As a child, all I wanted to do when I was a grown-up was write. I’m one of the lucky few who knew exactly what direction they were headed in post-school, so after my A-Levels I took an NCTJ preliminary journalism course and got a job in my dream career at the age of 19.
Journalism was everything I imagined and more. It was a tough, relentless slog. It was sitting in a local council planning meeting at 10pm on a Tuesday wondering what the hell you’d done wrong in a past life! It was long hours and plenty of boring NIBs (news in brief) among the front pages. It was emailing and calling contacts for quotes so often you wondered if you’d tipped the line into harassment! It was being told you were ‘scum’, ‘a liar’ etc (the weeks after the News of the World phone hacking scandal were particularly memorable for feeling like the reputation of yourself and your colleagues had taken somewhat of a nosedive! This despite local papers being worlds away from any whiff of wrongdoing).
But it was also adrenaline cruising through you as you (sometimes literally) ran for a story. It was a front page coming in ten minutes before deadline and sparks almost flying off your keyboard as you typed as fast as you could. It was staying up all night watching the election results happen right in front of your eyes. It was getting the chance to raise money to send a little boy to America for an operation to help him walk for the first time. It was helping people in their darkest hour and often sharing the moving story of their proudest hour or their final hour.
At the time I could never imagine doing anything else and we used to jokingly refer to anyone moving into PR as ‘joining the dark side’ (which is ironic as the majority of people I know who’ve come from a PR background are much chirpier than those of us who’ve started life as doom-and-gloom-chasing journalists!). But here I am nearly a decade on and I’ve made the leap – and actually it looks pretty light from where I’m sitting!
PR has been a revelation in many ways – as a journalist I only had to worry about myself so a 6am start and a 10pm finish were just part and parcel of my life. Now as a wife and mother of two, PR has afforded me the opportunity to be much more flexible with my time – not least because I’ve specifically chosen an agency which values, and actively promotes, flexible working. Now I have a set number of hours each week (barring something urgent cropping up of course) and I work hard within those times to ensure I get everything done. But I can fit work around my children – not the other way around.
There’s a definite enjoyment in being able to email or call people who actually want to talk to you! And it’s refreshing to be involved in a world where we’re creating the news of tomorrow rather than reporting the news of today (especially in a company like Zen which is all about coming up with fresh and creative content). Aside from issues management, generally the world of PR is much more upbeat and you’re generally writing about positive things which does make a change from being the bearer of bad news all too often.
I am proud to have started my career in journalism and I think it’ll be a very sad day when the death knell eventually tolls on the profession (although I think we’ll always have journalists focusing on digital content – and I hope newspapers will always exist in some fashion but I’m not sure they will, especially the kind of local weeklies I spent my time working on). Yet for me making the leap has been such a positive change – and my time as a reporter has given me so many skills which mean taking on my current job role didn’t seem like such a huge jump. Not just the obvious things like knowing how to spell or how to compose a story, but other skills like working to a deadline being second nature and being at different stages of writing 20 individual pieces of content at the same time without feeling overwhelmed.
I’m sure if I told past-Harriet she’d eventually go over to the ‘dark side’, she wouldn’t believe me. But actually, it looks like a pretty bright decision!