By Sue Cartwright
Twenty plus years ago I took a turn in my career path when I put journalism behind me to carve a new vocation in communications and public relations.
I’m not alone. Many of my public relations colleagues are also ex-journos who decided to repurpose their media skills. However, as many of them would agree, the change is not straightforward.
Without doubt, my journalism training and experience gave me valuable skills and capabilities. Journalists are focused and clear writers; have superior research abilities; and obviously understand the concept of newsworthiness.
However, I soon discovered I also lacked many skills which would transform me from a writer into a strategist. I realised I needed to undertake extra training and development to become an effective communications professional.
Newsrooms around Australia are currently downsizing. As a result, many journalists are again leaving their media roles to seek a fresh start in public relations and communications. To them, I say: ‘Welcome to the Dark Side’. We don’t necessarily have cookies but the opportunity to get your teeth into new challenges is here, if you’re willing to rethink your methods.
And here is the advice I can offer:
Change your focus from finding problems to identifying solutions.
PR people are problem solvers. We guide clients through tough or complicated times. Yes, we need to fully comprehend a problem but our true value is being able to come up with solutions that fit the time, place and extent of an issue.
Understand the audience is no longer a generic group of listeners, readers or viewers.
Communicators understand audiences consist of people from varied target markets who are individuals with their own needs, expectations and desires. Your job now is to reach out and engage with those people by using communication platforms and methods which best suit them.
Realise a media release is a tool not a strategy.
Yes, your ability to engage with the media is a respected asset. However, it is strategy that counts. PR is not simply about publicity. Public Relations is about getting the right message at the right time to the right people. This requires developing goals and plans.
Know how to advise.
PR professionals don’t blindly do whatever a client asks. Public relations practitioners are reputation custodians. Our role is to guide clients and, if necessary, tell them an idea is unworkable or a risk to their reputation.
You now have more time. Use it wisely.
Gone are the constant hourly, daily or weekly deadlines. Ensure you maximise your extra time to re-check facts and confirm that clients review and sign off on your work. You are your own editor and, remember, you no longer have the by-line. You are now writing on behalf of your client and your words will help make or break their reputation.
Consider going back to school.
Acknowledge that you need to learn more about public relations and how it works. After taking on a PR job, I completed a series of accredited public relations courses as well as training in strategic planning, issue management and creative problem solving. I encourage other ex-journalists to also find courses relevant to your new vocation to improve your understanding of the job ahead.