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Why Journos fail in PR

February 26, 2016

I have read much recently on the topic of journalists moving into PR, and thought it was about time I had my say.

As someone who made a permanent move to the ‘dark side’ more than eight years ago, I understood and empathised with many of those who either wrote the pieces in question or commented on them.

Yes, it can be hard to adjust, and yes there are skills which ex-journos can bring to the table, but in my opinion too many believe the two professions are merely a case of poacher turned game-keeper.

All but one piece I read featured journalists discussing how ‘it wasn’t for them’, ‘they didn’t enjoy it’ or ‘were unable to cope with pressure from clients’.

My interpretation was that some of these former hacks went into public relations thinking ‘I am a journalist so I will be a brilliant PR’.

For many it seems as if it’s a natural progression – or a given even. Ten or so years on a paper, redundo? Nice one… ‘I’ll go into PR’. Happy days.

But those who make a successful transition are now few and far between.

As John Harrington discussed in this piece, modern technology and the blurred lines between PR, marketing and advertising are making it harder.

Although I enjoyed the pieces I read, including this one – I still feel ex-journos start their cushy new jobs – as is the pre-conception – wearing their aloof, self-centred journalistic hat.

I get the impression a handful may have even patronisingly ruffled the hair of a few ‘fluffy PR bunnies’ on the way to taking a seat at their desk.

Let me make this very clear – If you still want to be a journalist and still see yourself as a journalist, forget about moving to the PR industry.

They are two very different professions.

Yes, it is important to get a story into the national press or onto a prominent online site, but coverage is the icing on the cake.

It is not the cake.

The cake is what those people whose hair you ruffled have been working on for years, since they slaved their butts off to earn a PR degree and get a foot on the career ladder.

And they will continue to carry out this highly-skilled, highly- pressurised and highly-demanding work long after you are back in journalism.

They will carry on working 10, 12, 14 or 16 hour days dreaming up huge campaign strategies which change the way people perceive a brand or product.

The bottom line is if you fail to understand or appreciate this – and the fact that for every bollocking you took from an editor or news editor, they probably took one from an equally unreasonable client – you will fail.

Your news sense will come in handy for sure.

And your shorthand will spark a bit of interest in brainstorms.

And of course your contacts might help you along the way.

But there is far more to PR than that.

I’m speaking from experience.

I spent a year in the 1990s running a pro-active PR operation for a large supermarket chain.

I went into the job believing my own hype. I was better than the people who were already there.

They didn’t know what I knew. They had no news sense. It would be easy for me, and I would quickly teach them it was my way or the highway.

I was wrong.

I had to learn each idea / story I came up with had to fit with the brand’s pillars. It couldn’t be negative, it couldn’t preach to customers, it couldn’t be accusatory or divisive.

I learned about corporate comms, CSR, business analysts, share prices – all which can be affected by bad publicity, or the wrong type of story.

In all honesty it took me about nine months to adapt my thought process – and to realise I was no longer a journalist, I was now a supermarket PR with a journalistic background.

When that job ended and the chain was purchased by a rival, I went back to journalism.

Not with my tail between my legs, but with my head held high after quadrupling the company’s national media coverage.

So when I moved back into PR eight years ago, I threw away my journalistic hat, and once again became a PR professional with a journalistic background, and of course a killer news-sense (that’s the self-important journalist in me, saying that)

Myself and the team at GingerComms understand what it takes to quit journalism and move into PR.

All but one of our sales, editorial and management team has worked in the national media.

But while we still use our news sense and copy-writing skills to great effect on an almost daily basis, we do so with our eyes open to the occasionally unbearable pressure PRs are put under by clients who won’t listen – EVER.

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