Journalism can be a rewarding profession for the right person, but it's rarely a lucrative one. Public relations and marketing employ many of the same skills as journalism, but the jobs are more plentiful and better paying. You probably won't save the world through marketing, but you'll more likely be able to pay your kids' way through college.
Crossing from journalism to public relations and/or marketing: in some circles it’s referred to as “going to the dark side.” As the characterization implies, some see the move from uncovering new information to “disseminating content” as a form of betrayal. But let’s face it, the madcap days of the His Girl Friday have gone the way of the dinosaur, and even the crusading newspaper reporters of Spotlight are a rarity these days.
Much of the best investigative reporting today is found on the Internet and in podcasts: noble enterprises, but not typically big revenue producers. Perhaps a career writer/editor should at least consider how a graduate degree in marketing and public relations could lead to the type of job security that muckraking rarely does. After all, it’s hard to feed a family on virtue alone.
What degrees will lead from a five-figure journalism job to a six-figure position in marketing and public relations?
First, let’s face the facts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in May 2017 there were 38,790 reporters and correspondents employed in the United States. They earned a mean hourly wage of $24.79, for an average annual income of $51,550. The top jobs were in newspapers, magazines, book and directory publishers, followed by radio and television broadcasting. For the sake of comparison, there were 792,500 jobs for lawyers in 2016, with a median annual salary of $119,250, or $57.33 per hour. Not to pile on, but journalism positions are disappearing: BLS predicts a 9 percent decline in these jobs between 2016 and 2026.
In contrast, those who work in advertising, promotions and marketing management earn more than twice as much as journalists do. In 2017, again according to the BLS, the mean salary in this category was $129,380 per year, with hourly pay of $62.20. And this is a growth field, according to the BLS; jobs are increasing at a 10 percent rate, faster than average for all jobs in the U.S. There were 249,600 jobs in the field in 2016, with that total projected at 274,560 by 2026.
No wonder some journalists are jumping ship. Bill Zucker, a former journalist who is now Managing Director Food, North America for Ketchum PR, tweeted in 2011 the following about his career change eleven years earlier:
Unpacking Zucker, who has now spent nearly twenty years in marketing since he left his job as CBS 2 WBBM-TV in 2000, the skillset that a journalist brings includes multi-tasking, working on deadline, and being decisive as well as writing and producing content. But, he acknowledges, the transition is like crossing through the looking glass: a potential candidate must exchange the ink-stained wretch persona for a more corporate, less individualistic outlook. He must go from gadfly to glad guy.
According to the BLS, the entry-level academic requirement for a publicity or marketing career is a bachelors’ degree. There are a plethora of programs–online, part-time and full-time—that can help a candidate with journalism experience make the transition.
The expanded skill set required to make the switch includes social media marketing, strategies for interfacing with and promoting clients, brand building and digital storytelling, metrics-driven digital marketing, market analysis, and business law and ethics. It might also include video and virtual toolkits and public speaking, to make the candidate more employable in a changing environment. In addition, it might allow for specialization in specific fields such as technology, education, healthcare, hospitality, politics, and finance.
A number of quality universities offer online programs in public relations and marketing. George Washington University, for example, offers a master’s degree in strategic public relations. GWU’s program places a special but not exclusive emphasis on politics, not surprising given the home campus’ location in Washington, DC. For its online program, the school draws from many experts in the field, resulting in a learning experience that provides “a hands-on, practical education that teaches how to get results.”
Strong residential programs in the field include New York University. Based in downtown Manhattan, this school offers an MS in public relations and corporate communications; the school’s location serves the program well for its mandatory internships. The program includes crisis communications among its specialties. Alumni have found post-grad careers with such varied employers as the New York Knicks, Johnson & Johnson and Amnesty International.
Other colleges to consider are the University of Southern California, the University of Florida and the University of Texas at Austin. Boston University has the advantage of a student-run PR agency, the PRLab, where enrollees test the waters with actual clients.
If you are a journalist looking to move your career to a growing marketplace where your skills–writing, communications, deadline management–are valued, then you should at least consider a career in public relations and marketing. It has the potential not only to double your salary, but also to offer a ladder for career advancement that is increasingly difficult to find in the world of newspapers, magazines and online content.
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