Journalism to PR: The other side of the divide

The trickle of journalists moving into PR has become a flood. But are they prepared for the challenge? Shafik Meghji reports.

There was an 'invisible moment at some point in the last decade when the number of PR people finally exceeded the number of journalists', according to investigative reporter Nick Davies.

Davies, author of Flat Earth News, a fierce critique of the state of modern journalism, was speaking in 2007 at the London School of Economics. Three years on, the trend has continued unabated, with rising numbers of journalists moving - or looking to move - into PR.

Recent high profile moves include former BBC technology editor Darren Waters, who joined Monument PR Worldwide as managing director in July, and Rav Singh, one of the country's best known showbiz journalists, who became special projects consultant at The Outside Organisation in July.

One recruitment consultant says the number of CVs she receives from journalists looking for a career in PR has gone up by '100 per cent, year on year'. Since 2009, the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) has even run a 'journalist-to-PR' course.

Career prospects

As Ros Kindersley, MD of recruitment consultancy JFL, says: 'Journalism is changing a lot at the moment. Many people are losing their jobs and the career prospects are declining. In PR, career prospects are improving.'

Journalism's relatively low pay and long and unsociable hours have frequently been cited by reporters as reasons for moving to the greener pastures of PR.

In recent years these factors have been compounded by falling circulations, slumping advertising revenues, increasing competition from online news sources and the recession, resulting in significantly reduced budgets and mass redundancies.

In addition, over the past ten years, standards in PR have risen, while the media have 'dumbed down', according to journalist-turned-PRO Pip Clarkson, now MD of agency Edwards Harvey PR: 'When I started as a journalist in the 1980s, PR was frowned upon a bit, but it is a much slicker operation now.'

News sense

'Journalists make the best PR professionals,' believes former reporter Michael Molcher, now Leeds City Council press officer. 'They have "news sense" - they know what journalists want and tailor their press releases accordingly.'

Shooting Star PR director Jez Ashberry, a former editor, agrees: 'Journalists make excellent PROs - they are resourceful, quick-witted, write well and know what is of interest.'

An increasing number of agencies are taking advantage of these skills by hiring experienced journalists to create compelling, ready-to-use content in non-traditional PR 'heads of content' roles. For example, Edelman hired former BBC director of global news Richard Sambrook as chief content officer in February.

Becoming subjective

But many journalists still consider PR to be an easy option, and struggle to make the transition, warns Clarkson, who runs the NCTJ's 'journalist-to-PR' training course.

'Not every journalist can hack it as a PR professional - journalism can be very one-dimensional, while PR is multi-faceted,' she says. 'There's still the perception that PR is just writing press releases, but you need to offer many more skills.'

Kindersley argues that PR has a different 'mind set' to journalism. This is echoed by Kate Strawson, a former radio journalist who is also now a director of Shooting Star PR: 'As a journalist you are trained to be objective, while in PR you have to be subjective in favour of your client.'

Overleaf, we ask four journalists-turnedPR professionals why they made the switch, as well as how they coped with the change.

'Wider view' Gary Quinn, Tangerine PR

Former Daily Mirror journalist Gary Quinn is now a media consultant at Tangerine PR in Manchester. He says: 'I started out as a journalist in 1999 with the Mercury Press agency in Liverpool as an editorial assistant, which, as my editor told me at the time, was "not even the first rung on the ladder".

'After three years I moved to London to work for several women's magazines. I joined the Daily Mirror features desk in 2004, first as commissioning editor and then as assistant features editor. But for family reasons I moved back to Liverpool in 2008 to work as a producer for a new talk radio station, CityTalk. However, it was probably the worst possible time to launch a radio station, as the investment just wasn't there, so I took voluntary redundancy.

'I thought for a long time about moving into PR - I knew that journalistic opportunities were limited outside of London and PR seemed to be an area in which I could use my skills. I found the transition at Tangerine PR very interesting - you have to have a much wider view as a PRO than as a journalist. PR is also a much more corporate world than journalism - the newsroom, a place I love, is not the real world.'

'Different rush' Jennie Ludford, Smarts PR

Former radio journalist Jennie Ludford is account manager at Smarts PR in Birmingham. She says: 'I'd always wanted to be a journalist and after university I joined a radio station in Stratford upon Avon. I later moved to London and, after three months as a showbiz reporter, worked for Independent Radio News. I then got engaged, and my husband and I both knew we didn't want to raise children in London. So I became deputy news editor of Heart FM in Birmingham.

'But, after a while, I just had enough of working shifts and weekends, getting up at 3am or 4am, and not earning much. I needed to have a life that was more suited to having a family, and so joined Smarts.

I found the transition hard at first because I still thought like a journalist - it was hard to put myself on the other side.

'You get a different rush from PR than from journalism - it's no longer an hourly fix. In PR you get a rush from winning a pitch or getting an amazing result for a client. I think the increasing numbers of journalists moving into PR is a reflection of the job losses in the industry. I've got lots of journalist friends who never thought they would move, but have done so.'

'Security' Michael Molcher, Leeds Council

Michael Molcher is a former local newspaper reporter who now works as a press officer for Leeds City Council. He says: 'After doing my NCTJ qualifications in Liverpool, I joined the Rochdale Observer as a reporter. Two-and-a-half-years later, when I completed my senior NCTJ exams, I joined the Harrogate Advertiser as chief reporter.

'The reasons I moved over to PR were partly financial, as regional journalism is poorly paid, and partly for greater job security. I was also aware the industry was changing and that newspapers were becoming unpleasant places to work. There was a lot of "churnalism" - a focus on the quantity of stories rather than quality. I rarely worked on anything of substance.

'I felt I was on a treadmill of negativity and that newspapers increasingly weren't contributing anything positive to their community. In my current role - I joined Leeds City Council in 2005 - I feel I'm doing something of worth. Lots of journalists expressed their displeasure about my decision, but now many of them are working in PR too. What was a trickle had become a flood. Sometimes journalists see PR as an easy ride - which it's certainly not.'

'Better pay' Jez Ashberry, Shooting Star PR

Jez Ashberry, director of Shooting Star PR, started out as a news and sports reporter. He says: 'My mother was a journalist and I started writing sports reports for my local paper while I was still at school.

'After completing a degree in languages, I joined the Lincolnshire Standard Group of newspapers as a news and sports reporter and studied for my NCTJ qualifications. I was there for three years, and then spent four years as editor of Lincolnshire Life magazine.

'But ultimately you've got to go where the work is, and at the moment there's a real squeeze on newspaper budgets. So I joined the University of Lincolnshire as press and media relations manager, and later set up my own company, Shooting Star PR.

'PR is better paid and has better hours, as well as a more varied workload, than journalism. For some of the time I also get to do the same job as a journalist - interviewing people and getting stories.

'However, you do also need some different skills - journalism and PR are not the same job. For example, you have to be more diplomatic and have skills in areas such as the online arena.'

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