Smoking Gun MD Rick Guttridge explains why journalists don’t make good PRs


The press is down on its luck. Publications are shedding staff by the news-desk-load, and operations everywhere from the BBC World Service to The Times and Sunday Times are thinning. But a mass exodus into public relations is a bad idea.
Newspapers are closing, along with magazines- from trade to consumer. On the media’s flip side, thanks to the exponential growth of the internet and social media, and a re-evaluation of its role, the PR industry continues to get bigger. Due to the UK’s wider economic situation jobs aren’t overly plentiful, but they do exist.
In contrast, while journalism is amongst the more popular degree subjects for new students, work at the other end of academe often simply isn’t there. And it’s not just fresh meat for the editorial mincer that has been effected. A sharp rise in experienced freelancers isn’t coincidental, as more and more seasoned writers look to go it alone after redundancy and one look at the staff job options.
The fall of journalism, as it’s often described, has also led to the career jump from press to PR being far more widely considered. Historically here’s where the problem lies. Some journalists can fit comfortably into public relations, but often the age-old divides prevent success. After all, how many people in editorial roles have any real experience line managing staff, career coaching executives, handling budgets, meeting with clients and delivering presentations?
As for the new breed of journalists, they may have been given cross-media training in coding, podcasting and video editing. And these are all vital skills in modern PR. Unfortunately though any prospective employer would be hard pushed to look beyond the fact few would-be-writers have a proven track record of community management with social media channels. And on the flip side, while seemingly similar, the working cultures of public relations and journalism are markedly different.
Admittedly this is a sweeping generalisation. And here at Smoking Gun we advocate the contemporary, inter-disciplinary approach to PR. In an age of overwhelming multi and mobile media choices specialists are required in order to guarantee results. Which is why when I offer a web overhaul to a new business prospect it’s going to be coded by a professional, and this is where the traditional issues with journalists jumping to PR can become less important.
Because if you need efficient news story creation then who better to recruit than someone trained to gauge real news value within tight timescales? Similarly, while having a poor understanding of marketing models a former magazine editor would be an ideal go to for up to the minute blog content. Of course writing to brief is a far cry from long term strategising a client campaign from scratch, work that requires another skillset journalists are often lacking in.
Writers don’t necessarily fit into PR that well then. And, similarly, public relations types might not be naturally suited to editorial roles. The rules, responsibilities, and requirements of PR have changed though, and as this continues to happen some doors have opened where once stood brick walls.
Of course there are so many different strands to PR, with a variety of agency styles, not to mention the somewhat conflicting biases to be found between B2B and B2C firms. So like any jobseekers journalists looking to turn flack from hack should apply to firms with a client roster and work output that matches their skills and experience. The fact they have been a news hound for 30 years isn’t enough alone to guarantee success or happiness in PR, making a willingness to learn, and keen targeting skills the most fundamental attributes required.