Moving from journalism to PR?

Three things that never change

Photograph of a reporter interviewing an unidentified man outside the White House on the occasion of the announcement of the Japanese surrender ending World War II. Abbie Rowe, 1905-1967, Photographer (Retrieved: Wikimedia Commons)

When I moved from the newsroom to a public relations office more than 20 years ago, I was sure it would be a natural fit. I’d simply be a journalist in residence, assisting my new employer with the news media while writing and producing company publications. Just like the newspaper biz, but with better pay. Maybe I was a bit naive.

Fortunately, I’d had a few good public relations classes in college and a professor who hooked me up with a great volunteer PR opportunity after I graduated. So, I had some idea that there may be more to public relations than newsletters, news releases, brochures and tea parties.

Leaving the newsroom, I had to learn rapidly and keep learning. My new responsibilities required that I think strategically and understand integrated marketing, including principles of advertising, direct mail, research, and data mining.

While PR has evolved at high speed, I’ve found three things never change:

1. Endless Adaptability:

Nothing much stays the same. Lifelong learning is the only way to remain effective. Communication tools change, markets evolve, and new ideas abound. The ability to adapt to change, understand trends and recognize fads will serve any PR or marketing person well. Most journalists I know are specialists at adapting.

2. Building Real Relationships:

It’s about relationships, always. There is nothing magic in a particular communication tool or practice. A story in the news media, a slick newsletter, trendy social media, or a colorful billboard are all just tools that – when strategically used – can help build stakeholder relationships.  If you trust in the magic of flashy tools, there’s a good chance you’re neglecting customer relationships.

Let’s face it; there’s nothing in Twitter that will keep my marriage healthy any more than an expensive bouquet of flowers can replace an intimate conversation with my wife. We love each other because we’ve spent years building a relationship. Your customer relationships are no different.

3. Measure Outcomes:

No matter how things evolve, listening and responding to your customer or stakeholder is the only way to be effective. This cannot be done exclusively with focus groups, or quantitative measurement. It takes both. And, measuring outputs – how many column inches you “placed” in a newspaper – is a poor substitute for measuring outcomes, such as trends in customer behaviors and attitudes.

Can a journalist successfully transition to public relations and marketing? Yes. The PR profession is full of them. In fact, there are very few reporters I trained and worked with 20 years ago who have not taken the leap.


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