Four tips for journalists crossing-over into PR
Hello there, talented journalist!
I’m often approached by print and broadcast reporters and editors like you for tips on transitioning into a career in public relations. After years—even decades—of researching, reporting, investigating and doing your best to file balanced, accurate and timely stories, you’re contemplating making the move to the dark side.
Congrats! You’re really going to love it over here. That is, unless you take a job you have enough years, but not the experience for; assume you are still going to see your name in the paper; or negotiate a salary that does not take into account the overtime you’re about to give up. Yikes!
Never fear, I’m happy to help. Here are the pitfalls and pick-me-ups you’ll need to remember in order to rock out your new career:
Your decade of newsroom experience does not equal a decade of communications management experience.
Public relations isn’t rocket science, but it is a learned skill set. Just like “talking to reporters” everyday doesn’t make me a great journalist, “talking to PR people” doesn’t translate into mastery of project management, strategy and proposal memos, event planning, running a client’s budget, dealing with corporate bureaucracy and crafting and implementing a media relations campaign.
If you walk into a room of experienced PR folks and declare that although you’ve never done their job, you’re awesome at it, they will turn on you so fast it will make your head spin. And you need those flacks because you’ve never done this before…
Accept that you don’t know what you don’t know—then, seek out an employer who understands that.
Take a job at a public relations or public affairs firm that understands that although you come with a highly-valuable skill set, you must be trained in—and given time to learn—the actual craft of public relations.
I strongly encourage you to NOT make your first communications gig a “Communications Director” for a company, or any place that expects you to be a one-woman show.
This is critical.
Without a team of folks around you (like those you find at a firm) who have been there and done that—and who respect and understand how to most appropriately use your talents—you likely will fail. Not because you aren’t smart, but because you have no clue what you are doing and no one is there to teach you. I’ve seen this dozens of times. It sucks and is horrible for your self-esteem.
You are not telling “both sides” of the story anymore; this does not make you or the PR profession “unethical.”
You are changing careers, which means you are subscribing to another field’s code of ethics.
Your journalist code states, “…the duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.”
The Public Relations Society of America code of ethics states, “we adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.”
These points-of-view are different, but equally ethical.
You are going to be very good at this.
There are many, many former reporters just like you who cross-over and kick serious communications butt. Your news judgment, writing and editing skills, aptitude for meeting deadlines, understanding of the importance of timeliness, and ability to take a complicated subject and effectively explain it to the general public makes you invaluable to the right organization.
The bottom line: be confident in—and sell yourself as—the invaluable, strategic media relations resource you are. There are things you know and do well that those of us who have never been reporters simply do not. Humbly use that to your advantage while striving to learn all you can about the PR craft. And welcome to the family, flack!
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