PR jobs abound, but are they right for you?
Updated
(Reader reactions below story)

By Jim Gold

 

  They want you, they really want you.

But will you want them?

  Job-hunting jilted journalists will find the public-relations industry eager to embrace them, insiders say, but they warn some may struggle with the need to embrace clients' wishes.

  Still, as the economy recovers and more platforms beyond Twitter and Facebook are invented to tell stories and spread vast arrays of information and messages, the need for PR services will grow, they said.
Matt Shaw  
"Former journalists make fantastic PR people," said Matt Shaw, senior vice president and director of communications for the 100-member Council of Public Relations Firms.

  That's because the jobs are rooted in story-telling, he said. In meetings with owners of PR firms, he hears a common complaint: "Whether it's new people to the work force or mid-career transfers, people just don't write anymore."

  That's not all there is to it, but the ability to write is a journalist's most marketable skill, Shaw said.

  That's how Monica Durazo, 26, got her marketing coordinator job for Ben's Asphalt in Santa Ana, Calif., after holding news jobs and internships in Arizona and California.

  "They needed a writer," she said.

Outlook for growth

  With 25,000 people laid off from news-related jobs in the past year and a half, public relations may be a place jilted journalists want to seek work.

  The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 14 percent increase in the advertising and public relations services industry from 2006-2016.

  In 2006, the latest year for which figures are available, the bureau said the average hourly wage for a public relations specialist is $24.03 an hour, nearly $50,000 a year.

  The PR Council's job board showed more than 200 listings this week.

  As mainstream newsrooms shrink and technology expands, more companies are gaining the opportunity to take more control over their own messages, and they're going to need help, insiders said.

  "While PR is affected by the economy, there seems to be a lot of companies looking at PR to get more bang for their buck," said Joan M. Vander Valk, group vice president at Stern + Associates in Cranford, N.J.

  "Over the past couple of years, we've been working with clients on less-traditional types of media and getting ready for new things no one's talking about yet. There are more opportunities to help shape their online content, more outlets for messages. It's definitely changing; people need to understand that."

 

It's what you know...

  "Some of the best PR people have been reporters and editors at one time in their lives," said Dave Cieslak, a former Arizona Republic reporter who temaed with another former reporter, Chip Scutari, to launch Scutari and Cieslak Public Relations in Phoenix, Ariz.  Both first spent several years at Moses Anshell in Phoenix, Ariz. "We have a perspective very few PR people have. We know both sides of the game. That gives our clients an advantage over working with someone who may not have had working newsroom experience."

  Other insiders agreed.

  "It's not a seamless transition, but any journalist has a leg up," said John Yocca, 31, a media specialist at Stern + Associates in Cranford, N.J. Yocca previously was a reporter at three New Jersey newspapers. "What we bring to Stern is a respect for journalists, Yocca said. "Communications majors who focus on PR never really understand both sides of the coin. We're bound to the client but we have to respect the journalists just as much. Without respect, we won't get clients into the media."

  Former reporters know what journalists need, said Laura Moss, a Stern + Associates account executive who spent two years as a reporter for the West Orange Chronicle in New Jersey.

  "We understand how deadlines work ... and the challenges they face," Moss said.

... what you don't know...

  The biggest learning curve, Yocca said, was client relations.

  He said he got a crash course on balancing clients' needs with media needs and learned not to give more than the client wants to give.

  There's a business strategy behind it, Yocca said.

  Learning the consultative role is the toughest transition, Shaw said.

  "As a reporter you don't answer to the guy you're interviewing," he said. "You've got to be smart about the relationship, you can't always be the antagonist."

Client counsel is the part of the job newcomers struggle with most, Vander Valk said.

  Someone might have a perfect pitch, target a perfect reporter and share the value of the approach with clients.

"At the end of the day, after you make recommendations to clients ... it's their decision, she said.

  Cieslak said ethical guidelines are pretty much the same in reporting and PR.

  "We are honest and forthright," he said. "We try do provide clients with honest feedback. If they have a story idea, we're honest with them; if it won't work, we tell them."

...and whom you know

  Relationships are key to the business, Shaw said.

  "One hard thing is pitching a former colleague on stories they would have rolled their eyes at five years ago," he said.

Citing a journalism background also helps in forging new relationships, Moss said.

  "It seems to disarm journalists," she said.

Many journalists bring an industry expertise, such as bank coverage, to a PR firm, Shaw said.

  So if the PR firm has a bank client, the former journalist will already know the jargon and understand the client, he said.

