Is a journalism background still a plus for an aspiring PR jobseeker?

More and more, PR includes marketing, analyst relations, crisis comms, and strategic counsel, making editorial one of many target areas.

Laura Blank

Media relations director at World Vision
Former producer at CNN and NY1 and guest lecturer at Boston University and UNC-Charlotte

When I was in college, I used to have an old-school professor who still believed that print journalism was the only form of "true" journalism.

I knew I wanted to be a journalist but, despite his theory, I fell in love with the fast pace of a live television control room and knew that’s where I wanted to be. With that, I made my way to New York and started working in broadcast news.

I had classmates who got PR jobs after graduation, but we liked to joke that they had joined "the dark side," shilling toilet paper or spinning campaign messages for a political campaign. Altruistically, I believed journalism – print or broadcast – was the worthier path.

However, I later realized there was much more to PR then I had ever understood. And then cable news started on its downward spiral of black and white, us versus them, talking head shouting matches that have left so many people disenchanted with today’s news.

Like any good journalist, I interviewed people who I thought had interesting jobs. For example, I once talked with someone at World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization. Soon after, a job opened up on its media relations team – and I took it. That was more than seven years ago.

Today, our team has 13 staffers – four of them are former TV and print journalists. Others have a background in journalism or comms – two have formal PR training. Although I am biased, journalism experience is a tremendous plus for aspiring communications pros.

I recently completed recruitment for our newest staffer and one of the priorities for the role was someone who had journalism experience – and a strong understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities journalists now face in today’s world.

It is true that – just like news – PR is in the midst of a huge shift in principles and practice. But a good comms practitioner still needs the same basic tools to get the job done: Writing skills, relationships, and a good story, all of which I learned as a journalist and honed as a PR practitioner. Journalism was the training I needed to turn me into the comms pro I am today.

Jeanne Achille
Founder, president, and CEO, The Devon Group
More than two decades of experience running b-to-b PR firm The Devon Group

The world of PR has changed enormously, especially in the past decade. Years ago, having journalism experience was a big plus. We needed a nose for news, great writing skills, and the ability to execute against hard deadlines. That aspect has not changed. However, new and rapidly emerging expectations demand other competencies not always found in a newsroom.

Internal comms professionals quietly – and sometimes, tearfully – admit they rarely get time to write. Their days are spent navigating personalities, pressures, and meetings. Agency life is rife with similar scenarios, plus the added demands of bringing in new business, hiring the right talent, and delivering bad news, despite best efforts.

As an example, here’s what was on my plate one day recently: Morning staff meeting, followed by conference calls with clients in five different cities. Added to the mix was social media marketing, reviewing the storyline for an infographic, editing two press releases for new hires, counseling a client on a direct marketing campaign for a webinar series to promote their thought leadership, a post for our company blog, three speaking submissions, one award, and a crisis.

This is an average day and an example of how interesting the PR field is. It is also a prime example as to why journalists – who maintain the power of the pen, as well as some degree of control over their day and work product – do not necessarily traverse seamlessly into our world.

More and more, PR includes marketing, analyst relations, crisis comms, and strategic counsel, making editorial one of many target areas. Former journalists don’t always have the experience to contribute to all of these conversations.

In fairness to journalists, it’s not their fault. Given the continually blurring lines between PR and marketing, comms pros need ready exposure to the latest tools, techniques, and technologies. They also need to check egos at the door. PR is a service industry where your counsel is valued, but not always embraced. Often, that’s a tough pill to swallow for former journalists who have spent a career being the one courted.

PRWeek's View: Like the relationship between journalists and PR pros, it’s complicated. Media experience is valuable for content creation, but less important in many other comms jobs. A good journalist does not necessarily make a good PR pro.

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