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Journalism to PR – Is it a right choice?

Posted by prnext on September 6, 2009


2599hatA recent survey conducted by PR Week highlighted that over 50% of media professionals are now considering a career outside of journalism (Maybe even on the “dark side,” as PR is commonly referred to in the journalism industry). It seems as an epidemic of job swaps among the senior journalists, has sparked fears of a vacuum of experienced journalists at the top of the profession.

Interestingly, it’s not just reporters who are crossing over to PR, even mass communication students are opting to study PR over journalism as well, because they feel the opportunities will be better for them in PR. based on what’s happening with print newspapers and other [media], that [journalism] might not be as feasible of a career for them right now.

Speaking informally to some of these ex-journalists who turned to the world of PR, when asked what made them switch. The common explanation given for the migration is money. It is a well known fact that PR pays more than journalism. Then you may ask, how about the passion, making a difference and being part of the ‘fourth estate’. Is the big salary enough reason to just leave this noble career to go the ‘other’ side? Most of these ex-journalists-cum-PR practitioners will tell you that passion cannot pay your bills at the end of the month; they say ‘reality’ has got to them, that is why they crossed over to PR.

PR is evolving and it looks more opportune than journalism. It comes with a big salary together with attractive perks. There are more career opportunities in PR, contrary to journalism which has very thin ranks to move up the ladder. PR practitioners have an opportunity to attend the meeting with the Board of Directors of companies and also sit in some of the lavish offices.

Despite the fact that PR seems to be so much better and monetarily rewarding, it doesn’t mean it’s easy for journalists to make the switch to the other side.

For ex-journalists who become PR people (and I am one of them), there are a lot of new skills to learn. If you’re an ex-journalist-turned-PR person, or an executive who hired one, here are some tips, that would help you to make the transition:

  • Look at PR as corporate journalism: As soon as you become’ a PR consultant, you will find yourself in a highly credible position to advise MD & CEO’s of various companies on what constitutes legitimate news as opposed to marketing hype.
  • Bringing a fresh outlook to the job: Let’s start with the most fundamental element — who you are working for? In your previous job, you report to the editors. In PR, you service the client directly and many a times report to the MD & CEO of the company. The target audience for your client may be as diverse as customers, shareholders, employees, competitors, regulators and the media. And unlike in the media, the peculiarities of each of these audiences has to be factored into your strategies and materials — which is why so much PR information comes out like it was written by a committee.
  • Adopt Customer Service: Journalists are used to being brusque. They’ve got deadlines, they’ve got an audience, and they don’t have time for minutiae. That won’t fly in PR. Most people expect PR people to be nice, even obsequious to a fault. You are now a service provider, and will be expected to do things with a smile that in your previous job. In PR, everyone’s feathers need to be smoothed, and it’s usually your job to do it.
  • Think like a businessman: Many journalists have lived a sheltered existence, with careful separations maintained between editorial and advertising, insulating them from the realities of profit and loss. I know that the current difficulties in the media has been a wake-up call, but once you come over to PR, you’ll be fully immersed in the world of budgets, profits and competitors.
  • The buck stops with you: I was stunned when I got into PR to realize how carefully clients followed what was said about them in the media and how quickly they jumped to conclusions about the motivation of the media when something was said that they didn’t like, or when they were left out of stories. As the PR person, you will find that when this happens — when the media says something your client doesn’t like, or doesn’t cover you when you think you should have been covered — it’s your fault. You’re the bottom of the food chain, you’re the one touting your media relations skills and experience, YOU should have made sure this didn’t happen. Even if there was nothing you could have done.
  • Your friends in the media: Your media experience means a lot to your new clients. But your new clients don’t mean as much to your friends in the media. You’ll probably be able to leverage your connections for some stories but one can’t count on making your living asking your friends to do stories. Which brings us to:
  • Pitching: In all likelihood, you will find yourself emailing or calling journalists you don’t know asking them to do stories on your clients. I don’t mean to be too much of a downer, but let me say that this will be an eye-opening experience. You will now understand what it feels like to be on the other end of the line pitching what you think is a decent story, only to be ignored, hung-up-on, berated or belittled. And that’s if you can even get a response from the journalist you’re pitching, which often times, you won’t. I’ve been on both sides of these calls and I fully understand the frustration of the media getting pitched non-relevant stories by people who have no clue who they are pitching, but this has created an environment in which many journalists view all PR pitches with suspicion bordering on disgust.

There’s one bigger caveat for ex-journalists and the people who hire them: the need for marketing expertise. PR and media relations are subsets of the larger marketing function, and all PR activities are designed to support marketing and ultimately sales. Journalists whose training took place in journalism school and who experience is solely in the media have a great deal to learn about the discipline of marketing.

Just as I advise a would-be media relations expert in the PR field to read journalism books, take journalism courses and immerse themselves in the craft of journalism, so I would advise career-switching journalists making the effort to learn about the intricacies of marketing.

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8 Responses to “Journalism to PR – Is it a right choice?”

  1. shubhada dharwadkar said

    Hi Vikram,

    Your piece brought in memories of my own movement from journalism to PR thirteen years ago. I do miss writing (which was and still is my passion), but to know that you have the responsibility of being the custodian of the image of your client(s), is an onerous task and sometimes when you are at rock bottom, you wish you had never made the switch. But that’s momentary. Once you climb out of your “down” state, it’s a good feeling.

    However, I do agree with Simon that quite often the writer in me is rather unfulfilled. I am with Matt when he says that if you are set monetarily, then its best to stick to journalism.

  2. buzzword.artist said

    Generalising PR as the ‘dark side’ is amusing.
    Does that make ‘them’ holier than thou with a ticket to heaven?

  3. DD said

    Good sum up of what it means to make the transition.

    Now, what does it take to make the shift, if ever, from PR to journalism?

  4. Shivshankar Surkund said

    I went though all the articles and found them of great interest. A journo thinking of changing to PR 15 years back, has to to think twice to-day and the things have changed so drastically – competition has enhanced greatly – inflow of news too has increased ten times.

    There was a time, only when Door Darshan was ruling, to get an item in DD news ws considered a great acheivement. To-day who is bothered about DDnews, when there are a dozen 24 hour news channels.

    Further, the technology too has made things more complicated than before.

  5. Neha Vij said

    Dear Vikram

    Very nice article…I truly agree with you here. I am a media person shifted to the PR industry recently and I know what you are talking about. Yes! I agree we journalists have to brush up on our marketing skills but at the same time, we also understand how media is going to treat a story…that helps a great deal as well. Nice one there.

    Neha Vij

  6. “Is it a right choice?” What a silly question, given that the move will be a valid or invalid choice based on an individual’s circumstances!
    That aside, as a journalist who went to PR but then came back, I can recommend making the move to PR. I certainly found it a very educational experience. I never found PR particularly fulfilling, however, and moved on.

  7. I strongly believe that if you’re passion is journalism and you are in college now, to keep studying it. The field will rebound at some point in the coming years. It is just in at a major transition point in history right now. This is scaring a lot of people away from the field. However, with the economy as in as bad of shape as it’s in, if you are a journalist now and have the opportunity to transition to PR, you may want to think about doing so. Unless you’re set monetarily, in which case – stick with your roots. Just my thoughts.

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