3 Skills Journalists Do and DON’T Bring to a Career in Public Relations
Within the spectrum of career changes, the transition from journalism to a career in public relations has become a common and well trodden path. Many of the core skills and competencies from one directly apply to the other and in many cases, university programs include courses from both within degree programs. Most journalists, though, quickly discover that the transition to their new career in PR will not be entirely seamless. Although their experience in the newsroom will often allow them to sidestep public relations internships and other entry level positions to jumpstart their new career, every journalist will soon learn that for as many benefits their newsroom experience offers, there are a whole new set of skills they need to develop quickly in order to be successful in their new career in public relations.
Three Skills Journalists Bring to a New Career in Public Relations
Journalists, whether from print, broadcast or any of the new hybrid digital newsrooms, develop a unique suite of skills during the daily execution of their work that’s often unmatched by most other careers. Many savvy newspaper reporters can put the most shrewd entrepreneur to shame with their exceptional networking skills and you’ll frequently see television reporters who elevate public speaking to a new level. Outside of those medium specific skill sets, though, here are three core skills almost all journalists can bring to a new career in public relations.
Writing for Your Audience
Journalists write and frequently they write very well. They’re flexible, adaptable and fast writers too with a keen sense of writing to a specific audience. Regardless of their medium, writing and storytelling is the core skill they rely upon daily to do their job well, but it’s also a skill they frequently take for granted. When you’re in the newsroom, everyone writes and understands good storytelling. Yes, some are better than others and there are those that may just barely get by with the help of a good editor, but the process of writing every day and having their work openly vetted by editors and put on display for the mass public helps them hone those skills like few others can hope to achieve. Yes, there are sometimes mistakes, but all of that learning and experience makes them better writers in the end. Writing, though, isn’t a universal skill set in public relations, or in fact most industries. Journalists will quickly realize how rare it is to see good copy or clean drafts in their new career. This is an area where they really do have something to offer and they need to be sure to emphasize that as they make their transition to public relations.
Integrity in Communications
Without fail, all journalists will refer to the transition to public relations as “turning to the dark side.” They expect the integrity and ethics that guide their work in the newsroom will go out the door, but in fact the opposite is true. Public relations professionals are guided by similar ethical guidelines and value integrity in all they do. Yes, there are some exceptions out there, but those truly are exceptions rather than the rule. The companies new public relations professionals work for also need that injection of integrity into their decision making process to ensure they continue to make good decisions that will not come back to haunt them later. Many journalists have seen companies make enough bad decisions that turn into very bad press, so they know the warning signs, the questions to ask and can help guide their new employer’s communications in a positive direction that will help the company grow.
Top Performance in High Stress Environments with Tight Deadlines
Let’s be honest. Not everyone can make it in the newsroom. Most newsrooms will also have stories of new people who came for a day or a week and never came back because they couldn’t handle the high stress environment. For those that stay, performing well in high stress environments with tight deadlines and high stakes becomes a motivator. It drives them and they thrive in that environment. When they transition to public relations, most journalists will initially be surprised or confused by the pace of work in their new role. Even when public relations professionals are running on all cylinders, it’s different than the newsroom. But here is where that newsroom experience can really help a journalist excel in their new role. When push comes to shove, the stakes suddenly rise and everything goes into overdrive, the former journalists are frequently the first ones to step into the fray and stand out. Those environments are already familiar to them so they can immediately deliver top work on the tightest deadlines and their new employers will quickly take notice.
Three Skills Journalists Need for a Career in Public Relations
For all the incredible skills a journalist develops that will aid them in their new career in public relations, there are many other skills that their journalism degree or experience in the newsroom never allowed them to develop. No matter how experienced a journalist is, transitioning to a new career in PR will require learning and some degree of reevaluating their existing skills and how they will apply going forward.
Project Management and Pacing for the Long Term
Radio journalists frequently have deadlines every 30-minutes. TV reporters race through their day to have one or two packages prepared for the evening broadcasts. They scramble and get the job done and move onto the next project, but public relations rarely works like that. Instead of starting and completing a project in a single day, new scopes of work spread over weeks, months or sometimes even years. Journalists need to learn how to manage projects over the long term while maintaining focus at every step. The intense focus that made them successful in the newsroom will help at key points, but journalists will frequently find it difficult to maintain that level of focus over a long project. It’s not impossible, though. Project management is a necessary skill to be learned and developed in order to succeed in their new career.
Communicating on Behalf of a Client
Journalists learn to report and communicate with a certain degree of detachment and independence. When they transition to public relations, though, they’re suddenly part of the story, not just someone telling the story. Communicating on behalf of a company or client is fundamentally different than telling an impartial story. Their role now requires them to consider what is in the company’s best interest to communicate and how they should go about sharing that message. Integrity, as discussed above, still plays a big role here and one that tends to make former journalists successful public relations professionals, but it’s important to learn that the underlying driver of all their communications will now be different. They need to learn how to apply their past experiences and professional skill set in a new way to communicate well on behalf of their new employer.
The Art of the Boardroom
Office politics and dynamics exist in the newsroom just like anywhere else, but journalists will quickly learn that it is different. Navigating internal dynamics in their new career, particularly when working with corporate executives or a new board of directors, comes with a steep learning curve. Journalists will need to learn when to speak, when to listen and how to successfully navigate their new corporate environment. Their editorial mindset will not always serve them well in this new environment either. However, if they can learn how their new leadership thinks and what primarily motivates them, the new public relations professional can quickly learn how to best help their new organization thrive.
Needless to say, there are far more skills journalists can bring to a new career in public relations and far more they will need to learn. But those skills are learnable. All you need to do is look at the significant number of public relations professionals with backgrounds in journalism to realize how beneficial that background can be in a new career. The transition, though, is not automatic. One of the best ways to navigate that transition is to connect with others who have already made it. Public relations professionals with journalism backgrounds also make excellent mentors for other journalists deciding whether a career in PR is right for them.