Are you a journalist who wants to cross over to a career in public relations (PR)? As two industries that work hand in hand, you’ve probably heard that PR is an easy career move for journalists who are ready to try something new, and that it pays more. But is the change as straightforward as it seems? Ex journalist-turned-PR pro Miranda Markham explains exactly what journalists can expect when they switch to a career in public relations.
Name: Miranda Markham
Job title: Head of Industry, Action PR
Years since changing career path: 13
Town/city: London, UK
TAP: You currently work in PR but started your career in journalism. What prompted the change?
MM: I wish I had a more inspiring answer, but the real reason I moved from journalism to PR was money. I liked being a reporter but it was hard work for very little pay, especially at the small-town newspaper where I started. I think journalism must be your passion if you want to make it a long-term career. You truly must love it. Much of what I did in my early career was motivated by money versus job satisfaction. The shift from journalism to PR seemed like a logical path, and one that would be potentially much more lucrative.
TAP: What is being on the other side of the journalist-PR relationship like?
MM: I have always believed that starting my career in journalism gave me an advantage as a PR professional. I understand the demands of a journalist and I know what they’re looking for in a good story. As a result, I don’t bother pitching something unless I would write about it myself. I think starting in journalism taught me how to be a good storyteller. I can now bring that skill to the clients I work with to help ensure they get the column inches they deserve.
TAP: Is working in PR as you imagined?
MM: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. A lot of people have a vision that working in PR is all parties and schmoozing. While there’s an element of that, there’s also a lot of toiling in front of a computer trying to craft the perfect communications strategy or press release. I also think a lot of aspiring PR professionals get excited about the idea of working with big, sexy brands. But the reality is, you’re very likely going to have to work with brands and businesses that might be dull, or perhaps ones you have never even heard of. It’s easy to get excited about working with big clothing brands for example, but it’s a lot harder to get excited about limescale remover or eggs (both of which I have worked on!).
TAP: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced/adjustment you’ve had to make?
MM: One of the larger challenges I have faced is learning how to make news out of something that isn’t new. I worked on a dishwashing liquid brand for several years. The product had changed very little since it was first introduced more than 50 years ago and the client wanted national news coverage. As a PR professional, you must get really good at thinking outside the box, and coming up with creative ways to create a story around an old, and seemingly boring product. It’s not easy, but with a little tenacity, many hours of research, brainstorming, stress-testing and finessing, you can find a way.
TAP: What would you say was the most important thing you did/didn’t do to succeed when making the change?
MM: I try very hard to approach everything with a beginner’s mind. While it would have been very easy for me to assume I knew what PR professionals did, given my background in journalism, I approached the role as a total beginner. I found smart people in my organisation and watched what they did. I asked them to mentor me and help me learn. I also wasn’t afraid to fail. Failing is how you learn. Those early days on the phone calling dozens of newsdesks can leave you feeling deflated, especially when you’re shouted at, hung up on or rudely dismissed. But if you persevere, you will succeed.
TAP: Let’s talk money. Journalism is notorious for being badly paid. How does working in PR compare?
MM: In my experience, PR is definitely more lucrative than journalism. There are also a lot more opportunities to move around to different companies and move up through the ranks. Newsrooms are continuing to downsize, working with more freelancers and few full-time staff. Yet, there are dozens of PR agencies in any major city around the world.
TAP: Can you share three resources that you think are invaluable for any journalist wishing to move into PR?
- Start a blog. This may sound less like a resource and more like a silly suggestion but trust me, my rationale is sound. You may enter the world of PR as an account manager or director, and if so, you’ll most likely have a team to support you with writing and selling in stories to media. As a result, you need to find a way to keep your storytelling and writing abilities sharp. Having a blog can help you do this.
- I would also recommend the book The First 90 Days. This is a great book that gives you a step-by-step guide on how to navigate and be successful in a new job within the first three months. While it is geared toward people working in large corporations, it is likely that a PR agency will have more layers than the newsroom you might be used to.
- The final resource I would recommend is a podcast called My Instruction Manual by a former boss of mine named Keith McArthur. Keith is also a former journalist turned PR pro and I learned a lot from him in terms of how to tell a good story. Last year, he got a second chance at life when his little sister gave him one of her kidneys. It was a life-changing gift that prompted him to change his life. His podcast won’t teach you how to be a PR professional, but it will inspire you to be healthier, happier, more organised and productive.
True to her word, Miranda has her own blog www.thoughtsandpavement.com. The award-winning blog is one to read if you love all things running. In fact, it’s so good, it made the 12 best blogs shortlist for the UK Running Awards 2018.
[Featured photo credit: Photographic Blonde]
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