  "There are many generalists, there will always be a place for them, but people with deep knowledge on a particular subject put themselves at an advantage," he said.

 

 

What to expect
  Agencies are structured differently and can range from one-person shows to full-service operations employing 2000 people, Shaw said.
  Or someone may work PR in house.
  Durazo described her job as being a writer and more.
 
"I do all press-release writing and anything PR."
  That includes being the company's face at  trade shows where she pitches potential asphalt customers such as property and facilities managers, building owners and real estate brokers.
  She writes articles for trade magazines and arranges special events.
  "We're having a large blood drive; my boss said 'conjure up some publicity' for it."
 
That means getting the word out to media and make it "enticing enough that they will care," said Durazo, who also employs Twitter and Facebook to spread the company's message.
  At Moses Anshell, Cieslak worked with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International in 2007 to launch C3, a stun gun for consumers.
  He credited agency connections and newsroom knowledge for getting Taser not only into The New York Times and on Fox News Channel but also getting Kathy Hanrahan, then Taser president and a stun gun sample onto the Today show during a New York media tour.
  "We got them interviews and secured stories in part because we knew how a newsroom works and we were able to work directly with journalism colleagues," Cieslak said.
  And Cieslak and colleague Scutari prepped Hanrahan on how to deliver fast answers to questions that would come from hosts Ann Curry and Matt Lauer.
  "TV doesn't like 60- to -90-second answers, he said.
  A case study on the Taser work is available on the Moses Anshell website.
  Vander Valk said many firms, like Stern + Associates, offer more than just media relations so journalists have to learn how to adapt their skills.
  "If you can't get into the overall integrated marketing and well-rounded PR program, you will be at a loss," she said.
  Besides media relations, the firm seeks speaking opportunities clients, counsels them on where to advertise and what events to throw for customers and may even employ webinars to reach audiences.
  
"Understanding how a product gets to market can be very helpful for people to understand," Vander Valk said, noting clients include manufacturers as well as professors distributing ideas, concepts and theories.
  While Moss and Yocca focus on media relations and mostly have normal workdays, Vander Valk said others in the firm may see more travel to trade shows and media briefings and even work at an event until 2 a.m. some nights.
  Cieslak said his newspaper experience prepared him for the variety.
  That includes the nonstop interviewing of people, all the communication that goes into putting a story together and the fast pace.
  The need to work 12-to 16-hour days and working at a weekend event:
  "I was used to that already."
 

 

 

Readers react:

JiltedJournalists.com asks if a PR job is a good fit for a laid-off journalist. PR industry insiders say yes; 5 who jumped agree. What do you think?
(See other reactions at mediabistro.com, which asked readers to comment on our story, and continue the discussion at our Jilted Comments forum.)

These comments are from a discussion group we launched on LinkedIn.

Factors vary
  I think this depends on many factors, such as what the journalists overall abilities and duties are aside from writing. If that person does just media relations, staff consultations prior to interviews and/or writing, sure, they may be the best fit. But many P.R. jobs are much more. And in many instances, journalists need not only a few more skills than the ones they acquired in the newsroom but also an attitude adjustment.
 
I was a journalist for about a dozen years before I went into school P.R. I was required to do crisis communications, event planning and perform as a member of the management team. Journalism doesn't necessarily prepare one for these functions. In fact, in journalism, reporters become editors because they write well but often don't have the people skills to manage.
  The same is even more evident as some transfer into P.R. positions.
 
I'm one of those people who has returned to journalism after being in P.R. Interestingly, because of where I now work, both those experiences are somewhat combined, making me a more effective manager.
Rebecca Bibbs
Managing Editor and Senior Editor at Indianapolis Woman magazine; St. Louis Woman Magazine
Writer at Freelance
 

Using skills
  I've been with newspapers since 1972, and any number of reporters/editors have become flacks for government agencies, politicians and PR firms. They seem to have done well and their skills as writers who pay attention to details serve them well.

R.D. O'Neal

Computer professional, independent filmmaker, published novelist and video producer


Revolving door 

  Of course you can and you can later return to being a 'working journalist' and appreciate what you learned while earning probably a better income.

Charlie Stogner

Owner, StogTv
--
Continue the discussions and see other reactions in our forum:
jiltedcomments.jiltedjournalists.com

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What insiders say

Craig Pearce
- Account director, Bluegrass Consulting,
Sydney, Australia.
- Principal, Craig Pearce Strategic Communication.  

From a Feb. 25, 2010, blog post:

"Whilst I believe that ex-journalists are not qualified and do not have the relevant experience to suddenly become the head of the organisational public relations function, they also have the potential to be great PR function heads, for a number of very valid reasons.

