Journalists who are tired of the Daily Planet grind are finding the
world of PR strangely attractive. Mild mannered reporter Robert Gray
Some journalists, although by no means all of them, are downright sniffy
about PR. To them it is both a source of stories and a source of
irritation. It is work some consider to be beneath them. And, what
really gets them, is that those doing it are often better paid than they
Yet, despite the friction one often finds between those on opposite
sides in the communications game, there is still a steady stream of
journalists changing career direction and moving into PR. And with
employers complaining about the dearth of PR talent in the market place,
most are more than willing to recruit from the publishing world.
But what makes a journalist cross the divide? For many the motivating
factor has as much to do with a nagging dissatisfaction with journalism
as with a burning desire to become PR professionals.
‘I never seemed to have a enough time to get into the stories and do
them properly, and that annoyed me greatly,’ says Liza Helps, an account
manager at Camargue Communications and former feature writer on property
trade publication Estates Times.
For others, the disillusionment ran even deeper.
‘In PR you’re judged on your performance, in Fleet Street you’re not.
It’s medieval. People are appointed to jobs for all sorts of reasons,’
says Mick Smith, managing director of the corporate division of
financial PR specialist Ludgate and until last November business editor
of the Observer.
Another national newspaper journalist-turned-PR, who prefers to remain
anonymous, adds: ‘One has to see an element of frustration behind the
departures of some of the 30-year-olds from journalism. Once upon a time
there was a natural meritocracy in Fleet Street. Not any more.’
It would, however, be unjust to suggest that journalists only move into
PR to escape their old career. Many have sound, positive reasons for
One of the attractions of PR, whether it is a job in-house or at a
consultancy, is that it gives journalists the opportunity to get
involved in running a business. This by its very nature is strategic,
whereas news and even features are ephemeral: tomorrow’s chip wrapping,
bird cage lining, or wiped video/audio cassette. The chance to play a
part in longer-term planning exercises a strong appeal. Yet many
journalists move into PR with only a sketchy idea of what it’s all
Day in and day out journalists are exposed to press releases, attend
launches and go to lunch with their PR contacts. But this is only one
facet of the business and it is a revelation to some journalists when
they discover there is a whole lot more to PR than the planning and
execution of media relations campaigns.
‘What I didn’t know was how much work goes into a good campaign,’ says
Alister Martin, a director at consultancy Quentin Bell Organisation and
a former news editor of Today. ‘Journalists only see the tip of the
‘I like the fact that I’m no longer a voyeur,’ adds Helps. ‘You can’t
really change things as a journalist. And in PR you learn a lot more
about business, more than journalists ever do.’
The biggest readjustment that needs to be made is from free spirit to
someone who always has their client or employer’s interest at heart. Not
only does one need to be a good communicator but also a mixture of
diplomat and marketer.
‘You feel your way over the advisory role,’ says Melvyn Marckus who in
May left his position as City editor of the Times to become a senior
consultant at Luther Pendragon. Tom Bell, another former Times man and
now managing director of financial PR consultancy Cardew and Co, talks
of the pleasure of dealing with decision makers at large plcs who ‘by
and large are good to work for if you’re giving them good advice.’
There is also a need for a change in tone and attitude. Brian MacLaurin,
a former television journalist who now runs his own PR consultancy MCM,
remembers being able to be rude and abrasive as a journalist, whereas
now he is expected to be charming.
By more or less common consent, those who’ve made the cross-over miss
the adrenaline buzz of tight deadlines, seeing their bylines, breaking
exclusives and the access to influential people that their old media
jobs gave them. But the regret at leaving their old jobs behind is often
not that great.
‘In journalism you just get people moaning about their expenses all day
long,’ says Martin. ‘It doesn’t tempt me back I must say.’
Tom Curtin, head of corporate communications at radioactive waste
disposal body Nirex and a former journalist at, inter alia, the Swindon
Evening Advertiser, is similarly ill-disposed to turning back the clock.
‘I don’t know if I’d go back to journalism,’ he says. ‘PR offers
challenges that journalism doesn’t. It offers you the chance to do long-
term programmes and planning.
‘And you have to be much more accurate writing a press release than
reporting it. If a journalist gets it slightly wrong everyone shrugs
their shoulders and is forgiving. If I were to get a press release
slightly wrong everyone would jump up and down and say this is the
nuclear industry telling lies again.’
Many erstwhile journalists clearly find job satisfaction by moving into
public relations. But does that mean that journalists generally make
good PR practitioners?
Yes, says Barry Leggetter, managing director of PR consultancy
Fleishman-Hillard and a former hard news journalist of 12 years
standing. ‘I think ex-journalists can make excellent PR consultants.
Firstly because they understand what news is and how to present it, and
secondly because they are taught to develop an inquisitive mind.
