From Journalism to PR

This is a guest post from Ed Van Herik of Van Herik Communications.

When I made the decision 15 years ago to move from journalism to public relations, I had the opportunity to sit down with the owner of a small PR firm. He had been a business reporter at a defunct LA newspaper, and I wanted to know how he had made the transition to PR successfully.

Throughout our discussion, I found myself examining him – his clothes, his demeanor. I wondered, “Do I have what it takes to enter this new field?”

Many ex-journalists are now considering a similar change. Although the numbers vary, even at the low end more than 5,000 journalists are estimated to have lost their jobs in the last 3 years. While a number are content to be itinerant freelancers, others are wondering if PR might be a good second career.

The outlook is promising.

To begin, there were more PR jobs, around 243,000, in May 2009, than there ever were journalism jobs, now estimated at 69,000. The U.S. Bureau of Labor estimates PR jobs will grow by 24 percent through 2018.

If you’re considering a PR career, I can recommend several steps I took before making my decision:

1) Go to a few meetings of PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) or the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). Chapters can be found in most large cities. PR people are famously chatty; tell them why you’re there and they’ll probably introduce you to someone who made the transition.

2) Take a PR class. I went to UCLA’s PR extension school for two semesters. I discussed my situation with the teachers, who were working PR professionals. Like many PR people, they were quick to give advice based on their own working experience.

3) Research PR ethics. All journalists have dealt with unscrupulous PR people, and many shun practitioners if possible. But a closer look reveals that the ethics in PR are as stringent as any newspaper’s. PRSA has a tough code that emphasizes the need to tell the truth; I had several PR professionals tell me early on that I should not even try to represent a client if I didn’t believe in their story.

4) Examine your own flexibility. Can you stop being a journalist and take on a new role? My hardest task in early PR was pitching a reporter on my client’s behalf at an open meeting. I had spent years as the recipient of such pitches, and I felt very vulnerable in my new role. But I got over it. And, yeah, the reporter did talk to my client.

It’s well-known that journalism skills are prized in PR, including the ability to work productively under deadline and the moxie to create instant rapport with a news source or a new client. And hundreds of ex-journalists are now highly successful in PR because they were able to transfer their skills.

But, I think that, like me, they all had a moment of self-assessment where they asked themselves: Can I make the necessary changes to bridge my skills to a new occupation?

Can you?

As a journalist, Ed’s newspaper stories brought in a $25,000 anonymous donation to a Christmas charity, caused government agencies to take action, and spurred developers to fix their botched subdivisions. In PR, he has spearheaded a number of successful publicity projects, including the design and launch of Southern California Edison’s Partnership with the Sun, a campaign highlighting their solar projects. He was a principal spokesman for San Diego Gas & Electric during the California energy crisis and is now a solo practitioner concentrating on providing strategic and practical assistance to business and non-profit clients. He can be reached at ed@vanherikcommunications.com.

  • Robinskann

    Ed, you make a strong argument and write well. That's good for all of us. Thanks!