Switching from Journalism to PR: No Easy Task

In the past week, I’ve heard from three individuals in the news media who want to pursue jobs in public relations.  I’ve been pretty direct with my personal point of view regarding such a switch:  It’s possible, but increasingly difficult. 

While many Boomer and GenX PR pros began their careers as reporters (myself included), the PR profession has changed dramatically since the days it was largely focused on writing and media relations.  Today, PR has become more of a “science”–far broader than media relations.   One of the journalists said my feedback was “depressing to someone so desperately wanting to switch careers.”  Normally the optimist, I was afraid I might have been too negative, so I  tried to respond with a game plan for the long-term journalist who thinks PR can fill the next phase of his career.  

First and foremost:  Network.  Anyone thinking about a career change should talk with as many people as possible who are doing those jobs.  I encouraged him to volunteer with local organizations where he could both network and gain some PR experience.  A resume without PR experience doesn’t get much traction in most agencies, unless the journalist has a well-recognized name and can bring something other than PR savvy to the job.  I also cited the only examples of journalists who have successfully made the transition to PR–and most of them did so over 10 years ago.  Others entered PR by working for government agencies that they formerly covered, and one ex-reporter who covered banking was hired to help meet an agency’s specific need to service a financial client. 

Just when I didn’t think I had much more to share with the journalists, I came across a Ragan Report article last night that offers these seven critical questions that should be answered by anyone contemplating a  jump from journalism to PR:

  1. Are you comfortable being the seller instead of the buyer?
  2. Do you speak marketing?
  3. Can you toe the corporate line?
  4. Can you practice diplomacy?
  5. Can you manage your hours?
  6. Can you see the bigger picture?
  7. Can you serve many masters?

4 thoughts on “Switching from Journalism to PR: No Easy Task

  1. Ron-
    Enjoyed reading your blog post on Journalist PR professionals. You’ve certainly given journalists a sobering look at the realities of PR. I’m curious to know whether other people in the PR business share your outlook.

  2. Steve —

    I made the move to PR nearly 10 years ago, after spending about 8 years as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. PR, like journalism, is very different today. One sign of this, I think, is that new hires in the agency world are increasingly likely to have a degree in public relations — rather than journalism or even general communications. And I agree with Ron that it takes more than media relations know-how to make a successful switch. This may be particularly true for working at an agency, as opposed to many corporate communications jobs.

    Still, I also think really good journalists will find more than a few skills are either transferrable or easily adapted. A few that may be less so:
    – measuring PR results beyond media impressions (and helping clients understand why they should)
    – managing budgets and billable hours
    – thinking like a marketer
    – proving the value of communications inside companies whose primary business is NOT communications

    Hope this helps.

    Calmetta Coleman

  3. Certainly there are good politicians and bad politicians, along with great civil union leaders and corrupt civil union leaders. The practitioners of Public Relations are no different. Even more interesting to the future of PR is the number of journalists leaving newspapers and jumping into jobs as PR Directors, contractors and the like, basically blending the skills of two professions. I am certain I am not alone in trusting media less, and relying on the opinions of my social circle more. It just so happens that in my social circle, I know about 11 journalists. Among these journalists, exactly 2 of them are working as professionals who “investigate and report events, issues and trends to a broad audience” as described by the Wikipedia to be “journalism”. What’s even more interesting is that 4 of my friends are former journalists now working in Public Relations in some capacity. Perhaps the inhabitants of my close social circle are an anomaly. Perhaps they are not.
    Either way, the survey by Gallup surmising, “the majority of Americans say they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.” Coupled with more reporters and journalist working in PR calls for a different model. Perhaps “the father of PR” Edward Bernays’ efforts to revive the profession through requiring licensure is truly a solid step in regaining the trust, and in that, the not so distant past might be the best advisor to PR Professionals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *