Journalism is famous for being one of the toughest and roughest trades in the world of work. It attracts intelligent, edgy, hard-working people who generally see themselves as operating outside the mainstream of life: observers rather than participants.
The top jobs are well-paid, rewarding and demanding, but they are few and far between and only a tiny fraction of journalists ever make it into the big time. Some journalists find happy niches as specialists, but many more are left struggling: poorly paid, often working unsociable hours in difficult conditions. Editors and department heads are notoriously bad at people management.
Many of these journalists, toiling away on local weeklies, evening papers or small magazines, comfort themselves with the thought that at any time they could always chuck it all in and join the Dark Side, as the PR profession is still known to many of them.
But actually, it’s not quite as simple a transition as it once was. These days agencies are wary of taking on journalists who under-estimate how their skills need to be honed to be of any use in the PR world and the breadth of new ones they have to learn. Thinking through a communications strategy, dealing with client service issues or managing a PR event, for example, demand much more from you than knocking out a thousand word article in half an hour.
Some journalists, especially senior ones, also tend to undervalue the intelligence and talents of PR people. Most PR people have good degrees. They are also relatively sophisticated, knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects, good personal communicators and generally have a sound business sense. They also know what makes a good story, can write and understand the media. Not many journalists could tick all those boxes in all honesty.
PR has also become more professional, arguably more so than journalism in recent years. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations has worked wonders in developing PR training and education both with its own diploma programmes and its support for the growing number of PR degree courses available at universities. But this too has made it harder for journalists to make an instant switch to PR and hit the ground running.
Some journalists, perhaps those who are most alert to these challenges, do make a successful transition to PR. Our advice to any journalist considering a move to PR would be to consider the following:
- Think of it as a career change; not just a case of giving PR a whirl.
- It’s a mistake to go into PR thinking that you can always go back to journalism if it doesn’t work out. You will never give it your best if you have that mindset. Besides, editors tend to get a bit sniffy about journalists who try PR and then want to rejoin the media.
- Treat PR people with respect. They are smarter than a lot of journalists think they are.
- The PR industry is not full of people who really wanted to be journalists but didn’t make it. Nothing could be further from the truth, actually.
- The PR industry is just as tough as journalism. It’s just that we don’t go around shouting about it.
- PR is a highly rewarding and interesting career.
Having said all that, PR remains a serious option for journalists, so long as they are serious about PR.