How to make the move from Business Journalism to Successful Communications Advisor

16 May 2012

It is by no means a new trend, yet one that continues within the financial and corporate communications sector.  At The Works, we have met with many journalists looking to hop that fence, so with help from a kind contributor, Joe Kelly, ex-national business journalist and Director of Comms and Marketing at BT, here’s our advice on getting a foot in the PR door and how to face the challenge of a career change.

 Making friends and influencing while on the other side

One of the most valued traits of a communications advisor is the ability to build trust, rapport and credibility with senior and highly influential individuals. The more you have been able to demonstrate that you can build relationships, regardless of how tight your deadline, the better. To put it frankly, anyone you have rubbed up the wrong way as a journalist is unlikely to give you a job (and trust me, like recruiters, communications professionals never forget!)

 Understanding the learning curve

The first thing to get your head around is not only what you have to offer, but what you don’t! Woe betides the career changer who uses an interview as their opportunity to tell a potential employer how much better they could do their job because of his valuable insight from the other side!

Joe Kelly, ex-national business journalist and Director of Comms and Marketing at BT advises:The biggest learning was the realisation that as a communications guy, people looked to me for answers while, as a reporter, I was used to coming up with questions”.

He continues: “Other skills I needed to develop included managing a large team (journalism is a more solitary pursuit) and a comparatively large budget.  I also had to manage a PR agency”.

 How to sell what you have to offer

While demonstrating modesty in an interview situation is undoubtedly endearing (and can often flatter the interviewer) it is obviously important to highlight what you have to bring to the tableJoe sums up the key transferable skills as:

  • Understanding complex issues and expressing them in simple terms
  • Deciding quickly what’s truly important among a vast array of other people’s priorities
  • Having the confidence to ask for clarification when you don’t understand something
  • Being comfortable with deadlines and rapidly changing situations
  • Being naturally curious and comfortable around senior people up to and including CEOs and chairmen of large multi-national corporations

Understanding what lies ahead

Another way to really swing things in your favour at interview stage is to demonstrate that while you have never done the job before you have a good comprehension of what is involved. Joe’s advice is to “be prepared to broaden your working horizons: working in a communications department is about managing much more than the story – it's also about strategy, planning and implementation.   You need to be prepared to work closely with other communications disciplines such as investor relations, public affairs, marketing and the events team, as well as other functions such as HR, finance, operations and legal.  In many cases, they will look to you to make decisions and to lead on projects beyond your immediate responsibilities” .This also very much applies to life in consultancy where there is an almost constant need for flexibility.  Joe adds “because other people depend on you, you need to be better organised than you can afford to be as a journalist.  And yes, you do get better paid in communications, but you do work harder and longer hours”.

Living the dream

So after all your efforts not only to take the career change plunge, but get through what can often be a gruelling recruitment process, it is all definitely worth it, according to many success stories I have seen over the years.  The single biggest plus is often cited as “the opportunity to be in the privileged position to witness directly (and very closely) how very large organisations operate, how people perform and behave in different situations and to see and get involved in the commercial elements of managing a business”.

Joe has also been very pleasantly surprised at just how seriously senior business leaders take the media and how much time they spend anticipating, reading and discussing what the papers - especially the nationals - write about them. 

Change for the better

Life will be different; you will be different but embrace it. For Joe, the most obvious change has been that he has a much better appreciation for the complexities involved in running a business and managing stakeholder groups with conflicting needs. As a reporter, he was taught to not have an opinion.  “As a communications guy, you’re expected to have an opinion.  Your opinion will be sought on all manner of issues and a reporter’s instinct helps. I’ve learned with experience to have, and to be comfortable expressing, an opinion”.  

For more advice from the team at The Works, take a look at our blogs

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