Jobs in print and broadcast journalism hard to come by, and newsroom budgets facing ongoing cuts. So more and more journalists are moving into PR/communications and marketing.
We talk to Claire Thorburn, owner of a successful PR agency in the North East of England, to find out how to make this career change. Claire owns and operates Impact PR & Marketing, based in Bamburgh, Northumberland. She launched the agency about 10 years ago after working for weekly newspapers.
If you’re a journalist thinking about moving into PR, this interview provides insight into what this career change feels like and how to navigate challenges.
Move from journalism to PR
What was it like moving from a weekly paper into PR?
While there is an element of missing the buzz of hard news – working on a weekly newspaper group exposed me to a full spectrum of reporting scenarios. But working in PR still gives you that media fix!
My day-to-day work as a journalist involved working with numerous public relations officers from a wide selection of organisations – from local authorities to private businesses. As such, I experienced first hand the relationship between PR and the media – good and bad.
I knew what would help me as a journalist and how public relations officers could help to add value and support my role..
Career change AND new business
You didn’t just change careers, you started your own business, too. Those are major changes to make at once. What challenges did you face?
My journey from journalist to starting my own PR business was incremental. I’d worked as a personal assistant to the internationally acclaimed child care writer Gina Ford, which gave me my first taster of working with the media as a publicist. It gave me a real insight into the workings of the world of PR and its relationship with national media cutting across all types of different mediums.
I decided to start my own business after a time-limited project I’d managed with Enterprise PLC ended. We had used a big-name PR agency to raise awareness of the project and I remember thinking “I could do this – and better.”
I was laid-off and so I used my redundancy funds to launch my own business – Impact PR & Marketing in 2006. I might have had the work skills necessary to begin a PR business, but I can openly say I didn’t have a business brain!
My work referrals have always come through word of mouth – the best possible form of PR! I’m incredibly proud that the majority of my clients I started out with over ten years ago have remained with me to this day. I feel as proud of their own success stories and growth as I am about my own business.
Did you miss the fast-paced world of news? Did your office ever feel just a little bit too quiet?
I work from home which has its pros and cons. I could be writing a national press release, coordinating media inquiries and requests, arranging the guest list for a Royal reception in London – all from my rural Northumberland outpost!
No two days are ever the same, and I do have to travel a lot for work. This week I am in Southampton and London for work, so I am not in an office 9 – 5 each day, something I would struggle to do.
On the other side of the news
What was it like suddenly being the one to be contacting reporters and pitching ideas or stories?
Having that inside knowledge and experience of working as a journalist is absolutely priceless in terms of liaising with the media.
You are able to pitch a story idea or opportunity that has relevance to a particular media outlet. Former reporters have first-hand knowledge about what will pique interest and how to make a busy journalist’s life easier with a great story idea.
Research a journalist before making a pitch
On the other hand, there was nothing more frustrating for me as a journalist than being contacted about a story that had no relevance to my area or title. Do your research, find out the best person to speak to, time to call, and have an appropriate story to pitch. And be polite.
I’m lucky to be in a position now when journalists come to me for stories or case studies. The word does get out in the media if there is someone who is helpful, meets deadlines, provides accurate, good copy and is honest.
Most journalists are driven by curiosity and some are said to have impressive egos. How do these qualities play in the world of PR?
I have worked with lots of different journalists, including national broadcasters and celebrities who are talented and gifted at their job. If you are able to supply them with the story and strong interviewees they can do their job and everyone is happy.
Transferable skills from journalism to PR
With your diploma in journalism, did the skills you learned help you with your PR work?
Absolutely. There is a real craft in being a journalist. It’s not just in the style and way in which you write, but in how you interview and source stories.
Producing engaging copy so important, whether for press release writing, web content, social media, and so on.
I wish I’d known . . .
What do you wish you’d known before going into PR?
You can say no! It is better to be honest about prospective jobs and say if you don’t think it’s a fit for you and your skills.
Equally, I am upfront about my capacity. I am realistic with prospective new clients and will always redirect their inquiry to other PRs if I can’t assist.
Moving from journalism into PR
Are there any other tips you have for a reporter thinking about going into communications?
Don’t forget that as well as writing and pitching stories and ideas you need, to have strong people skills. So much of my job involves meeting and communicating with people. As someone who is outgoing I thrive on this element of my work, but I know others find it challenging.
You need develop relationships not just with potential clients, but with their staff, partners, stakeholders and the media, too. Be adaptable and flexible.
PR pro Claire Thorburn
Claire Thorburn is based in Bamburgh, Northumberland, England. She studied journalism at Darlington College, U.K., and worked for some weekly papers before switching to PR. Claire has a degree in English and Critical Studies from Northumbria University, and regularly takes courses on PR and marketing. You can connect with Claire on Linkedin and Twitter.
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