications. When you boil it down, that experience might even be more valuable, if it avoids creating the headaches for journalists that PR people are famous for creating. Plus, it helps to have a healthy Rolodex.

“People know me, people know Lisa,” says Taylor. “Because we were both in media, and spent our lives in media, we have the knowledge of exactly what journalists are looking for.”

Still, for both Taylor and Brandt, this venture is a personal journey as well as a professional one—a kind of day-to-day lesson in hitting the reset button on your own life. Plenty of people working in media right now know the smart money is on leaving the industry; it’s the mushy, heartfelt stuff that keeps most of them in it even as, says Taylor, the writing on the wall comes into sharper and sharper focus.

“At some point, the frustration grows and you start actually looking and hoping for something else,” he explains. “I saw what was coming, and I’ve seen how it’s going for my peers.”

For Brandt, who also does voice and writing work as a freelancer, the new venture also brings about a return to structure. “When I left radio, I thought I wanted to wake up every morning and work in my pyjamas every day,” she says. “I found that I needed more of a purpose. I need to feel like I’m contributing more.” Kieran Delamont

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