There’s an old joke among journalists: “It’s okay. If I lose my job, I’ll just become a public relations flak.” Believe me, every journalist has thought about it more than once, especially when freelance writing wasn’t paying the bills. After all, what company or public relations firm wouldn’t want a former journalist on the payroll communicating to the media? This point was driven home when I recently attempted to email a journalist friend. To my surprise, I couldn’t track him down. And guess where he turned up.
When I learned that a veteran journalist for a major newspaper gave up the craft to join a company he covered for years, my shock was soon replaced by envy. I can only imagine what it took to get him to give up a great journalism gig for a public relations position. He told me he was simply ready for a change; I don’t blame him. I’m sure more than a decade of daily deadlines and dealing with editors–not to mention readers–wore him down. Of course, public relations has its own unique pressures.
I wondered how my friend would feel when some journalist on a deadline called him for a comment about a negative story. Or how he’d deal with planning a media relations strategy or new public relations initiative. Maybe he’d miss those daily deadlines when it came time to field a call from a wire service at 7:00 A.M. or 11:00 P.M. Obviously, the pace of my friend’s job is changing; I’m just not sure if it’s going to get more or less hectic.
Journalists aren’t alone in looking over the fence in search of greener pastures. At the New York Post, I had the opportunity to work with a young woman who went from being the public relations consultant for an internet company to becoming the New York Post’s retail and fashion reporter for a number of years. She was a great publicist, but she was a better journalist. She even left the world of daily deadlines to write a book.
Over the years, I have encountered a number of journalists who have switched gears and turned to public relations. I’ve also encountered a number of public relations people who have joined the ranks of scribes. The one thing that has become blatantly clear is that the skill sets required for both jobs are similar.
Journalists and public relations professionals need to possess the ability to communicate clearly, concisely, and honestly. You must understand the pressures of daily deadlines and be extremely aware of the cause and effect of making public statements. As a journalist, you must be protective of your publication and your reader. As a public relations professional, you must be protective of your company or client. In a nutshell, if you can’t write, talk to people, and put forth easily understandable arguments, you’re in the wrong profession.
All of these issues came full circle when I attempted to pitch a story for my company. I called two journalists with whom I had prior relationships; believe it or not, I was treated like a public relations professional all of a sudden. One day removed from the world of bylines and I was suddenly an outsider. Despite a strong pitch and my best efforts, I failed to garner the publicity I wanted. It was an important lesson.
I’ve written in the past about what journalists look for in a pitch, a story, and an angle, but it’s easier said than done. At any given moment, you may catch someone in a good mood or you may just set off a light bulb in their head. You could also catch someone in a sour mood or find someone totally uninterested. To be able to talk someone into doing your bidding, well, that’s a special talent, one I’m personally trying to hone.
I’ve always known what a difficult job public relations can be; like any profession, there are good and bad people working in the field. Right now, I’m doing my best to take pointers from the good ones and learn from my experiences dealing with the bad ones. If nothing else though, my admiration for public relations pros has increased leaps and bounds.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.