Why Organizations Should Not Hire Journalists As Their PR Managers

by Anthony Taiti
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When recruiting individuals to lead strategic departments such as Finance, IT, and Legal, organizations worth their salt only hire candidates with the requisite technical expertise.

They understand that such roles are exclusively performed by qualified professionals and for good reason.

Based on this reality, it is a shame that the situation is quite different for the Public Relations profession.

For a long time, there has been a widespread misconception about what PR is all about, with the most common belief being that it solely revolves around spinning stories and creating media hype.

Regrettably, this has given rise to the delusion that journalists, by virtue of their platform, can also undertake PR roles.

At the risk of eliciting an avalanche of vile criticisms from those who feel we live in the ivory tower of PR, I dare to say that being a journalist par excellence does not qualify one to manage the Public Relations function of an organization.

Simply put, PR is not synonymous with Journalism. Recently, there has been an unfortunate trend where many organizations, including government agencies, are poaching journalists from newsrooms and appointing them to manage their Public Relations (Corporate Affairs/Corporate Communication) dockets, despite their lack of professional training in PR.

On numerous occasions, such organizations make these appointments with the false hope and blind assumption that they will ride the journalists’ fame and media experience to propel their brand visibility to unimaginable heights.

According to them, PR is primarily concerned with writing press releases and organizing press interviews. What a pitiful, misguided assumption!

While media relations is an intrinsic part of Public Relations, it is appalling that some organizations continue to hold on to the fallacious notion that PR Managers should be evaluated predominantly on the number of times the organization gets featured in the press.

Public Relations transcends media mentions into a slew of other strategic roles of paramount importance to an organization’s overall success.

These include environmental scanning to guide strategic organizational decisions, stakeholder mapping and relationship management, building strategic relationships, campaign planning and management, designing authentic communication strategies, crisis communication, and brand management, to mention but a few.

On the other hand, Journalism is primarily concerned with information sharing by gathering and presenting news and human-interest stories to the public.

Given this, an organization that hires a journalist to manage its PR function risks missing out on a plethora of crucial areas, much to its detriment.

Sadly, many of them may not even realize it because they are so fixated on the media coverage they get as a result of the journalist’s efforts that they lose sight of the other strategic roles of PR.

The Public Relations function is so vital for an organization that it should not be managed by an ordinary journalist.

Its significance is articulated in James Grunig’s Excellence Theory. In 1984, Grunig and his team embarked on a research journey commissioned by the Research Foundation of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) to investigate the role of Public Relations in the overall organizational performance matrix.

The study, which involved thousands of respondents from hundreds of organizations, gave birth to the Excellence Theory.

It derived fundamental principles crucial for the effective functioning of PR in an organization.

According to the theory, PR Managers should be involved in strategic management and have unrestricted access to the dominant coalition, i.e., the organization’s top decision-makers.

This allows them to freely advise on vital issues, such as how to engage different stakeholders in ways that foster mutually beneficial relationships.

Additionally, Public Relations should never be delegated to other departments within an organization.

Rather, it should be a full-fledged department with its own structures and resources, allowing it to focus on its distinct function in the organization.

These two principles underscore the strategic importance of Public Relations to an organization and why it should only be managed by PR professionals.

So critical is PR that Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, once quipped, “If I only had two dollars left, I would spend one dollar on PR.”

My unsolicited advice to journalists is to stick to their noble profession. For what it’s worth, Journalism is objective, whereas PR is subjective.

They may find it easier to remain in the newsroom, but if they wish to cross over to the PR side, they will definitely need professional training and polishing.

To the hiring managers, please keep in mind that there is more to Public Relations than just media relations.

For the avoidance of doubt, Journalism is not synonymous with Public Relations.

Anthony Taiti is a Public Relations, Communication, and Marketing professional with over a decade of corporate experience. He is currently serving as the Head of Corporate Affairs at Pan Africa Christian (PAC) University, Nairobi. Passionate about teaching, Taiti has taught various courses within his profession for the last decade at various institutions of higher learning. He is a seasoned corporate emcee and moderator, as well as an accomplished NITA-accredited trainer.

You can connect with him via the following platforms:

Email: ataiti09@gmail.com

Linked In: Anthony Taiti

Twitter: @TonyTaiti

Facebook: Tony Taiti

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