The dilemma of the poacher turned gamekeeper

Share this Post

By Anne Nicholls 

The public relations profession is a natural habitat for ex-journalists. The corridors of Whitehall and Westminster have drawn former political correspondents, news editors and broadcasters from the cut and thrust of the newsroom for equally challenging roles. Alastair Campbell and Andy Coulson are just two examples. Others, like ex-FT journalist Roland Rudd, have set up their own agencies. But there are thousands more that have made the transition to public relations, landing roles ranging from press officer to PR manager, head of communications and director of external affairs.

The reasons are obvious. Fluency in writing, a well-honed news sense, the ability to tell a story and strong interpersonal skills – all essential in journalism – are needed by PROs as well. But there are other reasons. As the news media suffer from shrinking budgets and job insecurities, many see public relations as offering better career prospects, even if their colleagues view it as moving to “the dark side”.

Whilst the transition from poacher (journalist) to gamekeeper (PRO) may appear to be frictionless, many journalists have experienced an abrupt culture shock when entering the world of public relations. The instinct of a journalist is to winkle out a story and be bold in its execution. But many find out only too soon that the job of a PR sometimes means keeping stories out of the public domain, or at least presenting them in a more nuanced way. And public relations isn’t just about media coverage. There are a whole panoply of other skills that have to be grasped, covering corporate strategy, stakeholder engagement, event management and lots more. One of the key lessons is being able to understand the politics of an organisation, communicate the right messages (not necessarily the ones that make the best story) and know what can and cannot be disclosed.

For people who split their working week between journalism and PR – and there are a fair number - it can be hard to switch from one mindset to another. A decade or so ago I was working for an education organisation as their part-time press officer, spending the remainder of the week editing an education magazine and freelancing as a journalist. Just after midday on Wednesday, whilst making the journey from Islington to Bloomsbury, I would consciously recalibrate my brain, so I was in journalist editorial mode when I arrived at my desk. That worked well until I was asked to run a story from a competitor to the organisation where I was employed as a press officer in the magazine.  I had to concoct a suitably credible reason explaining why I couldn’t oblige.

Another ethical dilemma occurred some years later. Whilst working as a communications manager for another organisation I pitched a research-based story to one of my contacts in the education media. Knowing my work as a journalist he asked me to write the story. This presented a dilemma. Was I poacher or gamekeeper? The CEO couldn’t decide whose     by-line should be used. For the next three weeks the article went back and forth between the editor (who wanted a punchy story), the CEO  (who wanted it sanitized) and myself as piggy in the middle. The ensuing article, with my by-line, was so bland that I was ashamed to put my name to it, but too punchy for the CEO who thought it trivialised the research.

That experience taught me a hard lesson. You need to decide whether you are poacher or gamekeeper and stick to it. This means accepting that the role of the PRO (a generic term covering a host of communications roles) should be behind the scenes, basically pulling the strings but remaining invisible most of the time. There are exceptions of course. Former BBC journalist Michael Cole, in his sole of director of public affairs, become the spokesperson for Mohamed Al-Fayed. But in the main, what the media invariably want is the figure head – the organ grinder not the monkey. That means writing articles under their name and leaving your ego behind.

Since that experience I have written numerous comment pieces for a range of media, but always as a ghost writer for someone else. It is common knowledge that most of the articles written by politicians in the national press – Boris Johnson excepted – are at the very least drafted by their special adviser, press officer or a government department official. And that’s what editors say they want. At an event recently where an editor of the ‘comment’ section in the Guardian was speaking, I posed the question “Would you take an opinion piece about an issue by-lined by a press officer or communications manager?” Her reply was an emphatic “No”. What she wanted was an academic, teacher, parent, student or CEO as the named author, even if it was written by someone else.

These experiences have made me think about the ethical issues encountered by people who make the transition from poacher to gamekeeper, or combined both roles. Here are my top tips.

