First published in 2010
They want you, they really want you. But will you want them?
Job-hunting jilted journalists will find the public-relations industry eager to embrace them, insiders say, but they warn some may struggle with the need to embrace clients' wishes.
Still, as the economy recovers and more platforms beyond Twitter and Facebook are invented to tell stories and spread vast arrays of information and messages, the need for PR services will grow, they said.
"Former journalists make fantastic PR people," said Matt Shaw, senior vice president and director of communications for the 100-member Council of Public Relations Firms.
That's because the jobs are rooted in story-telling, he said. In meetings with owners of PR firms, he hears a common complaint: "Whether it's new people to the work force or mid-career transfers, people just don't write anymore."
That's not all there is to it, but the ability to write is a journalist's most marketable skill, Shaw said.
That's how Monica Durazo, 26, got her marketing coordinator job for Ben's Asphalt in Santa Ana, Calif., after holding news jobs and internships in Arizona and California.
"They needed a writer," she said.
It's what they know...
As mainstream newsrooms shrink and technology expands, more companies are gaining the opportunity to take more control over their own messages, and they're going to need help, insiders said.
"While PR is affected by the economy, there seems to be a lot of companies looking at PR to get more bang for their buck," said Joan M. Vander Valk, group vice president at Stern + Associates in Cranford, N.J.
"Over the past couple of years, we've been working with clients on less-traditional types of media and getting ready for new things no one's talking about yet. There are more opportunities to help shape their online content, more outlets for messages. It's definitely changing; people need to understand that."
It's what you know...
"Some of the best PR people have been reporters and editors at one time in their lives," said Dave Cieslak, a former Arizona Republic reporter who teamed with another former reporter, Chip Scutari, to launch Scutari and Cieslak Public Relations (now S+C Communications) in Phoenix, Arizona.
Both first spent several years at Moses Anshell in Phoenix.
"We have a perspective very few PR people have. We know both sides of the game. That gives our clients an advantage over working with someone who may not have had working newsroom experience."
Other insiders agreed.
"It's not a seamless transition, but any journalist has a leg up," said John Yocca, 31, a media specialist at Stern + Associates in Cranford, N.J.
Yocca previously was a reporter at three New Jersey newspapers.
"What we bring to Stern is a respect for journalists," Yocca said. "Communications majors who focus on PR never really understand both sides of the coin. We're bound to the client but we have to respect the journalists just as much. Without respect, we won't get clients into the media."
Former reporters know what journalists need, said Laura Moss, a Stern + Associates account executive who spent two years as a reporter for the West Orange Chronicle in New Jersey. "We understand how deadlines work ... and the challenges they face," Moss said.
Withthousands of people laid off from news-related jobs in the past decade, public relations may be a place jilted journalists want to seek work.
2021 Update: The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects about an 8 percent increase in the advertising and public relations service manager and specialist jobs from 2091 to 2029.
In 2019, the latest year for which figures are available, the bureau said the median annual salary for a public relations specialist is $61,500 a year; reporter, $46,270.
Indeed.com in March 2021 listed more than 17,000 public relations jobs.
Good resource to get started
The Council of Public Relations Firms, www.prfirms.org, and The Public Relations Society of America, www.prsa.org, offer "PR QuickStart," an interactive guide divided into three courses: 1) What Is Public Relations? 2) The Agency Life and 3) Media Relations.
... what you don't know...
The biggest learning curve, Yocca said, was client relations. He said he got a crash course on balancing clients' needs with media needs and learned not to give more than the client wants to give.
There's a business strategy behind it, Yocca said. Learning the consultative role is the toughest transition, Shaw said.
"As a reporter you don't answer to the guy you're interviewing," he said. "You've got to be smart about the relationship, you can't always be the antagonist.
"Client counsel is the part of the job newcomers struggle with most," Vander Valk said. Someone might have a perfect pitch, target a perfect reporter and share the value of the approach with clients.
"At the end of the day, after you make recommendations to clients ... it's their decision, she said.
