Media jobs: journalists working in PR, poachers turned gamekeepers?

This article first appeared in Press Gazette

Apart from the money, what is the attraction to for journalists to swap media jobs and work in PR?

After all, journalists perceive themselves as troublemakers: news is what people don’t want you to print. The aim of PR is to achieve the opposite.

Kim Fletcher is Managing Director of Trinity Management Communications, sister company of Brunswick PR. Previously, of course, he was Editor of The Independent on Sunday and Editorial Director of the Telegraph Group, and he agrees that PR doesn’t suit every hack: “Some journalists are used to having fantastic fun, engaging in mischief. They can’t bear answering to clients.”

He illustrates this with the example of a friend, a senior journalist, who agreed to help out a PR acquaintance. At a conference they were attending, the client said “I could murder a coffee.” Fletcher’s journalist friend told the client that the coffee machine was “down the corridor on the left”. In the PR world, Fletcher says, “it would have been expected to ask how many sugars he wanted, and gone and got it. Journalists are used to not having to be nice.”

However, he says, “some adapt brilliantly.” After all, there is something in the cliché of ‘poacher turned gamekeeper.’ Journalist PRs are able to recognise mischief-making when it comes their way and know how to take the sting out of a story. And it plays to the strengths of journalists to write and edit copy, and to spot and spin a good story.

Engaging in mischief

So what kind of journalist does PR suit? My own view is that someone who is driven by the need to break news stories won’t necessarily fit; for example, it may suit people from monthly or business to business backgrounds who are used to working with advertisers. To some extent, Fletcher agrees; “Would a war correspondent enjoy it? Probably, no,” he says.

You have to make an honest assessment of your own motivations. “As a journalist, you spend your time on the outside trying to get in. In PR, you have the inside track but can’t necessarily use it.” If you can find satisfaction in keeping a secret rather than publishing it, PR might be for you. In addition, he says, schadenfreude is not a good trait in PR: “Journalists are cynical; they prefer a story if a business is failing. Whereas, I found working with people who are making businesses work to be fascinating.”

To a large extent, it also depends on the clients you are working with. “If you are working with some iffy consumer brand, it can be soul-destroying. But I welcome new challenges, and relish the intellectual challenge of helping people to put across their message.”

And what about the money? “Ah yes,” he says. “It is one of the few places journalists can still get paid.”