There are times in the career of most journalists when they hit the dreaded crossroad. Should I stay or should I go? With newsroom and stories not like they were, maybe start wondering whether the greener grass of public relations is where the future lies. wonder what it would be like to jump. This blog explains it all and gives an insight into the journalism and PR industry.
It begins with a dream to bring down corrupt governments with the mighty pen and then the harsh reality of life in journalism hits home. Most journalists end up in PR and finish their careers there.
Maybe a few of my ex-journalist colleagues may dread the above statement, but this sequence is now a fact of life.
With circulation dwindling and the ethics of journalism now under scrutiny now more than ever, the fun part of journalism or being a journalist seems to have been stripped away.
Just today, I was discussing with a news editor – a veteran of the industry – the hange in the newsroom. “You’ve never recognise the place now,” they told me. The sadness in the voice being easily detectable.
For a hack, the most obvious career after journalism is to get into PR. Fact. Everyday PR Week and Media websites are full of senior hacks making the change into PR heading up some sort of comms department.
But do ex-journalists make the best PR professionals? Yes and no but there is a learning curve. A very steep learning curve.
When I trod the path of hack to PR few years ago, after a great time in media, I must admit I entered with a little naivety and arrogance. OK, maybe a lot of arrogance. I cut my teeth at a agency in Birmingham and I expected everyone to fall over backwards for me.
The decision to enter PR came as I remember sitting in the newsroom reading woeful attempts at press release after press release, dissecting the story from within the junk, while being bombarded with irrelevant calls by PR bods and thinking “I can knock out press releases in my sleep and I can spot an angle or a story hook all day long. Journalism pays me pittance, I’m doing ridiculous hours, I wasn’t feeling the love from the editors and I’m forever slagging everyone off and being grumpy. I’m going to move into PR, show them how to write a press release, earn millions before driving into the sunset in a fancy car.” Easy.
It didn’t quite work like that. And I can guarantee the above comment is true for a large chunk of journalists right now.
Anyway, my first experience in a PR job saw me do around 25% of writing. I was surprised just exactly how difficult it was. My colleagues, to my surprise, weren’t treating me as a royalty, but simply as another extension to the team. In fact, many were asking me for writing tips and ideas and how to make sure you pitch to a journalist in the right manner. I also started mini writing sessions for my colleagues to help them on story and feature writing.
Sure, many PR’s have never stepped inside a newsroom or even know what “nib” means, but to dismiss them on that basis or to demean what they do is disrespectful. PR people and Journalists are a symbiotic relationship. One cannot operate without the other.
Funnily enough, I had my fair share of encounters with journalists myself – but this time as a PR person. But as someone who has been on the “light” and “dark” side you totally understand the different pressures of both. And believe you me, there are unbelievable pressures in PR as well.
PR isn’t just about good writing, lovely press releases and getting as much exposure for your client as possible. It helps, but there is so much more involved.
Having spent few years working for one of the biggest PR agencies in the UK for a variety of big and small clients, I now know different. PR is all about managing the reputation of your client 24/7, brand recognition and ultimately creating demand. Punchy news headlines and well-written releases are just a start. Being an ex-journalist I instantly gained respect for my writing skills, I knew what made a story, I had the contacts, I knew how a newspaper works, how a journalist thinks and how to write press releases etc but there was so much more I needed to learn. My arrogance quickly disappeared when I realised that to be a good PR person you need to embrace the profession and learn new skills.
One of the biggest role of a PR professional is understanding the client’s needs, making them understand how the media works and how journalists think, what angles and stories will work and why what you are doing is for the good of their business. The advent of social media has taken this to a whole new level but that is a story for another day.
One of the biggest tasks in PR is keeping the client happy, as they are the ones who pay the bills. Journalists are naturally autonomous and independent. They have their own contacts and dig their own stories. If there is a story to be had, no matter how controversial, no doubt they will chase it and it will make print. So, to go from this independence, to bowing to the every whim of your client is no easy task. It requires skill, diplomacy, tact, maturity and art. In fact, you could say that it is similar to how journalists handle good contacts.
I now have my own business, Seventy Nine PR and Marketing, fusing everything I’ve learnt as a journalist and in PR to help my clients. What I’ve learnt is that journalists can become the best PR people in the world. That is of no doubt. But that can only happen when they learn the skills needed in PR and embrace the industry. Journalism skills combined with PR skills makes a very powerful combination.
There are other careers outside of PR for the hack looking to lock away his shorthand notepad for good. But PR is the closest thing you will ever get to being a hack. In fact, we have also tried to inspire other wannabe journalists to pass our expertise to them.
In addition, Seventy Nine PR, has been leading the way in ethnic PR and marketing - trying to understand the growing UK’s ethnic population. So our experience of national and regional newspapers has been insightful in trying to understand the ethnic media who operate in a different way to mainstream media. It has put us in a good position to become involved in shaping communication to the UK’s ethnic population.
Sure, it will never beat the buzz of a newsroom on a good day, or unearthing a gem of a story or getting a front page lead. But, the reality is that nothing ever will. But, creating a good campaign or securing column inches for your client on a national or a regional publication comes close.
So, a hack and a PR person. Much closer than you think.
Blog by +Emma Lunn
We are a PR and marketing agency based in Leicester, Midlands, dedicated to creating demand and managing reputation through a range of communication platforms. We work with household names, SMEs in the UK and across the world. We are specialists in ethnic marketing and help businesses reach a new audience.
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