But first they need to be educated on what constitutes public relations, including its strategic dimensions and its underlying academic rigour.  And, secondly, they need experience in a hands-on capacity so they understand the tactical breadth of the discipline."

Download Frocomm's free conference report in PDF: Crisis Communications & Social Media Summit 2009.


Joan M. Vander Valk
group vice president,
Stern + Associates

 

Joan Vander ValkThe PR firm, with offices in Cranford, N.J., Cambridge, Mass., and Nashville, Tenn., concentrates on three areas, health care, architecture and design, and thought leadership, such as professors writing books. Stern + Associates is advertising on Mediabistro.com and industry job boards for "media specialists" for its New Jersey office.


Should journalists apply?

Yes, Vander Valk said.
"That's the ideal background to have."



Monica Durazo, 26
marketing coordinator,
Ben's Asphalt

Santa Ana,Calif.

Monica DurazoThe divorced mother of 6-year-old Alyssa, Durazo still dreams of working someday in TV news but finds asphalt "an interesting business, you wouldn't believe it."

Durazo was born into the business, in a way: her father is a newspaper editor.

She graduated from Arizona State University in spring 2009 (she got to see President Obama deliver his commencement address) after completing her college courses online from her California home.

Earlier, she worked in The Arizona Republic's newsroom but left to intern at KPNX, Channel 12, the NBC affiliate in Phoenix (both Gannett properties) and later spent two semesters interning at NBC Universal's KNBC in Los Angeles, where she worked in news, special projects and online producing and writing.


Biggest newspaper lesson:
 Write clearly and understandably, yet in a catchy way.

Biggest TV lesson: Have a face, be unafraid to speak to people in person and ask the right questions.

What she didn't know for her current job: How important advertising is.

"I didn't give enough credit to people in the advertising department who make the money." How did she learn: "Fake it 'til you make it."


Dave Cieslak
Parnter, principal,
Scutari and Cieslak Public Relations
Phoenix, Ariz.

Dave Cieslak, Moses AnshellAfter covering the public safety beat for The Arizona Republic, he joined the fledgling Scottsdale Fire Department formed when a private service pulled out.
"I thought it was the opportunity of a lifetime to get to do something, and at such a young age, people rarely get to do: building the fire department's communications operations from nothing."

Two years later, he met up with another former Republic reporter, Chip Scutari, who gave him a tour of Moses Anshell.

The two started Scutari and Cieslak in early 2010.
Their clients include Korean Air and the Arizona Council of Human Service Providers. They are working on several joint projects with FirstStategic.

What he misses most: Covering wildfires. "It was just a very unique experience that few reporters have, literally being on the line with firefighters, calling in to get the latest up online."

What's similar: It's still very much like a newsroom, we jump from one client to the next to the next, maybe seven to eight in one day; and no one day is like the other. You're never doing the same thing, that makes it exciting and fresh."  

 

 

John Yocca, 31

Media specialist

Stern + Associates

John Yocca, Stern   AssociatesYocca said industry transitions led him to seek a career outside newspapers.

He had worked for three of them, Home News Tribune, Gloucester County Times and Newark Star Ledger.

After covering local cops and politicians, he became public information officer for Perth Amboy, N.J. He offered to counsel anyone considering a PR career:
john@sternassociates.com.

What he doesn't miss:
Being the only person in the newsroom on a Saturday.


Laura Moss, 25

Account Executive,

Stern + Associates

Laura Moss, Stern   AssociatesAfter covering community news for two years, Moss "wasn't exactly looking" but heard from PR contacts about jobs that promised more longevity than newspapers.

"The news business is a dead end," she said, "now, maybe forever."


Her new job has given her a better understanding of just what a resource a PR person can be.


"In PR, there's still a chance to take control of content and write and use your creativity and see it published, even if it's under someone else's name.


What she doesn't miss:
Covering late-night local government council, planning commission and rec board meetings.

 

Good resource
to get started

The 100-member Council of Public Relations Firms, www.prfirms.org, focuses on the business of PR firms.

The 32,000-member Public Relations Society of America,
www.prsa.org, focuses on development of the individual professional.


Together, the two offer "PR QuickStart," available at either Web site.
The interactive guide
is divided into three courses: 1) What Is Public Relations? 2) The Agency Life and 3) Media Relations.

"The site is replete with case histories, news articles, video and links to other industry resources, as well as tips and advice
from public relations professionals at different levels," the organizations said.

What do you think?
Discuss PR jobs in our forum.
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