Help me transition from journalism to government PR and/or corporate communications
March 3, 2009 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Due to a raft of factors beyond my control, I have to give up my awesome but poorly paid and very demanding job as a reporter and seek a more 9-5 employment, with better pay. AskMe, can you help me identify my selling points for PR and communications jobs?

I worked as reporter and photographer at a daily newspaper, running an office remote from the paper's main headquarters. I loved it. But I got sick. Too sick to live in the middle of nowhere with poor health care, work from 5am-9pm, deal with extreme heat, no breaks and conditions best be described as, uh, somewhat adversarial. Thankfully, I will eventually recover completely and am currently well enough to hold down a regular 9am-5pm job. So, I've moved back to the main city in the (Australian) state where I grew up and I'm gearing up to apply for jobs in PR and communications, mainly in government.

Apart from writing skills and knowledge of how the media works, I'm a bit vague about why a government department would hire a former journo instead of someone with a specific PR background. Other than better pay and working conditions, I'm also at a bit of a loss for positive reasons to seek out a career in PR. While ''I need to do something that doesn't suck the marrow from my bones and pays above the poverty line'' is true, it won't win me any gold interview or cover letter stars, I'm sure. Moreover, it's not a *personally* satisfying reason for making the change. I'd really like, in my own mind, to have sorted out some positive reasons for embracing my new career other than brutal necessity.

Further background
I have an MA in journalism and communications; three years reporting experience, a couple of awards and fellowships, and five years prior technical communications experience. I do NOT want to go back to tech writing. While I look for a job, I am volunteering as a migrant English tutor two mornings a week and have also been considering some volunteer PR work to put on my resume.

AskMe PR and communications peeps, can you enlighten me?

i) Why do you love your PR job?
ii) What strengths would a former journo bring to the table in a PR role?
iii) What weaknesses would a former journo need to compensate for when applying for PR and communications jobs?
iv) Is there anything I haven't thought of about this transition that I should know?
posted by t0astie to Work & Money (4 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm a former newspaper reporter who got out of the business this year, but I still freelance from time to time. I don't do PR, but when I saw the writing on the wall about newspapers, I did consider a couple PR job offers, one with a government agency and the other with a manufacturer.

I have known, and continue relationships with many PR flaks. I don't think most of them "love" PR jobs, but I've known a few who were pretty happy. It pays much better, is more stable, no insane editors, etc.

Your strengths as a former journo would be that you know what reporters are looking for, and likely how they will use that information. So you can more effectively craft and convey your employer's message. You will likely also be more adept at building relationships with reporters, because you know their world.

weaknesses? Well, the job of a PR person is often to obfuscate or "spin" coverage to his/her employers' advantage. A reporter instinctively detests this sort of thing. That's why I don't think I could do it for long.

PR, especially for government agencies, can be crushingly dull -- you're going from covering all sorts of subjects to basically a one-note writer who may not have much to do in a given day. OTOH, that could give you more time to dink around on the Internets.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:36 PM on March 3, 2009

Best answer: I have worked in government comms, and still work closely and very successfully with government comms people. Comms is not "spin." It is getting the message out about government programs in an often adversarial environment. And there is no time to surf the Net, because government comms is very fast-paced.


You have an MA in journalism? And you understand media? You're hired. All you really have to do is do some research (interview some government media relations types) and do some networking (try calling up the director of a communications shop to introduce yourself).

Your strengths:

Do you understand the news cycle? Yes (explain)
Are you able to develop and maintain relationships with newsroom staff? Yes (explain)
Do you understand what the issues are?
Are you adept at issues management?
Are you a self-starter?
Are you a good writer?
Can you write basic communications material, including news releases, backgrounders and fact sheets?
Can you write that collateral for a media audience?

Your weaknesses:

Do you understand how government works?
Can you work to deadline in a government setting?
Can you gather information about public affairs in a timely fashion to create comms material?
Can you create an event proposal and an event plan?
Can you create briefing or issues notes for executives, including deputy ministers and cabinet ministers?
Can you write a speech?
Can you craft powerful key messages, based on discussions with line staff?
Are you willing to wake up at 5am to do media monitoring?

Generally speaking, your MA will open doors, as will your past experience as a reporter.

Event planning is a basic, but difficult job for a public affairs officer. However, you'll be more on the writing side, and I would expect you will want to become proficient in issues management (which is very difficult to do).

You are going to make it! But good luck, just in case!
posted by KokuRyu at 3:48 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I love my PR job primarily because I'm a frustrated science geek at heart who, on the good days, gets to see really smart people do the kind of "big science" that isn't possible at many non-govt-related places. On some other good days I get to bring film crews from my favorite nerdy science shows to visit the really smart guys I work for.

I too was a tech writer originally because I believe in being paid for writing and the journalists I knew (including those who worked for big newspapers) made about half of what I did (and they went to better schools than I did).

Journalists can do well in PR because they understand media, they like to know stuff, and they aren't afraid to ask questions regardless of how "stupid" those questions are. Good journalists understand what their readers want to know, and also understand how to get good and useful information out of people who don't always love speaking about their work to non-experts.

Part of being a PR person is anticipating who the best experts are to speak with media, and preparing those experts to answer questions (some times tough questions) in a way that represents their work and the goals of the company in a positive way, while also giving journalists the information they need to put a good story together.

Journalists going into PR (especially from print sources) need to need to know about the big world of media formats; video, audio, social media, etc. We do far more with film crews and bloggers and trade publications than we do with mainstream traditional journalists.

As far as things former journalists need to compensate for, I'd say that it's important to remember that you're not a journalist anymore when you take a PR position. There is no "freedom of the press." I know PR people that pretend to be reporters and they end up unhappy. You will know lots of stuff that you can't share with anyone....ever.

The best advice I ever got was from someone that works with me now. He said "never lie," because once you've lost your credibility you never get it back." And he's right; never overstate what you know and never lie.
posted by answergrape at 8:47 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all - these are such detailed, helpful responses. Wish me luck!
posted by t0astie at 4:00 AM on March 4, 2009

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