To our journalist friends who may have to navigate a new direction:

Because of the changing nature of news many journalists are examining what they want to be when they grow up. One option may be to join us in public relations.

“Eek! Gad! Never!” or in newsroom vernacular that can’t be published I can hear being said, I want to assure you: it’s OK. You won’t instantly turn into a blood-sucker from a bad vampire movie, begin downing three martinis at lunch, or talk like a bad politician from Illinois (not to mention getting the hair.)

What you will find are many of the same ethical and moral standards to which you adhered as a journalist also apply to professional public relations.

The major brain-switch is moving from being an objective and relatively unbiased reporter of events and issues to becoming an advocate for your clients, corporation or organization. Being an advocate doesn’t mean spinning, twisting, obfuscating, ducking and running, being untruthful or ignoring issues.

It means finding all available ethical, honest and moral means to tell your story, and create the understanding that drives your critical public to make an informed decision supporting your position.

Public relations requires the same curiosity, the same ability to ask probing questions, the same ability to dig into stacks of facts and cut through the adjectives, fluffery and puffery and get to the kernel of the story. Like the newsroom, it requires good writing and knowing how to write in a variety of styles and forms.

(Sidebar)  I was a radio reporter years ago back when my idol was Walter Cronkite, but I assure you that the rhythm of the police scanner and the early AM beat to the cop-shop are still real in my psyche.

If you work for an ethical organization you will have no problems about how you present your issues and conduct yourself. Just as journalists have the SPJ Code of Ethics, so do public relations professionals in the Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics. The Code isn’t a slap-your-hand-when-you-screw-up code, but it provides a moral compass when questions arise that may have you wondering: “When do I reveal who I work for?” – just ask the former reporters at Burson who messed up the Facebook/Google issue. “What is a front organization?” “Why can’t I take a reporter a case of Jack Daniels at Christmas?” –hmm.

Not so different from SPJ. And in your new public relations career you will be confronted with questions as these from your clients, corporate management, or your executive director and you have the easy, if not painful reply, “Ethically, I can’t do that.”

Besides thinking as an advocate you need to stretch the brain calendar and think strategically. We all work under deadline pressure, but issues you will confront may require creating ‘what-if’ plans for months and years in advance.

Public relations is more than writing the latest “press release” (which I don’t allow that term to be used in our office) or ‘liking people.’  It is identifying issues, solutions, problems, strategies and tactics that change minds. It is more than ‘getting ink’ (another phrase I hate) or getting on the 11:00 ‘cast.

It is more than news media relations.

It is creating outcomes, not just effort. It is communicating and measuring results. It is counseling a client through a crisis situation. It is righting wrongs and protecting reputations – and note I didn’t say ‘image.’

Public relations is knowing how to use every communications tool available from community meetings to Twitter, Yelp and YouTube. It’s knowing when to tell your client to be quiet and when to sometimes painfully face the gaggle.

It’s putting your arm around a distraught client or fellow professional to console; it’s high-fiving when you meet a tough objective!

We are crisis counselors and sometimes we prevent a crisis from happening. I have been in meetings when an idea that could have been disastrous was suggested and I counseled others to think about the long term ramifications. As a former reporter, as I do, you can counsel, “From my years of experience as a reporter here’s how this is going to play. Here’s a better way without the risks.”

Besides being the communicator, you may be the social and moral conscience for the organization, adding your broader worldview and perspective to the discussion.

It is an honorable profession and when you go home at night, just as you did as a journalist, you can be proud of the work you’ve done with no more nightly 11:00 pm deadlines.

Guest blog by David L. Shank, APR, President/CEO Shank Public Relations Counselors, Inc.