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Six degrees of separation – from journalism to PR

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Liberty PR’s team has a diverse range of backgrounds and we have been particularly successful in welcoming journalists to our fold. Creating exceptional, quality content is at the heart of what we do, and while there are clear differences between the roles, the shared skillsets have proven to gel. We asked six of our time-served journalists for their views on moving into PR and how working in the two industries compares.

JONNY

A relentless drive for unachievable targets had fast become the norm in the modern world of online journalism. Print journalism and good-quality written work does still exist – absolutely – but it was fast becoming an industry where being first, not being accurate, was seemingly the number one priority.

That is all change ‘on the other side of things’ in PR. Yes, there are still targets to hit, and you have to have the relentless drive to produce the best possible work and service for your clients and company, but it is having the confidence to know you can see a job through – be it a day, a week or a month – with the time to research, learn, gain expertise and deliver what you set out to do.

Coming in from journalism meant it wasn’t as much of the ‘baptism of fire’ as some career changes can be; those transferrable skills on the management, editorial, and media side of things made it a smooth transition and – even in just over a year since starting – I have already felt those grow and develop, with so much more room to do so as well.

SIMON

For all that journalists humorously refer to PR as ‘the dark side’, these two seemingly contrasting disciplines are in practice remarkably similar. It was one of the main reasons why I chose to pursue a career in PR after several years working in newspapers.

Whether you’re writing a news story or a press release, the aim is essentially the same – to tell a compelling story in as clear, concise and engaging a way as possible. Which meant that the skills I had honed during my time as a journalist could still be put to good use in my new career.

The slight difference with PR of course, is that there is an additional audience to consider – the client. This is perhaps the most difficult thing for an ex-journalist to get their head around – and there is sometimes a tension between what the client wants to say and what makes the strongest news story.

But the client relationship is also one of the big pluses of working in PR. While most journalists are, as the saying goes, jacks of all trades and masters of none, constantly moving from one unfamiliar subject to the next, PR provides more opportunities to immerse yourself in one particular field and tap into the knowledge and insight of your clients. All of which makes it so much easier to write with more confidence, clarity and a greater level of expertise.

RACHEL

It’s more than a decade since I’ve been in a newsroom, but I’ll be forever grateful for the skills I learnt during my time working in newspapers.

How to attract the reader’s attention and tell a story clearly and concisely; the importance of research, accuracy, fact-checking and double-checking; understanding that the words we choose matter; working under time pressure and meeting deadlines – they’re all essential in the world of PR too.

The last job I had in newspapers no longer exists, and the local newspaper office I used to work in has become a Thai restaurant. The industry has changed almost beyond recognition.

But I still spend my working days now using the experience I gained back then. My red pen might now be a metaphorical one (though I have got a box of actual red pens in my desk drawer!) but my role is much like that of a sub-editor – making sure the copy we produce as an agency on behalf of our clients meets those same standards you’d expect on a newspaper.

ADRIAN

Here is a working practice to consider.

  1. Receive a briefing via email.
  2. Seek the answers to any questions with a quick chat across the desk.
  3. Call the subject and conduct the interview at the earliest convenient time.
  4. Write the article. There is no word count. ‘Give it what it’s worth’ is the guiding principle.
  5. Submit the copy to be proofed.
  6. Arrange a date and time for a photographic shoot with the subject.
  7. Book and brief a photographer for the shoot.
  8. Once the copy is proofed, add photographs and send to the subject for their approval.
  9. When the copy has been approved, send the release for final approval.
  10. After the third and final approval, the release is ready to be issued.

This could easily have been a day in the office when I was a journalist but it is a fair reflection of a typical working day now that I am employed as a PR executive.

My main role is to produce a steady stream of copy and the modus operandi is almost identical to that which I applied when working as a news reporter. Being subjected to such examination was not what I expected after having left journalism, but these checks are a reassuring element of my new role.

Sadly, in today’s digital age, many journalists are no longer subject to such rigour. Even sadder still, many reporters, even on city newspapers, do not have an office to call home.

Here, PR provides all of that.

YVONNE

In both journalism and PR, we want to tell a story that gets people interested and leaves them better informed.

I’ve got a foot in both camps because I work as a freelance writer, creating features for magazines as a journalist, and press releases and content for PR purposes.

Researching, interviewing, checking, and writing are all part of the process whether I am creating a feature or a press release, so there are many transferable skills.

And the great thing is that what you learn in one, improves your work in the other.

Understanding how each one operates from the inside is enormously helpful because when I’m writing a press release, I can put myself in the shoes of an editor deciding whether they want to run it or not. And when I’m writing a feature for a magazine, and I need to work with a PR professional, I’ve got an understanding and respect for what they want to achieve as well.

For me, being able to work in each of these areas really is the best of both worlds.

LISA

It’s been ten years since I made the move into PR and I’ve never regretted it for a moment. While I enjoyed my time in journalism and worked with some incredible people, there came a point where opportunities were few and far between.

That was the immediate difference with PR – you can create your own opportunities, whatever level of your career you are at.

Of course, journalism is a fantastic training ground for PR. You learn more than any PR school could ever teach you about reputation management, in real time. You see PR done well and not so well. You learn to impact an audience through content and how to consider every angle of a story.

If you’re considering ‘switching sides’, there will be a lot more to learn, but you will have a solid grounding. Explore different roles in PR and consider what might suit you best. The PR industry is open about its need to attract new talent from a diverse range of backgrounds. Journalists should be a great resource for PR.

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