PR vs. Media fight to a nil-all draw
Public relations and the media have managed to maintain – not too well I might add – an uneasy alliance of sorts for decades.
To me, the situation seems to be getting worse as the pressure heats up on both parties thanks in part to ‘The Dreaded Acronym’ (GFC).
For two industries that utterly depend upon each other, I can’t understand why there’s not more love between both professions – i.e. PR practitioners and publicists on the one hand (one side of the fence?) and journalists/editors/producers/on-air ‘talent’ on the other.
Scratch that. I do know why, and like most things in life when there are two ‘combatants’, neither party is right and the answer generally lies somewhere in between.
Being a pragmatic former journalist who now works in public relations (and have done so for a good number of years), I feel a tad qualified to comment.
Firstly, the media’s argument against PR:
- They send us crap all the time – poorly written, badly targeted, irrelevant press releases
- They’re always ringing us and hassling: “Did you get my press release?”
- They get in the way when I want to speak directly with their client (or their boss, the CEO)
- They’re in your face with good news and can’t be found when there’s bad, and
- They never get back to us with information when they said they would… haven’t they heard of deadlines?
Now, PR’s argument against the media:
- They don’t treat us with any respect whatsoever
- When we have news they’re dubious and picky, when they wants news from us, they’re demanding and prickly
- They’re bloody lazy and expect to get everything for nothing
- They never answer their phone or return emails, and
- They RSVP to attend an event/lunch/meeting and then simply don’t turn up.
You get the picture.
Ill-directed, badly-written crap
There is no doubt a proportion of PR people simply do not understand the media and as a result tend to send ill-directed, badly-written crap to journalists and producers. This is probably the number one bugbear for journos, and rightly so. As a PR professional, I can tell you it annoys the heck out of me!
Why is it the case? I think combination of factors really. Training is an issue. I’m not convinced enough time is spent teaching PR students writing for the media-type subjects (this is probably because public relations is such a wide-ranging course and media relations is but one part of PR). That, and there are no barriers to enter the profession.
Also, as hard as it is to believe, I know for a fact some PR people simply don’t read newspapers, watch television or listen to the radio anywhere near as much as they should. They might love being in the PR biz but they’re not ‘media junkies’. I find this hard to comprehend, and it’s a big issue because we’re all feeling the knock-on effect of this lack of knowledge and awareness.
Many clients too put great pressure on their PR agencies. They think their story is the best thing since sliced bread because they live and breathe it (‘it’ being whatever the basis is for the press release) and the PR people – either out of fear or lack of confidence – are too scared to stand up to them. Naturally, this situation generally ends up in tears. So clients too, have a role to play in all this.
Brusque and dismissive
On the other hand, some journos and producers can be overly brusque and dismissive even when you’ve handed them a golden story on a platter, but they can’t bring themselves to acknowledge the fact.
And, there’s no question many in the media simply do not appreciate the squillions of hours PR people put in to organise media briefings and events, set up interviews and photo opportunities, arrange for talent to be available at a certain time, do research and get further information.
Mutually beneficial relationship
However, there are also many, many journos and producers who work closely with PR people and together they share a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship. The media guys understand the job PR has to do, and the PR reps in turn understand what the media wants. It’s a win-win for both parties. Obviously, this respect is hard earned, but isn’t that the way most professional relationships are borne?
What if PR went on strike?
This much I do know: If the entire PR/publicity profession went on strike for a week, the media would be in all sorts. It’s simply not possible – especially today when news departments have been cut to the bone – for newsrooms to able to source sufficient ‘non-PR delivered’ content.
Imagine it: no news conferences (e.g. footy clubs, government, police) – no photo calls, no interviews facilitated with senior executives or government ministers or other spokespeople (or celebrities or sports stars), no pitching of genuine story ideas, no whispers for the gossips, no issuing of genuine news releases, no launch events, no showings for the fashion media, no gadgets sent to the media for review, no previews of films or TV shows, no media briefings by public companies, no product for competition giveaways – I think the media tends to forget all these activities are driven by hard-working PR people, day in, day out, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year.
Little wonder it’s purported that 80 per cent of media content is driven by PR!
So what do you reckon guys?
PR people – can you start getting your act together and be a bit more responsible with what you write and how you approach the media? Can you have a bit more empathy for people in the media, and indeed, perhaps start thinking like journalists/editors/producers? Can you muster the strength to take a reality check back to your clients as to, really, how newsworthy their ‘widget’ really is.
And journos – can you guys relax for a moment and think about how your (working) lives are actually made easier thanks to the PR industry? Can you have a bit more empathy for people in PR and maybe not see them as irritants to be tolerated but rather, genuine sources of stories? And yes, saying thank you occasionally would go down a treat.