Reflections on moving from journalism to PR
In June 2021, I made a big decision personally and professionally. After more than a decade of writing features and working as a journalist, I decided to move away from journalism and transition into a career in PR.
It felt like a major step in my career, especially as I’d been doing work experience in newsrooms and at magazines since I was 16. I’ve walked red carpets and travelled internationally and there had been some big investments of both time and money to chase my ideal career.
While I had flirted with the idea of moving to PR before, I knew that if I was to make the move, it couldn’t be for just any company. I realised that if I were to make the move, it needed to be for an organisation that I could offer something to and that would best understand the contributions I can make.
Having worked closely with Social for various projects and having particularly built up a great relationship with their teams over in Leeds, I knew that it would be the best place for me.
Why journalists make good PR people
It’s a bit of a cliché for journalists to move into PR, so much so that plenty of people in the industry still refer to it as being ‘the dark side’.
Social’s own communications team has a major contingent of journalists and more than half of the team in our Manchester office are former hacks. But there’s plenty of good reasons why the transition is one that so many have made and will continue to make.
As you might imagine, due to the industry experience you gain in a newsroom, journalists fundamentally understand the media. They appreciate the pressures and demands a journalist might be under when creating a story and the role of a PR company in making that process easier, especially for the benefit of a client.
Journalists have a reputation for being nosey, largely because of their determination to seek truth and bring it to light. That curiosity means that those that move over to PR, benefit from an innate news sense and ability to ask good questions that can cut the heart of the matter. In meetings with clients, I’ve been able to find new angles and story beats by asking questions that help bring a potential story to the surface.
While in recent years there have been fewer in-person events and reduced capacities at those that are going ahead, there are still opportunities to build contacts with businesses and journalists. As PR professionals we have to be able to build great relationships and nurture them so that when the time comes, we can make a big impact for our clients and help generate stories for journalists.
The PR learning curve
Even though I’d set my sights on the organisation I wanted to work for, successfully gone through the interview process and my managers were aware of what I could bring to the team, there were still some initial lessons. As with any change of job or career, there is a steep learning curve in the initial few weeks and months.
There is a crucial change of mindset when you move from being a journalist and editor to being an account manager for a successful communications agency. You’re working to other people’s deadlines, managing the requirements of different clients and their needs must come to the forefront of your mind.
In any given day, you could be managing the publication of a press release, developing marketing collateral, organising events and speaking to journalists. While you have control over your diary and manage your time accordingly, there remains external pressures that influence how you conduct your days.
While I am no longer working on stories personally, the story or article still comes first. I work to fulfill the needs of journalists and make sure that they have what they need from my clients to create the best article they possibly can.
I’ve also been able to work with my clients to help demonstrate what makes a better story and what journalists will be interested in, whether from a press release or an interview. I’ve been able to help deliver media training, running mock-interviews and demonstrating how to plan for an interview effectively.
I have always felt comfortable developing relationships with the press and businesses. As a journalist, I was always encouraged to keep a good contacts book and keep relationships with people in preparation for when I might need a comment or quote to finish off a piece.
Since moving into PR, I have learned new skills beyond what I’d anticipated. Alongside media relations support, I have been helping companies to develop new brand identities, creating content for websites and social media. This kind of work uses my journalism skill set in a new way, as I understand how to communicate and public perceptions of all kinds of businesses.
But embracing the spirit of collaboration has helped me to get positive results for clients.
One of the best lessons I was given by a former editor attributed the job to spinning plates. With short, medium and long-term projects, a multitude of stories, features and events needed to be maintained in order to keep the office and magazine running smoothly.
That same attitude can be applied to working in PR, with deadlines presenting themselves within a matter of hours or working on projects months in advance.
While I always found that my workload in journalism would reach a crescendo, and those plates would spin faster as I reached my deadline, they would eventually come down from the sticks once the deadline was passed.
In PR, those plates just never stop spinning. Rather than working through peaks and troughs, you are always working at a high level of activity across several clients with different priorities.
Sometimes I still refer to myself as a ‘journalist’ and I don’t think that ever leaves you. You’re still built with a particular mindset. But, I’m comfortable saying ‘I’m in PR’ and I’m enjoying every second of it.