How to move from journalism to PR

Journalists are one of the biggest sources of supply of PR professionals in India. Globally, journalists switching over to public relations is something that will not raise an eyebrow among watchers of the PR business.

But the switch is not easy to make, from buyer to seller from expecting immediate response to queries to playing the waiting game with pitches and from thinking about stories to thinking about the a range of stakeholders.

Think 'big picture': prep for the first day in office

One of the biggest shifts that professional shifting form journalism to PR is that, work is more than one single story or programme or paper. Nor is PR just about media relations but about syncing business goals with effective communication across the range of audiences. Those journalists who understand that PR is more than media management, will find the change easier to make.

Says Madhur Kalra, Deputy Manager of Corporate Communications with a telecom company in India, “The biggest challenge that I faced was to move from a uni-dimensional journalistic vision to a multi- dimensional perspective driven vision. As a journalist I was part of the NDTV team at Metronation channel which was focussed on Delhi. As a PR professional I joined one of the pharmaceutical companies which has interests in clinical research, oil and gas, fast food and defence amongst other things. Each company has a different vision, different management and a different way of doing things. Therefore the first challenge was to open my horizon and start thinking in a big picture mode rather than single story mode. Reading up on company is always a good idea to begin with. Annual reports, regulatory filings whatever you can lay your hands on is helpful, even a Google search will do but do not go unprepared on your first day.”

Lose the attitude: adjust to being a cost centre and not a profit centre  

PR professionals who have made the switch warn that not being a journalist and being the one now to do all the chasing can be challenging. Pallavi Goorha Kashyup, Founder and President of PG Communication, says that the “Biggest challenge of shifting to PR from journalism is following up with journalists for a story. Journalist change jobs frequently that it is tough to keep a tab on their movement."

Madhur Kalra advises; “Lose the attitude of a journalist. As a journalist you have a way of talking with people and expecting response from people after your call or mails. As a PR professional you will not get that amount of luxury, not in a company and sometimes not even in your team. You need to learn to live with it. While in journalism your stories were critical to the organisation, here in PR you are a support function and not a revenue function or profit centre so your priority may not be your management’s priority, take a deep breath and learn to let it go."

Madhur adds that “Secondly and most critically, always remember that it’s you who have made a switch and will have to start from scratch to prove your worth. In an agency or even in a corporate there will always be people who are probably younger than you at a level of pay higher than yours or designation above yours. Respect them for what they have achieved and where they are. PR unlike journalism is a dynamic field and there is plenty to learn from all sides, welcome the learning. If you have difficulty ask people around you, chances are that they will help you out in nine out of ten cases."

Learn the new rules of writing

While writing skills and the ability to tell the story will always help with PR, PR professionals caution that there is still a lot of unlearning to do, from shifting to writing in a neutral to writing to project the point of view of one organisation.

Says Madhur, “Another tough area to cope with was unlearning the way of writing/ speaking and in some cases even talking. Writing speeches, position papers for your top management is a completely different ball game from writing for television or web. People making a switch from print are relatively better off but only just. Best way to prepare yourself is to read up on PR writing and talk to the managers and team beforehand. Trust me it helps, your MD may not be much of a speaker but will always appreciate if your talk points are summarized properly and help him cover everything in under 4-5 minute when he is talking in the sweltering heat of his manufacturing unit in the middle of Rajasthan."

Build on your skill set as a journalist  

While you are making the switching there are several qualities as a journalist that will stand you in good stead. Pallavi says “Being a journalist has helped me make press releases better and design the brand strategy for my client. It has helped me get the basic understanding on what will get published in media and what will not.”

For Madhur “What helped me the most is the ability to think strategically. I was good at connecting the dots between two seemingly dissimilar situations and that helped me. When I wrote something for an interview and pitched it to a journalist, I made a note of his comments and worked upon them for my next pitch. Similarly, when inside the company also, while talking to the management their remarks on product approvals, project completion etc. were always helpful in creating a compelling narrative for the company. "

While the switch is tough, PR professionals who have done so believe that it is one of the most rewarding career options available.