Journalism and PR at odds?

Journalism is partially predicated on confrontation and divisiveness. In one word: conflict. The discipline, by default, tends to believe conflict is needed in the majority of stories told. It’s what sells ‘papers’ (or so some people think), what generates eyeballs and, these days, instigates the viral dimension.

In many cases I am sure this is true, as old school and tiresome as it sounds to a PR professional like myself. The question, however, is whether a professional schooled in this ‘half glass empty’ attitude can cut it in PR, which by default has a ‘half glass full’ mindset.

Listening to, empathising with and understanding the perspectives of others is a fundamentally important part of public relations. Then there comes negotiation, potentially applied to seek stakeholder and organisational change.

My presumption is that journalists are not trained as fully in these skills as PR practitioners and, just as importantly, they are not educated as to the relevance and importance of these approaches.

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Of course, anyone moving into a new field can learn these skills, but here is another presumption/observation I’ll challenge anyone to refute: most journalists do not study PR at university after they change professions.

A result of this is they will probably not understand the strategic power and potential of public relations to a sufficiently sophisticated degree. This is partially because on the job learning is simply not capable of replicating the intellectually demanding and rigorous environment of an excellent masters course in this or any field.

Journalism is a poor introduction to achieve organisational change

Organisational evolution is as important to PR as stakeholder behavioural change. Journalists can’t be expected to realise this or understand the strategic depth of PR and its capability of helping achieve this (to start with, anyway).

It takes education and practice to achieve this capability. I would not like to see PR become focused ONLY on stakeholder-focused awareness raising and behavioural change, at the expense of achieving organisation-stakeholder mutually beneficial outcomes, so (ex-)journalists will be dragging the PR chain in these latter aspects.

The big bonus of journos moving into PR

Clearly, the advanced capability of journalists to write and/or to tell a story in a compelling manner is their USP. And it’s one PR can absolutely benefit from.

Additionally, journalists are trained to not accept the status quo but, rather, to challenge orthodoxies and dig deeper to ascertain the crux of the issue.

And they frequently have plenty of experience in dealing with a range of people, from CEOs and politicians to the broader community. Similarly, many have reported on a diverse array of issues so have a strong understanding of society and, in some cases, specific industries.

And of course, due to their many media contacts, they will have an advantage in placing stories in the media.

All of these traits are highly valued in PR.

Sales skills needed by agency PR professionals

For anyone, journalists included, moving into a PR agency at a senior level, by default, involves the procuring of new business.

So, selling skills are highly valued. Journalists, not normally trained in this aspect, would do well to bear this in mind, no matter how the issue is positioned in the PR agency’s recruitment pitch. Not that you find sales as part of any PR undergrad or masters course I’m aware of, either – which is a whole other story!

With its greater remuneration and diversity of tactical dimensions, not to mention the societal benefit effective implementation of PR can have, I can certainly understand the allure of the discipline to those working in the media. All of us, however, should consider the ramifications of the two fields seemingly moving closer and closer together.

Collaboration between the media and PR is increasing by the minute, with the primary driver being the economics of contemporary media. Which in turn is being massively influenced by the internet and its star recruit, social media.

What do you think the impact journalists moving into PR is having, and will have, on the discipline? What are the positive outcomes for both professions? Can you give examples? Will the increase of trained journos in PR create opportunities for all parties, or lead to a diminishment in the value of public relations to business and undermine utilisation of its strategic heft?

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Journalists’ migration to PR: ramifications for universities

The impact of journalists moving into public relations is increasing in significance due to media’s downsizing. Key consequences for PR include: improved writing, confrontation rather than cooperation, increased and better quality media coverage, diminished capability of PR impacting on organisational behaviour and less PR graduates being able to secure roles and develop careers.

In summary, journalists’ migration to PR is enhancing the discipline’s technical or tactical capability, whilst undermining its strategic heft and influence.

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PR and journalism students and graduates

One of the more interesting (and less discussed) impacts of journalists’ move into PR is how this will impact on opportunities for less experienced practitioners and the way in which university education manifests itself (both for PR and journalism students).

Right now, with the devastating loss of jobs in the media and the resulting migration into PR which is occurring, if I were formulating a university journalism course, I’d be integrating a healthy component of PR-related information.

  • There is a high likelihood the journalism career will be cut short so give the student a helping hand in starting a new career if push comes to shove
  • Having an understanding of PR will assist journalists in understanding PR and building mutually beneficial relationships with practitioners
  • There is increased pressure on journalists to provide more content than was once the case due to there being less journalists, yet a higher demand for content due to the digital platforms of most media, exacerbated by these platforms’ high rate of content turnover (e.g. refresh, refresh, refresh). A journalist, then, who can manage PR sources to deliver a product to she is happy put to her editor, then all power to the journo and more fuel to her career.

It seems to make sense, too, that if professionals from one field move into a second field, then there must be less opportunities for those which exist (or being educated to exist) within the first field.

This rationalisation is somewhat complicated by the likelihood that migrating journalists are generally going to be more experienced and mature than the emerging PR professional, so to some degree it’s an apples vs. oranges argument.

Nevertheless, there is one pot of money to remunerate all employees, and there will be prioritisation of one candidate over another and not everyone will be a winner. This includes the likelihood that positions will be shaped to leverage this new reality, with an outcome potentially being there will be more positions available for experienced writers than, relatively speaking, business communication ingénues.

