The top criteria for hiring a journalist

Right now, PR has an unprecedented opportunity to hire a whole generation of promising new staffers: journalists.

Right now, PR has an unprecedented opportunity to hire a whole generation of promising new staffers: journalists.

The reason, of course, is that mainstream media outlets, facing growing economic pressures, keep shedding journalists - many of whom are now looking, as a logical next step, to switch to PR.

Whether PR departments and agencies should actually hire such journalists is another issue altogether. Just as surely as they bring unique advantages to the field, they can also find the adjustment difficult.

I know this firsthand. I'm a journalist that took a full-time position in PR about 17 years ago. I still remember the challenges I faced as I tried to transform myself from reporter to media relations specialist.

No wonder so many journalists have migrated into PR over the years. Who's better trained, at least in theory, to practice PR, with a set of skills more easily transferable?

After all, journalists inherently grasp certain elements central to PR. They can size up news value. They know how to gather relevant research, simplify complex concepts, and package a story that articulates an issue. They know how reporters think and act, how the editorial process works, and how media outlets operate.

But certain other abilities might prove elusive. So what characteristics should journalists have to convert to "the other side?" Here are four top criteria:

A demonstrated grasp of the key differences between journalism and PR. The news media, at its best, delivers news straight, without bias, presumably for the greater civic good. PR, on the other hand, is in the business of advocacy. A shift in mindset is in order.

The attitude of a true team player. Journalists tend to be independent-minded and operate solo. PR, on the other hand, is almost always a joint venture. Account teams come together to weigh options and build consensus, often in close collaboration with a client. A "we're all in this together" spirit is vital.

A client-service mentality. The client is the boss, not the editor, listener, reader, or viewer. The client might have less experience and communications know-how than the journalist, but his or her view always wins the day. A little patience comes in handy.

Willingness to move beyond their chosen medium. Print reporters tend to think in words and headlines, whereas broadcast journalists see the news as images and soundbites. PR specialists must function across the entire spectrum of media, including the digital universe, to deliver client messages. Versatility is key.

As this exodus accelerates, consider bringing former newspaper reporters and television producers onto your staff. It will give the profession a fresh overlay of sophistication and credibility. But watch how you go about it. Make sure they can do the job you need done. Explain the role you expect filled. Define the standards for performance and the rules of engagement. Offer a dose of guidance, too. Then your decision is likely to succeed all around.

Bob Brody is a senior media consultant for Weber Shandwick.

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