Because they are credible, recognised, trustworthy and write good copy (or speak very well).
They get most of the best jobs out there because, also, they are unlikely to be called “spinners”. Moreover, their future employers easily assume that former journalists can save them if they need public/media “saving”.
Many of my friends and colleagues are former journalists and really good at copywriting, engaging with the media and picking up on what might be a newsworthy story.
They can also create highly relevant content for their employers’ stakeholders. No one needs to look too far or dig too deep before they find an ex-journalist in a senior corporate PR/Comms position.
The biggest employers of former journalists are government departments and PR agencies.
Governments believe they buy themselves time and some leeway from mainstream’s media backlash in case they do something wrong; after all, “colleagues cannot hurt former colleagues” can they? This was the first reason given to me by three government officials I spoke with earlier this week.
The second reason the three of them agreed on was the journalists’ professionalism because – and here I quote one of them – “we know how good they are, because we read their articles and watched/listened to their reporting“.
The third reason was related to the journalists’ (alleged?) ability to understand “the wider business context and the complexity of the political pressures we are facing“.
Following my meeting with the Government officials (British, Saudi and Australian) I had to send an email to five PR agencies’ MDs and owners and ask them this question:
If two candidates were to apply for a senior role with your agency, and you were aware that one of them had a mainstream / broadcast journalism background and the other a conventional PR background, whose CV would you look at first?
They all said they would look at the journalist’s CV first, without a doubt.
The reasons they gave me, when I followed up with the question “why?”, were very similar to the reasons given by the three government officials I mentioned above, but with the addition of a new one: because they “will help us win more work and make us look more attractive to our clients“.
I wouldn’t want to reiterate why I do not think that journalists should be hired immediately in a strategic Comms or PR role. There is a world of difference between the conceptual (strategic) aspects of a Government or multinational business Comms function, and the delivery (tactical) ones.
We shouldn’t be surprised that journalists are headhunted in high level Comms and PR jobs. For the greatest majority, their work speaks for itself and the quality of content they produce is superb.
They (should) have a lot of credibility with their media peers and can (most of them) cut through the noise of irrelevant information their employers provide them with.
I never thought I would ask this question, but are we approaching the tipping point of Public Relations standing, one where journalism is the fastest path to better jobs, career progression and professional credibility in PR and Comms?
What do you think?