In conjunction with my advice to journalism course designers, my advice to those responsible for running PR courses is pretty one-dimensional: get your graduates to be much better writers than they currently are, because the profession is sick and tired of poor writers emerging with degrees, then having to do the hard yards which PR educators failed to achieve.

Note: I’m going to extend this discussion in a post I’m publishing next week, which discusses the question: are journalism and PR at odds? Join me then!

And perhaps advice to educators in both disciplines is to make sure you are training your students in editing and shooting video, with the inclusion of the ‘how to tell a story’ dimension obviously being a necessity as part of that process. This is because of the exponentially increasing utilisation of video in digital communication, whether it be news websites, social media or corporate websites. And you can add photography into that mix, too.

You have to wonder, though, with there being less and less positions for journalists, if universities are ratcheting back the number of courses which exist for them. Already I can see the beginnings of an increase in PR roles which are dedicated almost entirely to writing. Will this development see journalism and PR courses become more integrated, or at least collaborate more with each other?

What do you think the influence of journalists moving into PR is having, and will have, on the discipline? What are the positive outcomes for both professions? Can you give examples? Will there be less opportunities for PR graduates, do you think, and what impact should developments discussed in this post have on university courses for PR and journalism?

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Government public relations is often best practice

Despite some negative ninny naysayers, practicing PR for government organisations is an excellent and rewarding option as it often takes a strategic, holistic, best practice approach, it is founded on a thorough process and great rigour, it is generally well-funded, it provides excellent career opportunities and it inherently exists to benefit all society.

Government PR works in teams to help all society

Yes, there are those smarty pants who think that working for government is a bludge (an Australian term for slacking off or taking it easy). I’d bet that most of these smarty pants haven’t worked in a comms role for a government organisation because, in my experience, this perspective is bollocks.

As someone who is occasionally [:)] accused of generalising, the accusation noted above is really beyond the pale. It is up to the individual (person and organisation) whether they don’t work hard to achieve best-possible outcomes. It certainly isn’t an inherent characteristic of government PR. If anything, it’s the opposite.

I’ve had experience with the following government organisations and they all worked (and work) extremely hard in securing excellent results, as well as applying what can loosely be described as ‘best practice’:

  • Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation
  • Centennial Park & Moore Park Trust
  • EnergyAustralia
  • Endeavour Energy
  • Delta Electricity.

Best practice government PR

You only have to look at roll call of winners of Australia’s leading PR awards, the Golden target Awards, to see how positively the industry views the quality of government comms. Yes, this is due to more factors than the pure talent that works in government PR (see below) but that is clearly a significant factor in the equation.

There is a serious responsibility on all government employees to work hard, as all of us taxpayers are paying their salaries. There is also ministerial pressure on those who work in government departments to get it right. This is not a pressure to be underestimated.

In my experience, you do NOT want to get on the wrong side of a minister or his or her staff. I’ve seen it happen and the impact can be more severe than in a comparable private sector situation.

An outcome of this is that government PR tends to take a big picture, holistic perspective as well as seek to apply approaches that are founded on best practice.

The rigour with which government PR approaches its craft is often based on its endemic processes and quality controls. These processes and controls – like good PR theory – are not a burden. Conversely, they provide a solid, well informed platform from which creativity can be used to achieve effectiveness.

The rigour actually makes it easier to achieve excellent results. Admittedly, though, it can be a trial for those who have to document the processes in the first place!!

Funding for government public relations

Government departments and agencies are well resourced with comms employees. Communication – public relations and marketing – is highly respected as a discipline within government and its potential for reputation and bottom line impact well understood.

Because of this, the diversity of PR specialisations is well represented within government. Media relations, community relations, corporate social responsbility, marketing communication, sponsorship, publication production, event management and social media and website are some of the specialisations.

These and other responsibilities are sometimes blurred in single roles and even if they aren’t, opportunities exist to gain experience in complementary specialisations. I’d suggest getting these opportunities to broaden your skill set is easier to achieve in government than other sectors.

Getting these opportunities and experience can:

  • help stimulate interest and engagement in PR’s wider remit
  • provide opportunities for advancement in different specialisations
  • help build a skill set which facilitates career progression.

Like any industry, working in one area of government will often give you an advantage when applying for roles in other government entities as you have experienced the unique challenges and rewards of the sector.

Public relations benefitting society

One of my own passions is making a positive difference to society through the work I do. I’d like to leave some sort of legacy (no matter how small) that I can explain to my son in the hope that it inspires him to do the same. It’s one of the reasons we are both involved in Surf Lifesaving Australia – it offers an invaluable community service.

There really is no better place to work than in government if this is an aspiration you, too, have.

Government and its arms are there to make society a better place:

  • This includes ensuring our natural environment survives for future generations
  • This includes ensuring that, socially, all people have an opportunity to achieve their potential.
  • This includes ensuring that all people are given a voice in decisions that affect them personally and affect their concerns in the world.

Public relations is not limited to communication. Public relations is about involving relevant parties in decision making processes and issues which impact upon them – then evolving decisions and processes to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. Of course, excellent results appear in many different ways and we need to take a broad perspective to our goal of achieving these outcomes.

Have you worked in or with government public relations? what can you tell us about your experiences? Good or bad? Come on, don’t be soft or shy – give it up!!

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