From Media to PR: The Greener Grass?

As a new normality asserts itself in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, lives and livelihoods worldwide have been irreversibly altered. The media and media-adjacent roles are no exception, as print bottom lines tumble further and industry giants face a stark choice: transform or be left behind.

With newspapers and magazines folding left and right, it’s unsurprising that journalists and writers are exploring greener pastures in related fields. While many have made the transition into public relations, as well as related fields such as corporate communications, marketing and advertising, the jump isn’t always easy. 

Speaking as a former newspaper editor now attached to a PR agency in Kuala Lumpur, and seeing many of my friends and ex-colleagues struggling through the recent downturn, I’d like to share my thoughts on how to adapt to the changing times. Recalibrating your mode from news to PR has its share of challenges, but it’s definitely worth it!

1. Starting from scratch

Without a doubt the hardest part of jumping from media to PR is starting from the bottom. This is true on many levels – unless you’re lucky (in which case you won’t need this guide), you’ll be shifting into an executive role, which means you’ll be taking a pay cut, with everything that implies.

More than that, however, is the shift in mindset to a service orientation. Media reps are used to calling the shots – more often than not, we believe we represent a sacred institution, and demand respect accordingly.

Many of us have worked in the line long enough to even take this for granted. Needless to say, when you’re servicing an account, this mindset may not be the best way to secure retainers and glowing testimonials from clients. If you’re thinking of jumping into PR, it’s best to relearn humility.

2. First impressions count

While customs vary from publication to publication, in general, the media industry generally has more forgiving standards when it comes to grooming and attire. I’ve seen interns roundly scolded for wearing ties to the newsroom. Part of this comes from the working class roots of the profession, and part of it is perhaps, again, the perceived dedication to a higher cause – whether it’s truth, justice, or the rakyat.

Unfortunately, first impressions count when you wake from the shared consensual hallucination that is the mass media. A relaxed approach to your mode of dress and personal demeanour may be all right when you’re writing the bylines, but you’ll need to up your game if you’re trying to stand out from the crowd. And make no mistake, there are far more bodies looking for jobs now than there are plum roles.

3. Play to your strengths

Thankfully, It’s not all doom and gloom. The good news (pun intended) is that public relations firms are very much in the market for savvy, linguistically capable storytellers with media experience. With your stint in the line, that gives you a head-start over fresh-from-college applicants and those coming from other fields.

You’ll need every advantage you have, so make your experience work for you. What did you really learn while covering those endless industry events and Parliament or court sessions? How can that knowledge benefit you in your next endeavour? While your pedigree can help you get your foot in the door, don’t overplay your hand – it’s a recruiter’s market now.

4. Build and maintain your network

If your contacts didn’t factor anywhere in your answers to the questions above, transitioning into PR may not be the right move for you. At its heart, the communications field revolves around people – whether it’s PR, media, advertising, marketing or even sales. 

This is particularly true in PR, where practitioners need to navigate the unforgiving currents of client and media relations while gauging and managing prevailing public opinion. Though these skills can be taught to some extent, it may be difficult to compete and thrive with other agencies while learning on the job.

5. Don’t just survive. Grow.

Finally, it can be all too easy to fall into complacence amid the rhythms of the media world – show face at the interviews and events, grab the press release, change a few words here and there, send it up to the sub or possibly directly to the boss, call it a day and go home. 

While this perspective may get you through the day-to-day, it isn’t sustainable in the long run, both on the personal level and for the media industry as a whole. If you’re contemplating the future and seeking opportunities in PR, it may be best to start by asking what you bring to the table not just for future employers, but in your current role as well – and how you can bring more.

In the end, a public relations career is an acquired taste. Many may find it to their liking and come to relish its savour, while others may take a bite and swear off it for life. With the pointers above, I hope I can help others who find themselves at the same crossroads I passed not so long ago.

By Aliff Yusri, Senior Manager, Mustard Tree Communications

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