I never subscribed to the tedious "Hacks versus flacks" characterisation of journalism versus public relations. There is the good, bad and ugly in every profession, and for all the scatter-gun press releases I used to get as an editor, there would be tailored, considered, on-the-ball PR professionalism that would make my life much easier.
Talk of the "dark side" would irk me, even then. But nonetheless, I could not envision a move to PR, ever. I could not see how working for clients could be as satisfying as editorial independence; how being beholden to a campaign plan could bring out the best in me in terms of ideas and writing flair, or how selling in opinions and news releases could ever be more than a sales job.
Then, a year ago, I joined a PR agency. A set of circumstances, which included the extraordinary advent of a global pandemic, made a secure job with a thriving agency seem preferable to the hand-to-mouth of freelance journalism – I “sold out”, as they say (equally irksome).
Twelve months later, I am still glad that fate forced my hand and would argue that journalists looking for change or a challenge should consider a move to PR more seriously. Here are some top tips if you want to give it some thought.
The right fit
Not all PR positions are created equal. There is such a huge array of companies, focusing on different sectors, specialisms, size of client, that it is worth thinking about what might suit you. You do not have to write press releases for a client you do not believe in. You do not have to shoe-horn marketing messages, thinly disguised, into bland verbiage.
There are PR companies that know the value of editorial, of unique ideas, and that know the difference between clients’ desired messaging and media-facing thought leadership. If you find the right fit, you will not be expected to compromise journalistic integrity – in fact, it will be your greatest asset, and you will be able to dictate your terms (within reason). Colleagues and clients will respect you more for it.
What is in a title?
I must admit if my current job had not been advertised as ‘editorial consultant’ I probably would not have gone for it. I am not one for status and titles, but the EC moniker caught my eye. It denoted an agency that took editorial seriously, that considered editorial skill an expertise, that did not just need a content machine, but more considered, strategic, insightful media insight.
I am not saying only ‘editorial consultant’ roles are worth considering but do look at the job description. Ask what exactly your role will involve. Will it make the most of your journalistic background and knowledge or filter you into a cookie-cutter career? Equally, it would be quite unusual for a journalist to walk straight into a senior position in crisis management or deliver a Blue-Chip communications strategy. So, think about how the available role would dovetail with your skillset.
Embrace new skills
If talk of KPIs, objectives and campaign strategy leaves you a bit queasy and you baulk at some of the more client-facing elements of PR, try looking at them in a different way. Whether you are an editor with a busy team or a freelance journalist or writer, knowing how to talk to people in different sectors, and how to get the most distinct and ownable ideas out of them, are some of the most useful skills you can develop.
Do not let the lingo put you off. The day-to-day of PR is about, yes, diplomacy and nudging with a smile. But it is also about standing firm, knowing what makes a good story and what voice and opinion is likely to add best to a wider conversation.
The best of both worlds
One of the most welcome realisations of the last year has been that I still feel like a journalist. The effectiveness of good ideas, powerful angles, nimble thinking and concise writing is still what counts most in this field – whichever side of the PR-journalism coin you are on.
It is what we preach to clients, it is what is appreciated by the media that publish their work. You are still a journalist, if you want to be. You can even carry on writing, pursuing your own stories and interests (potential conflicts of interest and time permitting). An enlightened employer will encourage this.
So, if you currently cannot envision a move into PR, have another think. If you need a new challenge or a change, it is worth checking both the journalism and PR job ads – you never know where you will be in a year’s time.
Anna Richardson Taylor is an editorial consultant at Red Setter.