Do journalists make the best PR pros?

Picture this. A senior journalist joins a PR company or the communications team of an organization. What happens next? Does the journalist quickly become the star in the communications team riding on his or her media contacts or does the story end some other way?

On the face of it journalists with their arms full of media contacts and the ability to spot the news at a glance, should automatically excel at the PR profession. But the truth is that the transition to the ‘dark side’ is tough and often a shock.

Transition to PR

Radhika Chaturvedi, head of the content division at PR firm Mavcomm Consulting Pvt. Ltd., was a journalist with the Times of India and has also reported the 26/11 Mumbai blasts for Star News. Inspite of this intensive experience across electronic and print media, Chaturvedi admits that, “ It is not at all easy for an ex-journo to adapt to not just client management, PR strategy but also media management at the beginning. Largely, it is because there are a lot of hidden and crucial dimensions attached to these roles which journos are unaware of.”

Nimish Dubey, contributing editor at TechPP, one of India's leading technology blogs has actually made the reverse journey. He started off with Perfect Relations and then made the transition to tech writer and influencer. Dubey says that he is not sure journalists make the best PR professionals. He points out that, “I have not seen too many make that transition successfully. For the most part, former journalists in PR agencies are what we call a "presentation presence” or window dressing - PR agencies use them in pitches to impress clients. I have not seen too many journalists doing a good job in actual PR - pitching a story, organizing interactions and the like. Most of them get horribly confused about handling people they knew formerly as colleagues and or as friends.”

Dubey says the challenge for journalists in PR is also one of credibility, “A lot of the perception of public relations among the middle and senior level editorial staff is rooted in the eighties, when PR was mainly about lobbying and crisis management. A PR person was therefore perceived as a "fixer" who was well paid. Even today, many people see a journalist who switches to PR as having "sold out." A journo-turned-PR is viewed with a fair bit of suspicion, which I think is unfair.”

Aditya Kshirsagar, a former journalist, has put in a stint with a PR agency and is now a communication manager at IT firm Whatfix. He feels the switch has worked for him. He says, “It was a good decision for me. I love talking to people and helping brands strategize their growth and handling their entire communication.”

Kshirsagar has some advise for those moving to PR from journalism, “Patience. That is the key. There are a lot of times that you wish that the job should 'just get done.' But, the ability to cruise through the agency set-up plus client hierarchy is very important.”

Challenges in a PR role

T. Anand Mahesh, Managing Director, Mavcomm Consulting Pvt. Ltd.,  hired three ex-journalists for his firm. One was hired in an external facing role. He says, “Journalists do make fantastic PR professionals and we have had a great experience with team members who have joined us from fairly senior positions in journalism.”

Mahesh however qualifies the above saying that success, “Depends on the way that journalists are utilized by the PR agencies. We have measured their aptitude and in some cases given them only internal facing roles focused on content, rather than external facing roles which demand separate skill sets and personality. This has worked well for us. “

The entry of digital news media could help make the journo to PR transition easier. Dubey says that, “With the emergence of blogs and also younger media persons, the relationship between PR and the media is improving. That is a very good sign indeed. The "master-servant" attitude of the past was downright shocking.”

There is no doubt that working in PR calls for a huge change in attitude. News spotting and contacts are not assets that guarantee success in PR.

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our weekly event and subscriber alerts.