I know that I have a very unusual career as far as journalism goes. First, I've always worked for independent B2B/trade newsletters. I've never worked for a general media newspaper or a magazine. I've also taken several breaks from journalism to work on the public relations/public affairs side of the business.
Oh, the grief I took from my journalist friends for going over to "the dark side." I heard things like "you're selling out" and "you're going to miss journalism" and "how can you actually flack for INSERT NAME HERE when you wrote about them for so long?" I have always taken jobs because I've seen an opportunity to learn a new skill or just shake things up, and it has always worked for me.
But as journalism continues to hemorrhage jobs -- 13, 868 so far in 2009, according to Paper Cuts -- I now hear those same journalists who pilloried me for my trips to "the dark side" saying they now want to look at public relations as an option. I also heard this a lot when I attended this year's National Association of Black Journalists annual convention, and I've been meaning to do a post on this very topic. What I have to say to these journalists is -- PR is not as easy as you might think it is.
The biggest mistake journalist make is thinking that just because they can write, they can just take those skills right over to PR and smoothly transition in. No, no and NO. Some of the skills do transfer over -- writing/editing, attention to detail and curiosity.
But in the end, you are the slave to the company you're working for. If you don't believe in the company/organization, you will never last. As such, you will have to write things that you'd never write as a reporter. A PR person's job is to put the best face on all news, no matter how bad. When you do a good job, everyone but you gets the credit. When it's perceived that your efforts didn't go well (with it NOT being your fault 9 times out of 19), the s**t rolls down hill -- right on you.
Example: I worked for a company where an executive, on his own, decided to accept an interview request from a major newspaper. When we found out, we first tried to talk him out of it, because there were a lot of things going on that didn't make it a good time to do an interview. But he was hell bent on doing it, so we tried to prep him the best we could. But he had an ego and thought he could "handle" the reporter and refused to do any prep. So the interview went ahead and it was pretty much a train wreck.
The CEO was unhappy with the interview, and the executive blamed our team for not prepping him. So even though we had emails that showed that he had tried to prep him, we ended up getting blamed for the fiasco.
I urge you to read this post from The Bad Pitch blog entitled "The Axed Hack's Guide to Flacking: Are Journalists Meant For PR?" I also recommend this post from BNET's Catching Flack blog.
And if this is really something you're considering, please -- talk to people who have made the same transition and get advice. Email me if you don't know anyone else. I'm happy to pass along my experiences.