Cieslak said ethical guidelines are pretty much the same in reporting and PR."We are honest and forthright," he said. "We try do provide clients with honest feedback. If they have a story idea, we're honest with them; if it won't work, we tell them."
...and whom you know
Relationships are key to the business, Shaw said. "One hard thing is pitching a former colleague on stories they would have rolled their eyes at five years ago," he said.
Citing a journalism background also helps in forging new relationships, Moss said. "It seems to disarm journalists," she said.
Many journalists bring an industry expertise, such as bank coverage, to a PR firm, Shaw said. So if the PR firm has a bank client, the former journalist will already know the jargon and understand the client, he said.
"There are many generalists, there will always be a place for them, but people with deep knowledge on a particular subject put themselves at an advantage," he said.
What to expect
Agencies are structured differently and can range from one-person shows to full-service operations employing 2000 people, Shaw said.
Or someone may work PR in house.
Durazo described her job as being a writer and more.
"I do all press-release writing and anything PR."
That includes being the company's face at trade shows where she pitches potential asphalt customers such as property and facilities managers, building owners and real estate brokers. She writes articles for trade magazines and arranges special events.
At Moses Anshell, Cieslak worked with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International in 2007 to launch C3, a stun gun for consumers.
He credited agency connections and newsroom knowledge for getting Taser not only into The New York Times and on Fox News Channel but also getting Kathy Hanrahan, then Taser president, and a stun gun sample onto the Today show during a New York media tour.
"We got them interviews and secured stories in part because we knew how a newsroom works and we were able to work directly with journalism colleagues," Cieslak said.
And Cieslak and colleague Scutari prepped Hanrahan on how to deliver fast answers to questions that would come from hosts Ann Curry and Matt Lauer.
"TV doesn't like 60- to -90-second answers, he said.
Vander Valk said many firms, like Stern + Associates, offer more than just media relations so journalists have to learn how to adapt their skills.
"If you can't get into the overall integrated marketing and well-rounded PR program, you will be at a loss," she said.
Besides media relations, the firm seeks speaking opportunities clients, counsels them on where to advertise and what events to throw for customers and may even employ webinars to reach audiences.
"Understanding how a product gets to market can be very helpful for people to understand," Vander Valk said, noting clients include manufacturers as well as professors distributing ideas, concepts and theories.
While Moss and Yocca focus on media relations and mostly have normal workdays, Vander Valk said others in the firm may see more travel to trade shows and media briefings and even work at an event until 2 a.m. some nights.
Cieslak said his newspaper experience prepared him for the variety.
That includes the nonstop interviewing of people, all the communication that goes into putting a story together and the fast pace.
The need to work 12-to 16-hour days and working at a weekend event: "I was used to that already."
Communications specialist, Australia
From a Feb. 25, 2010, blog post:
"Whilst I believe that ex-journalists are not qualified and do not have the relevant experience to suddenly become the head of the organisational public relations function, they also have the potential to be great PR function heads, for a number of very valid reasons.
But first they need to be educated on what constitutes public relations, including its strategic dimensions and its underlying academic rigour.
And, secondly, they need experience in a hands-on capacity so they understand the tactical breadth of the discipline."
Formerly with The Arizona Republic and KPNX, Channel 12
Biggest newspaper lesson: Write clearly and understandably, yet in a catchy way.
Biggest TV lesson: Have a face, be unafraid to speak to people in person and ask the right questions.
What she didn't know for her first PR job:
"I didn't give enough credit to people in the advertising department who make the money." How did she learn? "Fake it 'til you make it."
C+S Comminications principal
What he misses most about newspapers: Covering wildfires. "It was just a very unique experience that few reporters have, literally being on the line with firefighters, calling in to get the latest up online."
What's similar: It's still very much like a newsroom, we jump from one client to the next to the next, maybe seven to eight in one day; and no one day is like the other. You're never doing the same thing, that makes it exciting and fresh."
What he doesn't miss about being a newspaper reporter: Being the only person in the newsroom on a Saturday.
What she doesn't miss abour community newspapers: Covering late-night local government council, planning commission and rec board meetings.