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In the process of putting together a post on why ex-journalists should not be ‘parachuted’ into the head of the organisational public relations function, I started a discussion in a few LinkedIn groups. The responses were mainly defensive in character and most could not tear themselves away from a seeming obsession with media relations.

I posted an initial collection of comments on this discussion on why ex-journos should not head the PR function last week. Here is part two. I hope you enjoy them. I did!

PR is full of those who can’t strategise

“As an “ex-journo” who has successfully headed a number of large corporate PR functions and has interviewed a lot of weak PR job candidates over the years, I could easily write a piece on why some PR people should not head the PR function. Our profession is still full of folks who can’t strategize, can’t write and don’t know how to find and formulate a story, much less pitch one. A lot of those abilities are developed through journalism experience at a high quality news organization with high standards.”

David Fluhrer

Public and Investor Relations Advisor, various organisations

Unlike old dogs, journalists can learn new tricks

“I think journalists who make a career switch mid way are, more often than not open to the idea of learning something new. Of course, there are exceptional cases of journalistic ego getting bigger than the boot, but most of the time I have found them adapting to the new realities very fast.

“The experience of working on various beats also gives them a cutting edge. And it is not just with the Corp Comm, they have excelled in various other management jobs as well, at least in this part of the world there are various case studies.

“I am yet to meet a client whose PR basket is not 70 per cent Media Relations centric. As far as debate is concerned, it is like a chicken and egg syndrome. What is the point of strategy if it can not be implemented, and what will you implement if there is no strategy as to why and what do you want to communicate? And yes, those without a media background would love to believe that journos are alien to strategy. IT IS NOT.”

Ravi Sinha


Don’t mention the war…

“I think that PR people that have been journalists in the past are like retired soldiers. They will never forget about the war they had to have with the public relations specialists they interfered in their careers.”

Paul Dumitru

Journalist, MONEY Express

Journalists really, truly do ‘get’ strategy

“I believe an ex-journo, with proper, comprehensive PR training is in invaluable asset for an organization. He or she will ensure that detailed communication plans are in place for each activity of an organization and know what to watch out for to avoid turning a problem into a crisis. My 15 years of experience and training as a journalist has led me to pay attention to details; my PR training has allowed me to focus on the right ones.”

Gyula Kovacs

Coordinator, Communications, Council of Ministers of Education, Canada

It’s a big PR world out there

“…media relations is an important subset of public relations, but it’s not the entire operation. A PR pro needs to understand marketing, sales and customer relations, as well as writing. I know some outstanding writers who could never be PR people — it’s just not in their makeup. Others excel.”

Stephen Lawton

Owner / Consultant, AFAB Media Services

Journos’ skills sharpened by the ‘wars’

“… as a former Newsie, I have found that my News room acumen has been the reason for the best success in my PR years. No one can know the mind of a journalist unless one was/is one. It is a private world best cracked by one of their own. No better way to create or nose out or pitch a story than to have had to have reported on stories for REAL….if it paid better, I’d go back to TV or radio news for good! THAT was a blast of a job, I have always loved it.”

Sonya Snyder

CEO & President, Quill Communications, Inc

PR is more than pitching to media

“As a former journalist who moved into PR, I’d like to add that, IMO, most reporters do not have the skills to instantly move into being an account executive at a PR agency.

“Being an A/E is about more than simply knowing how to write well and how to pitch. You need to know how PR plans are structured and created, how to devise strategies and tactics, do competitive analyses, and measure PR. You need to learn the subtleties of public speaking so you can advise clients in the public spotlight on their communication styles. If you have to write speeches, you will find that the rhythms of the spoken word are more complex than the written, and require mastering different skills. (Not the least of them being actual rhetoric.)

“You also have to be able to manage clients, junior account staffers, contractors and subcontractors. At some smaller agencies, A/Es are expected to be headhunters that pitch and secure new clients, so a fair amount of hard selling can be involved.

“However, if two candidates have otherwise equal qualifications except for their major-journalism experience (or lack of it), I’ll be more interested in the former journalist–assuming she really can communicate well.

“But I’ve known some big-city journalists whose writing skills are so shockingly poor that the only reason their stories appear coherent at all is due to diligent copy editors.”

Steven Spenser

Principal, Praxis Communication/Seattle

“Our responsibility to our clients and our companies (if internal) is to COUNSEL clients on the ways of the world. The best PR practitioners I know don’t make it in the world as ‘yes people’.

Media relations is but one avenue to pursue, but we all know there are scores of other things we can do.??I am still amazed to this day how many prospective clients think PR is media relations. So rather than fight it, I embrace it by counseling clients to first review the infrastructure of their PR plan. That one little nugget has made clients recognize they’re not ready for even media relations activity.

“ In fact, we take the infrastructure’ debate one step further by asking them to see how tight their entire communications suite is, and how ‘ready’  they are for going to market. Bottom line–let’s reinforce what we do as counselors; do that, and you win the battle in addition to the war.

Michael Shmarak

President/Principal, Sidney Maxwell Public Relations

Your comments on these perspectives are most welcome, but you might like to move over to the actual posts they informed, the first arguing why ex-journalists should not be ‘parachuted’ into the head of the organisational public relations function, whilst the second takes a slightly different view, focusing on why, indeed, ex-journos have the potential to make great PR bosses (soon to be published).

PS. I’d welcome you joining networks with me through my LinkedIn profile. Send me an invite!