How to Career Jump from Journalism to Public Relations

Journalism remains one of the most volatile careers due to industry mergers, political attacks, and the gutting of resources to maximize profits.

Earlier this month, GateHouse Media announced an incorporation with Gannett and CBS combining its assets with Viacom, withering away an already sparse news ownership scene. The Pew Research Center reported a 25 percent decline in newsroom employment from 2008 to 2018, the majority of that having to do with the sales, mergers and closings of newsrooms. While an important and exciting job,  the pressures and layoffs are too numerous and frequent for some to stay in the industry.

Hiring a journalist into a public relations or communications position can be one of the smartest things an organization can do. Their intense work ethic and quality of writing will improve content and office efficiency, tenfold. 

We talked to several former journalists who made the jump to public relations and communications positions. Many were forced into an alternative career path due to buyouts and layoffs, while others craved a more consistent schedule and relief from constant adrenaline rushes and deadlines. They provided us with numerous tips on how to navigate such a career change. 

Translate your journalism skills to PR

Journalists will need to work on their resume to showcase that their abilities to write, report and research can fit also within public relations. 

Jerry McCormick, public information officer for the City of San Diego, left his job as an associate producer with Fox 5 San Diego two years ago, after working in news for 30 years. McCormick noted the importance of making sure your resume is communications-focused, as a pure “journalism resume will not get you a job” in PR. 

“To have a comms focused resume, you need to sell the skills you have as a journalist such as being organized, meeting deadlines, increasing readership/viewers/online hits,” he said. “And any public events you do, even if you volunteer for an organization and do media for them, put that in there too.”

Get the word out

For some, it may feel disloyal, but getting the word out that you are looking for work is crucial— especially if you have been let go. This can happen in a Facebook post, through Twitter, contacting old colleagues on LinkedIn. Your first task as a public relations professional is drumming up publicity for YOU. 

Cyndi Brown, public information officer for the North Carolina Maritime Museums, worked in editing and reporting roles for 17 years. Brown and other editors were given an opportunity in 2017 to remain with the company, but for a significant pay cut and heavier workload due to staff cuts. She declined, took her first uninterrupted vacation in a decade, and went on the job hunt. 

“Use your network,” Brown said. “Let people know you are looking to make a transition (especially the [PR pros] you work with since they might know of some opportunities that you don’t, or may be getting ready to move on themselves, setting you up to be first in line). Meeting deadlines, juggling multiple projects, explaining information clearly — transfer extremely well into the industry, and it’s one of the reasons the transition is a natural one for many. Be ready with the elevator pitch that explains that.” 

Test the PR waters

If you want to brush up on the communications skill set, or just see if you’d like the environment, many journalism-to-PR pros take jobs with an agency for a year. Through this, they learn and refine many PR basics and procedures. After the year, employees are able to decide if an agency is right for them, or if they’d like to move on to another communications position with their enhanced skill set. 

Ryan Gorman, founder of RGPR, transitioned to PR by working for an agency (Dukas Linden PR) that was known for hiring former journalists and served mostly financial clients. This worked to Gorman’s strengths as a former financial industry professional, as well as a reporter for Business Insider. 

Gorman appreciated his experience with Dukas Linden before moving on to start his own practice. 

“Make sure it’s what you really want, because you will miss the newsroom for a bit,” he said. “That impulse to run towards danger or start documenting things still hasn’t left me, but it has tempered quite a bit. Make sure you talk to a number of agencies and find a culture that works for you. Not all firms are the same, and ending up at the wrong one may sour your experience.”