  • Keep the boundaries very clear. If you are pitching a story then decide whether you are a journalist wanting to write the piece (and get paid for it) or a PRO working for an organisation or client (for which you will not expect a fee).
  • Bury your ego. Accept that your job is to write the article under another name, or the speech that someone else will deliver. Live with it.
  • Appreciate that as a PRO any article or press release you put together may have to go through a lengthy approval process, during which there will be caveats and nuances that make the story turn to blancmange. This irritates former journalist who are used to churching out a story in a few hours.
  • But be prepared to stand your ground and argue that being controversial, or even just putting forward a strong opinion, is what editors want and anything too bland just won’t get published. Don’t just accept what the CEO wants. Remember that you are the communications expert.
  • Keep your focus on the bigger picture. Your task is not just to get stories into the media. You should also be guardian of the reputation of the organisation, whatever role you are in. That means appreciating what they want to achieve, the messages they want to communicate and choosing the right channels to achieve their mission.
  • Get used to teamwork. Most journalists work very largely on their own. PROs need to learn quickly that the work culture in most organisations is more collaborative.
  • And finally … always keep professional ethics at the forefront of your mind. That means being transparent about who you are working for, not doing anything that will damage the reputation of the organisation you work for and being truthful at all times.

Share this Post

Comments 57

  1. Should your motive the following is to learn paintings available for sale Melbourne or paintings for sale Brisbane,
    unfortunately but you can’t notice here. A vector path, regardless of what the
    twists and turns are, is often more elastic
    and scalable. As modern humanity exposes
    their tanned skin during vacations that like to show off their pictures in social network websites.

  2. You can even replace your chosen MP3 music with one of these in order
    that if you are regarding the gym, you possibly
    can still understand interesting points in the book or listen towards the docs from perform you have to examine.
    It took about a couple of months to learn the
    words and also the raucous, discordant (to my ears)
    “melody. Painting can be an authentic gift for the long life and utility.

  3. The process begins from your uncomplicated activity of the account option. Cherry blossom tattoos represent
    different things in several cultures. The Open Video Project:
    This is site with a huge assortment of digital video for sharing.

  4. The process begins in the uncomplicated activity of the account option. Warrior bands moved south and
    east towards rich pickings of the peoples whom that they traded with.

    With the number of el cheapo acoustic guitars being churned out nowadays you’ll likely need somebody you trust to
    assist you choose the first guitar.

  5. Free PC choices to Recycle and Phatmatik Pro:Loopdrive3 VSTABS.
    Cherry blossom tattoos represent various things in different cultures.
    The Open Video Project: This is site using a huge variety of digital video
    for sharing.

  6. The great thing relating to this DVD is that you could perform dance exercises anytime, without a partner.
    They will shun jobs high isn’t any profit to town involved.
    Technology is driving dynamic advertising into new areas
    and also this brings by it some potential challenges, well not all companies can afford to spend thousands in electronic advertising,
    well the 2 options highlighted can offer the same end results with low investment of energy and cash, so now any organization from mechanics to dentists can have these inside their guest waiting rooms.

  7. While many manufacturers possess a print catalogue you are able to browse and order from, they often also have a very website where they
    could put items on sale. Now then, with Professional Skill is the goal,
    for starters, receive the PROFESSIONAL ATTITUDE. You should take advantage of every
    possibility to help make your dreams come true.

  8. As a result of their efforts, Positive View’s events have received coverage from the 3 major global television networks and also have been streamed
    for online viewing. Contestants worldwide will record songs automatically, or synergy
    into virtual bands of a couple of musicians, and compete for $5600 in prizes.
    Here it is possible to shop by theme or browse a whole
    array of themes in case you are sill unsure about what to base the party.

  9. I’m not sure why but this website is loading very slow for me.
    Is anyone else having this problem or is it a issue on my end?

    I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

  10. Good day I am so grateful I found your site, I really found you by accident,
    while I was searching on Yahoo for something else, Anyway I am here now and would just like to say
    kudos forr a tremendous post and a all round entertaining blog (I
    also love the theme/design), I don’t have tiome to read it all at the minute buut I have bookmarked it and also added
    your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back tto read much more,
    Please do keep up the fantastic job.

  11. Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this website.
    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot oof times it’s very hard
    to get that “perfect balance” between user friendliness and visual appearance.
    I must say you’ve done a awesome job with this.
    Also, the blog loads super fast for me on Internet explorer.
    Outstanding Blog!

