I entered the heady world of journalism in the early 1990s, worked for contract publishers, several newspapers (regional and national) and magazines, tried my hand as a freelancer, went into the trade press and ended up as the managing editor on a news website which, during the two years I was there, grew its readership from 500,000 to more than six million.
The move to PR is a well-trodden path for journalists who have, for one reason or another, hit a wall and felt the need to do something different. In my case I wanted a new set of challenges, but didn’t want to have to start from scratch. Oh, and the money was a little better too – not hugely so.
There is no single reason why the move sometimes goes wrong (I don’t know what the failure rate is, but it must be pretty high). Typically fault lies both with the individual and the PR agency that has employed them.
A lot of emphasis is put on transferable skills, such as being able to write. If fact, far too often it goes no deeper than that combined with a hint of this’ll impress the client thinking.
The journo entering the PR workplace lacks a great deal of context of the mechanics of the job, the way an agency operates, the way a team works. That latter point is a good one, after all journalists are not, by nature, team players.
Customer service, appeasement and a can-do attitude also don’t necessarily come naturally to most hacks who have spent their careers marching to the beat of a very different drum.
My first ever client meeting after entering PR is something I will probably never forget. I’d been in my new role for a matter of days when I was sent to deal with a problem client.
The meeting lasted less than five minutes and concluded with a very red-faced and shouty client telling me that he was firing the agency I had just joined.
Culture shock…? You could call it that, yes.
So, here are my three top tips for anyone considering ditching their career in journalism to don a suit and join the PR party.
1. Get real
Be sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for.
2. Do your homework
Get the job spec, and find out what the responsibilities are. Meet the people you’ll be working with and managing – especially the ones you’ll be managing. Their careers are about to be put in the hands of someone with no PR experience. They may well be concerned about this. You need them onside.
3. Put on a happy face
Journalists earn their stripes by critiquing, by being sceptics – asking the difficult questions and highlighting problems and shortcomings.
It won’t be an easy ride. But nothing worth having was come by easily, was it?
If I had to include a fourth point it would be something like network – get out and talk to people.
But three’s a magic number so I shan’t bother with No 4.