Journalists are making the transition to PR in greater numbers than ever before, with many joining PR agencies or taking corporate communications posts. It’s widely accepted that former reporters can be valuable additions to communications teams (some arguments notwithstanding). For PR, it’s important to be able to think like a reporter and to understand how the media works. Sharp writing skills, and knowing what makes a good story are other obvious strong points for ex-journos going over to “the dark side.”
But there are other factors to consider that are less obvious, whether you’re a professional making the shift (as I did), or a company considering what kind of communications professionals to hire to work with your brand. Here are three points to consider.
PR work is far more diverse than journalism. For a reporter in a newsroom, the job is pretty straightforward, as well as somewhat one-dimensional: you report and write stories for publication. True, the range of story types can be very diverse. A journalist covering the same beat can interview a head of state one day and a homeless person the next. And while the work itself can be enjoyable and rewarding, the role of a reporter and the day-to-day tasks involved are pretty much the same.
In public relations that’s not the case. Communications people play the role of writers and editors, event planners, project managers, counselors, troubleshooters, and strategic thinkers. Activities can involve everything from writing pitches, press releases, blogs, bylined articles, speeches and quotes, to thinking through an organization’s business goals over the next year and coming up with a strategic plan to support those goals through multiple types of communications — and everything in between.
PR requires a strong business sense. This is probably where PR deviates most drastically from journalism. In spite of what some like to say, the news business is not about selling papers. But PR is undeniably and unapologetically linked to selling whatever clients want to sell, and the company’s overall business health. Good PR professionals are constantly thinking about clients’ business goals and the overall company direction, because business objectives inform the PR strategy. A good PR person will be one who is savvy about — and interested in — business.
The people skills are completely different. Media and public relations is actually much more about client relations than one might think, and this, too, is a big departure for most journalists. While reporters are constantly dealing with people and benefit from possessing a certain amount of charm, it’s a completely different story when dealing with clients or potential partners, and when pitching new business. The communications professional is often called upon to play the role of counselor or adviser (often to CEOs and other top executives), and the journalist-turned-PR person must be comfortable filling those shoes.
Ultimately the transition is most successful when it’s fully embraced as an opportunity to grow into new and challenging roles. And that’s a perspective that serves to benefit everyone involved.