Amid the weekly rough and tumble of agency moves, it would be easy to
overlook the news that former Observer business editor Mick Smith is to
slip away from Ludgate, probably back to journalism.
Ironically it was Smith who, in a PR Week feature about journalists
turned PRs earlier this year, was scathing about the life on national
newspapers he had forsaken - saying it was ‘medieval’ compared to the
meritocracy that operates in PR.
His re-awakened yearning for newspapers echoes that of Jeff Randall, who
recently quit Financial Dynamics to rejoin the Sunday Times. Neither’s
decision reflects anything other than personal preference, and it is
unwise to extrapolate general principles from isolated cases. But it is
interesting to note how difficult the transition from one side of the
media fence to the other can sometimes be.
The fact that journalists of Smith and Randall’s stature can be tempted
to cross over to PR at all is testament to how much pulling power the
business now has. Yet not all journalists can adapt. Some simply find
they do not have an aptitude for it. Others are unable to adopt the
Simon Robinson, the former City journalist who also quit Ludgate last
year to become managing director of Mirror Group Newspapers Ireland,
described the syndrome succinctly: ‘When you’re a journalist, you walk
into a room and you’re the most important person there. When you’re in
PR you walk into a room and you’re the least important person in it.’
But for every unhappy convert, there are equal numbers of ex-journalists
who have thrived on the excitement of doing, rather than observing. And
for every PR employer who has been disappointed by their expensive Fleet
Street thoroughbreds, there are plenty who swear by the qualities
journalists can bring to the party.
The major problem currently facing the PR business is recruitment. Put
bluntly, there aren’t enough good people to go around, chiefly because
the influx of new talent slowed to a trickle during the recession. Now
that the throttle has been opened again, both consultancies and in-house
departments are struggling to fill vacancies. So it is not surprising
that many are mounting raiding parties on the fourth estate.
Provided both parties go into the relationship with their eyes open,
there is no reason why it should not work. But wise employers will also
go fishing in the ever expanding pool of graduates who have made PR
their first choice of career. They will be the foundations on which the
future success of the industry is built.