From Hack to Flack?
August 25, 2006 12:05 PM   Subscribe

How easy/feasible is to make the jump from journalist to media relations/publicist?

I've been working in tech journalism for about six years now. As "careers" go it was sort of coincidental and grew out of some interests I had that I was writing about for the hell of it anyhow. Even though I sort of started my academic life looking to be involved in journalism somehow (EiC of the college paper, brief stint as a smalltown reporter), I didn't expect I'd end up covering tech journalism stuff.

I'm getting a little restless now, and I've been wondering about what options there are that would leverage what I already know without keeping me in the exact same field. It so happens that I recently watched a company in the space I cover pick up a new PR person, and my first reaction was "Wow ... she's really lucky to get to work for them ... they deserve a decent media presence," which served to sort of edge me around my usual reaction to any flack, which is appropriately and professionally hostile in a very cordial sort of way.

When I was in college, everyone was moaning about how the journalism departments were staggering under an influx of people who came to learn the inverted pyramid style so they could make their press releases more palatable to the schmoes transcrib... reporting on them, so it's always seemed to me that these are two compatible fields on some levels.

Is that so? If you've moved between the two professions (preferably from hack to flack) what was it like? If I couldn't find work with a company I believed in, what are opportunities like in the non-profit sector?

I'll extra appreciate any answer that doesn't include the word "evil" or any of its many synonyms.
posted by mph to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Plenty of examples in my experience dabbling in volunteer game journalism on the net for exactly your situation. Because most of the folks that volunteer for this sort of thing deal with the flacks every day, trying to squeeze yet another gem of information out of them, they tend to get intimately familiar with the parameters of the job. I've seen innumerable people happily make the jump.
posted by thanotopsis at 12:52 PM on August 25, 2006

My situation and yours are eerily similar. I fell into tech journalism after college, during which I was ME of the college paper. I'm kinda tired of it now. Here's what I think:

In your current job, you write stuff that people will actually read. Some might groan, but most will only passively digest it or even (in my case probably rarely) enjoy it or learn something from it.

In PR, you'll write stuff that only a few people, most of them reporters, will read. And every last one of them will groan at it.

I have lots of friends that have made the jump to PR and hated it even more than the j-biz. Of course it pays more, but they have to churn out insipid crap that is edited and reread over and over again until every CEO, CTO, senator who strongarmed the SBIR grant, et al. has read it and is happy with the flowery quote you wrote but attributed to them. Do you think you could really do that?

Several of my friends have made the jump back after a year or so flacking, and it's harder going the other way. Newspapers look at you funny once you've been to the dark side.

Plus, I'm not judging you, but newspaper reporters, including myself, are weirdos. We're moody, narcicistic, politically opinionated, sometimes lazy, Web-obsessed, etc. I try to picture myself in a corporate environment sometimes and just can't do it. I loathe ties. I rarely cut my hair. My shirts are threadbare. I fit in in a newsroom for better or for worse. YMMV.

Plus, what the hell do PR people do all day when they're not writing copy?

Would a beat change maybe suit you better?

I have thought a nonprofit might be fun, though...
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:26 PM on August 25, 2006

I actually talked with someone yesterday who had a similar backstory, and might be a data point on another direction to consider: journalism background, got into writing technically-oriented stuff (in this case documentation rather than journalism), and eventually moved into a position as, he called it, a "sales engineer" for a really big computer company you can't have not heard of.

He was the guy to get up in the front of the room and pitch solutions for $100M+ contracts. The way he put it, the clients were glad to have someone go up who could "talk geek" to them. They were double-glad that that someone was not coming from sales, who automatically loses any trust because he is expected to upsell them and promise the moon.
posted by whatzit at 1:35 PM on August 25, 2006

I started out as a freelance writer. Then I got a job in marcom for a software company. I took a couple of courses and read up on marketing. After a few years, I set out on my own as a high tech marketing communications consultant and freelance writer. (Marcom includes PR, although I wouldn't put myself on the level of publicist.) Over time, I found I was really interested in the marketing side and steered away from marcom. I still do marcom, but I have a strong interest in strategic marketing.

Do you enjoy networking? Are you really high energy? Are relationships the most important thing to you? Do you love pitching ideas? PR might be a good place, especially if you have a lot of contacts in the tech media.

Or do you still love writing, planning, researching, interviewing, coordinating, managing and broader strategy? Marketing communications might be a good fit. And you can still do PR within that role.
posted by acoutu at 1:36 PM on August 25, 2006

Plus, what the hell do PR people do all day when they're not writing copy?

I think they are doing lunch. Somewhere glitzy. That's always been my impression, anyway.

Hack to flack is an easy and well-established transition. Selling your soul for more money and no nights and weekends in a business that isn't dying is a no brainer to many people. Your expertise in a narrow field makes you a natural candidate for a well paying flack job.
You could probably have just applied for that job you were talking about, though if they didn't hire you, you could never ethically cover that firm again.
Flack to hack is much harder, as was said above. I'd explain, but you didn't want any permutations of the word evil.
posted by CunningLinguist at 1:40 PM on August 25, 2006

Just curious ... why PR? We all get restless after awhile. Maybe we switch from news to entertainment, or from newspapers to magazines, or from writing to editing.

But what attracts you to PR? I definitely have to agree with M.C. Lo-Carb here: While I won't use the "E" word, I'd be wary of making the move. It is definitely harder to move back.

Having said that, I can see where working for a non-profit in their PR/development department would be cool. If you cover any and have developed relationships with their people, you can always ask (tactfully) how they got into what they're doing now.

One last thing: One of my friends worked for a few years at a major PR firm. Her biggest client was a sugar substitute, which shall remain nameless. My friend — we'll call her K — found that it could take a full week to write one four-paragraph press release. She spent most of her time on the phone with journalists, trying to convince them to write stories about the wonders of her sugar substitute. They scoffed and hung up on her and were generally rude, as all of us have been to some PR flack at some point. At the end, K decided the for-profit PR game wasn't worth the money.
posted by brina at 1:49 PM on August 25, 2006

I am a journalist who has dabbled in PR and I would be happy to talk to you. My e-mail is in my profile.
posted by parmanparman at 1:50 PM on August 25, 2006

What the hell do PR people do all day when they're not writing copy?

Calling me trying to reheat two-month old stories while I'm on a deadline, that's what. *sigh*

OK, I will answer the question now. I am a technology hack/web editor. I sometimes do work for a friend who owns a tech PR firm. I sub press releases and case studies and have even interviewed people for her. I have no problems with this at all.

Perhaps you could freelance first to see if you like it.
posted by randomination at 2:03 PM on August 25, 2006

I've worked in PR and agencies love people who were reporters. It'll be super easy. You can look at firms like Text 100 and Blanc & Otus. They will eat you up.

It is stupid work, however, and your colleagues may be idiots who don't know anything. Then again, they might be semi-smart. You never can tell with tech PR.

But hit them up. You'll be a shoo in I'm sure.
posted by onepapertiger at 8:34 AM on August 26, 2006

Thanks for all the answers.

Re: the question "Why PR?" I should point out that I'm not, you know, clearing my desk off and headed out the door, intent on a new career in flackery.

It was just a novel experience, as someone who's got an inbox full of briefing requests and attempts to "touch base," "gauge my interest," and "feel me out," to realize that my dislike of that profession isn't as absolute as I imagined if a company I've genuinely come to like is involved.

So I wouldn't say I'm so much "attracted" to it as a possible career move as "curious." I'm just kind of at one of those places where everything feels like it's on the table again.
posted by mph at 10:17 AM on August 26, 2006

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