Why not just change teams? Ex-journalists talk about their lives as PROs
30th June 2010
Journalists spend a lot of time talking to PROs, so they know exactly what separates the great from the terrible. This knowledge is invaluable when moving into the industry, says Anne Massey, founder of PR agency The Editorial Consultancy: “My pet hates as a journalist were PROs who wasted journalists' time by not knowing enough about the client or subject to answer questions.“
Other PRO failings that annoyed Massey included not delivering promised information on time; and creating an unnecessary barrier to a client who really could answer the questions. She adds: “This might be understandable if the client is a politician or superstar – but since this person is seeking exposure they should be willing to spend some of their time on the project.”
Seeing the best and worst PR in practice during her 14 years in journalism has also helped Tracey Snell, retained freelance consultant at PR agency rassami, succeed in PR. Her particular bugbear as a journalist was receiving calls from PROs asking how often the magazine publishes: “Even when you work on a magazine with 'week' in the title – yes, that really does happen!”. Snell also makes sure she never makes the basic mistake of calling journalists on press days just to check they have a press release.
Apart from knowing what NOT to do, journalism offers skills that transfer well to PR. Snell mentions knowing what makes a story and what doesn't: “You know how to pitch a story and how to get a client's message across to different audiences“. She adds that other skills include the ability to research and write, which can often be lacking in other PROs.
But there are ways in which ex-journalists are ill prepared for PR. Joanne Milroy, partner at PR firm Eloqui, says that she has mixed experiences of journalists moving into PR: “For many journalists navigating around a large organisation – where the communications function has to be about supporting the business objectives rather than just aimlessly pushing out 'good stories' – can be very alien.” Milroy lists other ways in which journalism and PR are incompatible: “Journalists tend to work on their own, while a lot of PR is about team work. Most journalists wrap a story up in a day and are then onto the next thing, while there is more long-term planning in PR. And there are these terrible things called clients who call up and want things. Journalists have no concept of client service when they arrive in a PR agency or client organisation.“
Milroy has found that journalists who make a successful transition are those that have thought through how the job will be different. Those that fail are those who have fallen into it because they have either tired of journalism, or it has tired of them. Milory herself found the initial move to PR was quite a culture shock: “When you are a journalist most people have time for you and answer your calls. When you are on the lowest rung of a PR agency, no one is that helpful. ”
The Editorial Consultancy’s Massey agrees with Milroy that moving into PR is not always an easy move for journalists: “It's not as much fun or as fulfilling being a PRO as being an editor. But PR is a job which can be done from home, so for a woman raising children it's a way of ‘having it all‘. However, I fear there is little chance of finding the way back once you step over that line.”
Snell from rassami agrees that journalists often feel they are missing out, or at least, selling out, when they move into PR, but adds, “It's a feeling that many ex-journalists get, yes, and you can get teased by journalist colleagues, but it isn't selling out. PR is a serious profession and it is a lot more difficult than many journalists believe."
Neil Brenson, diirector of business PR at agency Cirkle, describes how he found the transition into PR after life as a journalist:
"I can confess I made the move into PR with some trepidation and temporary self loathing. The fact is I spent a good many years training and working as a journalist and during that time I had some pretty poor experiences with the majority of PROs I dealt with. As for those former colleagues who dared leave journalism and worse “turn to the dark side”, well that was simply incomprehensible to me at that time. So when I'd finally decided to move into PR I did feel like I was selling out and in fact I was told that in no uncertain terms by former colleagues who tried to cajole me into staying.
“But the fact is the skills are definitely transferable, the journalism experience is invaluable and the job satisfaction is incredible. So for those journalists contemplating ‘selling out’ I'd tell them exactly the same as I told a former colleague just recently: Go for it, but stay true to your journalistic beliefs and values, that way you will command the respect of colleagues, clients and of course journalists."
Jude Clay, press officer at animal charity RSPCA: “Ex-journalists make the best PROs. As an ex-journo myself, I think that knowledge of the industry is a massive, massive advantage.”
James Bishop, financial PR account manager: “I think ex-journalists have a better understanding of deadlines and working under pressure than other PROs.”
Jamila Juma-ware, PR manager at agency Chocolate PR, points out that it‘s not just ex-journalists who bring useful experience into a PRO role: “As an events manager turned PR manager, I find that drawing ideas from previous event promotions helps to generate a fresh approach to raising brand profiles.”