‘I wish more talented journalists would come knocking. Client demand for
writing excellence won’t go away,’ says Leggetter.
Martin Loat, managing director of Propeller Marketing Communications,
takes the contrary view. Loat was media reporter on PR Week’s
advertising sister title Campaign but left in the late 1980s to set up
his own consultancy specialising in media clients.
‘The journalist turned PR is a bit of an old-fashioned concept,’ argues
Loat. ‘There are still a few who can do it. But there are very few I’d
dream of offering a job to. I don’t see many I’d want to let loose on my
clients. The days of just putting a journalist on your business have
gone. You need to be more of a marketer and good consultant.’
So it would seem that journalists can’t just expect to waltz into a job
in PR. Employers are looking for a whole lot more than a fat contacts
book and the ability to churn out news stories.
Still, as we have already seen, many journalists continue to make the
switch. And it is still far more common to move in that direction than
to move from PR into journalism. With a handful of exceptions, those
taking the latter path tend to be ex-journalists who have dabbled in PR
and found it not entirely to their liking.
A recent example of this is Jeff Randall, who moved from his post as
City editor of the Sunday Times to financial PR consultancy Financial
Dynamics only to return to the paper after less than a year. He is now
its sports editor.
‘I learnt to understand among other things how damaging the press can be
to certain companies, albeit sometimes accidentally,’ he says of his
days in consultancy. But Randall never really settled into his role as a
PR man and jumped at the chance to come back to journalism.
Simon Robinson is another newspaperman turned PR who has gone back to
his first love. However, unlike Randall his foray into the commercial
world lasted for years.
Robinson was the personal finance editor of the Sunday Express and a
City correspondent at the Daily Telegraph before becoming a founder
shareholder of the consultancy Ludgate and the head of its financial
About 18 months ago he started giving serious consideration to how he
could swap sides again and looked at the viability of raising money to
buy the Belfast Newsletter. In the end, Mirror Group Newspapers
purchased the title but having heard of Robinson’s interest asked him to
run their operation. So Robinson upped sticks from London and is now
managing director of Mirror Group Newspapers Ireland.
‘I continued to miss newspapers during my six or seven years as a PR
person,’ he says.
‘When you’re a journalist you walk into a room and you’re the most
important person there. When you’re a PR you walk into a room and you’re
the least important person in it.’
Robinson’s point illustrates the PR condition quite succinctly. It is a
backroom operation, and with one or two high profile exceptions its
practitioners are not perceived as important.
But perceptions aren’t always based on fact. Can anyone really claim
that those professionals who craft crisis management programmes, sweat
over integrating PR with other marketing communications tools and take
pains to achieve the right image or positioning for a client are
There will always be the occasional mistargeted press release that
journalists find irksome. But they should not dismiss the whole of PR on
the back of it.
Earnings: PR versus journalism
Often it is filthy lucre that entices journalists into PR and the most
tempting time for a journalist to cross over tends to be either in the
early stages of their career, or as established journalists when they
can command a tempting price tag.
While at top of the scale, editorial positions can net impressive gains
- a news editor of a national newspaper can earn between pounds 55,000
and pounds 65,000, and according to the National Union of Journalists,
an editor’s salary starts at around pounds 100,000 and can rise as high
as pounds 300,000 - the opportunities for advancement to such dizzy
heights are obviously limited. There is, after all, a far greater chance
of earning pounds 70,000 to pounds 200,000 as managing director of a
public relations consultancy than landing the editorship of the
At entry level, journalism tends to be a labour of love. Many young
talents are willing to work for next to nothing just to gain a foothold
on the first rung of the career ladder. The National Union of
Journalists estimates the salary of a junior sub-editor at between
pounds 13,000 and pounds 20,000. A large proportion of junior reporters
also start out at the pounds 13,000 level. One journalist we spoke to,
who prefers to remain anonymous, even started out as editor of a monthly
trade magazine on pounds 13,000. By contrast the average salary that a
PR account executive can expect to net is pounds 16,162 rising to a
maximum of pounds 22,000.
As both professionals move up the scale, public relations salaries tend
to stay slightly ahead of their counterparts in journalism. The average
salary for an account manager is pounds 21,030 rising to a maximum of
pounds 28,000, an account director earns up to pounds 35,000 and a board
director between pounds 50,000 and pounds 100,000.
As a magazine sub-editor moves up the career ladder, he or she can
expect to earn between pounds 19,000 and pounds 26,500 as a senior-sub-
editor or a news editor, finally reaching the dizzy heights of editor on
a salary ranging from pounds 30,000 to pounds 100,000. National
newspaper wage packets, not surprisingly, tend to be rather heavier. A
junior reporter or sub-editor on the nationals can expect to earn
between pounds 27,500 and pounds 30,0000 rising to pounds 36,500 to
pounds 50,000 for a senior reporter/sub-editor.