I recently left journalism to work for a public relations firm, and I often get asked how I like PR. The short answer: is “I'm enjoying it.” The longer answer is: “It's got its advantages and disadvantages, but overall I'm very satisfied and glad I made the jump.”
Before I made the career switch, which you can read about in the first installment of this three-part series, I had a vague sense of what this change would be like. Clearly, my role would be vastly different; rather than writing news articles, I'd be helping companies craft their stories for the press and public and gauge the newsworthiness of their announcements. Beyond that, I wasn't really sure what it would be like on a day-to-day basis. Well, after six months on the job, I definitely have a better idea of what it's like to make this transition. Here's a list of the benefits and drawbacks I have found to working in PR as compared to journalism:
- Meetings. In PR, customer service is hugely important, and that means a lot of meetings with your client. As a reporter, meetings were avoided because they disrupt the flow of covering breaking news. I would meet with sources face-to-face, but most days I was head down, on the phone reporting or furiously typing away until the stories were filed.
- Timesheets. News is a very deadline-oriented business. There is no having to account for how your time is spent as a reporter except that the faster you file, the happier the editors are. Now, I have to keep track of time in 15-minute increments. This is tedious, but necessary because PR hours are billable.
- Not writing news. For a reporter, nothing gets your adrenaline going as much as covering a big national story, like the Anonymous activist computer attacks. In PR, there are a lot of different types of writing, but not actual news stories. And there's work behind the scenes getting clients in the news, and when they get in a headline, you feel proud. But it's not the same as having written the article.
- Lack of access. One of the best perks of being a reporter is the press pass. It gets you into Apple events, into press rooms where there are plenty of outlets and connectivity, and to the head of the line at conference sessions. If I want to go to an event now, the firm or client pays full price, and I wait in line with the rest of the world. No fun!
- Anti-PR bias. If journalists are Brahmins, PR reps are untouchables. The balance of power is overwhelmingly tipped, further inflating already big egos in the news world. No more being wined and dined just for my byline.
- Respect, as a former journalist. When you tell people you are a reporter, their eyes light up, especially if they work in PR. And when you work in PR after being a journalist, they give you all kinds of credit that may or may not be due. People think you are smart and they listen to you.
- Teamwork. While reporting is often a solo assignment, PR is very team-oriented, including a lot of collaboration with colleagues and clients. There is also a lot of work on longer-term projects and strategic thinking, which stretches the mind in new ways.
- Editing. I'm still doing plenty of writing in my PR gig, which is great. And I'm getting lots of editing, which is also great. I know some writers complain about editors mucking with their copy. Not me; the more eyes the better.
- Less stress. Meeting daily deadlines -- and now hourly and less -- does take its toll over time. In PR, I'm out of the news grind, and I have much longer lead times on projects. I'm also not constantly tethered to Twitter and other services watching for news tips and monitoring competitive sites. I feel like I can breathe.
- Freedom. Attending industry events is truly a pleasure now. I can listen and watch for fun without having to file a story right away. And I can take lunches without worrying about missing an important phone call or email. I've traded the intensity of the newsroom for the more laid back atmosphere of the PR office. And it's done wonders for my attitude.
Elinor Mills is director of content and media strategy at Bateman Group. She joined the firm last year after working as a journalist at Associated Press, Reuters, IDG, Industry Standard and CNET.