  12. This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.

    I have joined your feed and look forward tto seeking more of your excellent post.
    Also, I’ve shared your sikte inn my sofial networks!

  13. Definitely believe thazt which you stated.
    Your favorite justification appeared to be at the web the easiest factor to consider of.
    Isay to you, I certainly get annoyed at the same ttime as other people thinnk about concerns that they just don’t
    recognize about. You managed to hit the nail upon the highest as smartlly as outlined out the entire
    thing without having side-effects , people
    can take a signal. Will likely be again to
    get more. Thank you

  14. Hi there, I found your web site by way of Google at the same time
    as searching for a comparable subject, your website got here up,
    it appears good. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

    Hello there, simply was aware of your weblog via Google,
    and located that it is really informative. I’m going to be careful for brussels.
    I will appreciate for those who continue this in future.
    Lots of folks will bee benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  15. When I originally commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are
    added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I get four
    emails with the same comment. There has to be an easy method you can remove me from that service?

    Thanks a lot!

  16. Hallo! Icch liebe sehr so viel! Aktie werden iin Kontakt extra über Ihre Post auf
    AOL? I Notwendigkeit Expesrte iin diesem Bereich zuu entwirren mein Problem.

    Vielleicht das ist Sie! Suuche vor schauen Sie.

  17. Hi! I’ve been reading your web site for a long time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Kingwood Tx!
    Just wanted to say keep up the great job!

  18. Greetings from Idaho! I’m bored to death at work
    so I decided to browse your website on my iphone during
    lunch break. I love the info you present here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home.
    I’m shocked at how quick your blog loaded on my phone ..

    I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, awesome site!

  19. This is the right web site for anybody who really wants to understand this topic.
    You understand a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually will need to…HaHa).
    You definitely put a new spin on a topic that’s been discussed for many years.

    Great stuff, just excellent!

  20. May I simply just say what a coomfort to unbcover someone who truly understands
    what they are talking about on the net. You actually know how to bring an issue to light and
    make it important. More and more people should check this out andd understand this side of the story.
    It’s surprising you are not more popular since yoou most certainly possess
    the gift.

  21. Jeder liebt, was euch sind in der Reegel biis zu.
    Solch Berichterstattung! Halteen Sie sich die hervorragend great funktioniert Junfs Ich habe Hinzugefügt euch zu meine persönliche Blogroll.

  22. Hmm it seems like your website ate myy first comment (it was
    extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’mthoroughly enjoying yourr blog.
    I too aam ann aspiring blog blogger but I’m stkll new to thhe
    whole thing. Do yyou have any recommendations for newbie blog writers?
    I’d really appreciate it.

  23. Hello there, just became alert tto your bog through Google, and found that it’s truly informative.

    I am gonna watch out for brussels. I’ll appreciate if you contknue this in future.

    Lots of people will be benefited from your writing.
    Cheers!

  24. Hmm it appears like your site ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll
    just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I as well am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to the whole
    thing. Do you have any tips for first-time blog writers?
    I’d definitely appreciate it.

  25. Great blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download
    it from somewhere? A theme like yours with a few simple tqeeks woulkd really make my blog stand out.
    Plese let mme know where you got your theme. Many thanks

  26. Hi! I could have sworn I’ve bee to this site before but after browsing
    through some of thee post I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking
    and checking back frequently!

  27. The process begins through the uncomplicated activity of your account option. They will shun jobs its
    keep is not any advantage of town involved. Now you’ve taken that all-important starting point and therefore are looking over this report about online games and social networking,
    you are within the unique and privideged position to be amongst a gaggle of
    pioneering entreprenuers who know already about this and they are
    taking affirmative action.

  28. Hi, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one
    and i was just curious if you get a lot of spam responses?
    If so how do you prevent it, any plugin or anything you can advise?

    I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any help is very much
    appreciated.

  29. Hello there! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask.

    Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a blog
    article or vice-versa? My website goes over a lot
    of the same subjects as yours and I believe we could
    greatly benefit from each other. If you are interested feel free to shoot me an e-mail.
    I look forward to hearing from you! Wonderful blog by the way!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *