Survey creates "decision blueprint" for reporters jumping to PR roles

SAN FRANCISCO: More reporters are switching to careers in PR because they fear journalism is a "sinking ship," and want to get out of the industry before they are laid off, according to a survey.

SAN FRANCISCO: More reporters are switching to careers in PR because they fear journalism is a "sinking ship," and want to get out of the industry before they are laid off, according to a survey.

Media Survey, a media analysis and consulting provider, surveyed 16 journalists who left reporting careers to work in communications and five executives in charge of hiring PR pros. The responses, which were gathered between December 2013 and January 2014, were anonymous to encourage maximum candor, according to Sam Whitmore, owner of Media Survey.

The objective of the survey was to create a "decision blueprint" for reporters ready to take the leap, as well as for executives ready to hire them, explained Whitmore, who worked as a journalist at Ziff Davis Publishing for 14 years, before establishing Media Survey in 1998.

"For people leaving journalism careers, and for the execs hiring them, this isn’t a no-brainer," he said. "Either way, the possibility for failure or disillusionment is high for both of these groups."

Aside from moving into the PR industry to take control of their careers, former journalists surveyed agreed that the opportunity to work with a budget attracted them.

"A lot of journalists surveyed expressed that they enjoy the opportunity to get a budget and to have resources for a change, allowing them to spend time and money to really understand something," said Whitmore.

Those surveyed agreed senior journalists bring a strong historical perspective to PR strategies and storylines, allowing them to identify and help clients to reach achievable goals. They also know how to move an idea from a conference room to a receptive audience, survey participants said.

While a PR agency or brand might initially hire reporters for unique skill sets, such as the ability to get inside information on other journalists or offer pitching advice, the value of those skills have an expiration date, according to the survey.

"It’s sort of like plucking a rose," Whitmore said. "Once someone has been out of media brand journalism for a while, they don’t have the same kind of information and they psychologically become more like a PR person – it’s inevitable."

For journalists who have transitioned to PR, a major obstacle is the basic elevator pitch because most reporters said they're never fully comfortable "bending a story" to fulfill clients' wishes.

"Often times, an elevator pitch omits facts; it is just a claim, or wishful thinking," said Whitmore. "If that journalist was working in a newsroom, their senior editor would say, ‘That isn’t substantiated, so you can’t say it.’"

Many of the executives in the survey said they prefer analytical journalists over news breakers. Analytical journalists surveyed appeared to be the most successful in their transition to PR.

"It takes an analytical skill set to paint a portrait of the marketplace and a product or service’s possibilities and the kinds of problems it can solve," Whitmore said.

Brands tend to be "leery" of journalists, viewing them as people who can’t be trusted, go out of their way to look for trouble, and are not team players, the survey found. Further, corporate priorities constantly evolve, and a commitment to "good content" can fade overnight, leaving journalists politically unprotected.

"A journalist who wants to work for Ford needs to study the kinds of execs who would be friendliest and most open to the skill sets a journalist has," advised Whitmore. "A journalist is going to need multiple allies because, for a brand, it is all about sales and loyalty and optimism."

He added, "They also need to understand the entirety of an organization and where the budgets are."

This is the first of four Media Survey reports this year, all of which will target emerging trends that impact journalism and PR professionals. The following report, coming out in the next quarter, will focus on native advertising.

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