Opinions Sun, 3 Apr 2011

Ex-Journalists can do PR

An article published in the Ghanaian Times of Monday, February 28 page 9, titled “Should journalists head public relations departments?” sought to create the impression that ex-journalist are not qualified to even work as public relations officers.

“Ex-journalists are not qualified and do not have the relevant experience to be ‘parachuted’ into the head of organizational public relations function. When this occurs, it is a disaster waiting to happen”, explained the author of the article, Mr. Perry P.K. Ofosu, who is the Vice President of the Institute of Public Relations, Ghana.

He went on further to state that “A Journalists is not trained in either employee communication or community liaison. They have no experience in the sensitivities involved or the most effective means through which to communicate to this category of publics. Oh yes, the fact is that, journalists have no training in putting together these holistic communication strategies that public relations practitioners do. PR is a strategic discipline whiles journalist is not”

The article was not just against ex-journalists heading or seeking to head public relations department of organizations but also ex-journalists now performing public relations duties. To me, the article was a direct hit on ex-journalists now venturing into the public relations field.

The generalization by the Vice President of IPR was very unfortunate, ignoring the fact that some journalists acquire skills and knowledge in their field of practice which could help them perform some PR functions. Mr. Perry Ofosu was good at stating his case and succeeded in drawing a thick line between PR professionals and ex-journalists now working as public relations officers, making it look like there is nothing common between the two. I do not want to believe that this is a deliberate attempt to downplay the capabilities of ex-journalists venturing into PR. The fact is, not every journalist can hack it as a PR professional because journalism can be very one-dimensional while PR is multi-faceted. There are ex-journalists who have come to appreciate the fact that PR is not just about writing press releases and news items but require more skills and knowledge.

In fact, any smart ex-journalist who begins to perform public relations function would realize that there is more to it than anticipated and must not wait for the disaster Perry Ofosu predicted to happen.

Just as Mr. Perry Ofosu provided views of persons strongly against journalists doing PR, there are other opinions. A former radio journalist who is also now a director of Lincoln based public relations agency, Shooting Star PR noted that ‘as a journalist you are trained to be objective, while in PR you have to be subjective in favour of your client.'

Shooting Star PR director Jez Ashberry, a former editor, acknowledges that ‘Journalists make excellent PROs - they are resourceful, quick-witted, write well and know what is of interest.'

'Journalists make the best PR professionals,' believes former reporter Michael Molcher, now Leeds City Council press officer. 'They have "news sense" - they know what journalists want and tailor their press releases accordingly.' I am aware that PR is not just about press releases but that is very relevant especially when communicating corporate information. As an ex-journalist, I know the kind of information a colleague news editor will consider newsworthy having been on that side before and I know the kind of press release that would be thrown into the dust-bin.

Looking at the brighter side, I do agree with IPR Vice President that “there is a world of difference between the two professions”. Instructively, I think ex-journalists with some form of training in Public Relations field are in the best position to deliver as public relations practitioners.

These ex-journalists could win the respect of their organizations when they take the pain to acquire knowledge on how to adopt strategic approach to PR planning, which is considered as the strategic phase of the public relations process. According to Wilcox, Ault & Agee (1989, pg.167), “public relations programmes should not be a hit-or-miss action. When a problem arises, it is foolish to throw money at it haphazardly, in hopes of hitting the target. Rather, a successful campaign consists of a series of basic steps”.

Ex-journalists now occupying public relations positions will continue to suffer this kind of ‘disrespect’ until they are able to prove beyond reasonable doubts their worth and could put in place mechanisms to evaluate or track their impact on organizations.

It is for this reason that I decided to become a member of the Institute of Public Relations, Ghana.

Frank Agyemang

Columnist: Agyemang, Frank