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Thursday, January 22, 2009

What Journalists Should Know About PR People

Yesterday I wrote a post about what all PR people should know about journalists.  One of the most frequent comments to that post was a request from many readers that I take the opposite approach and share what journalists and the media should know about PR people. So here's a starting list of what media should know about PR people:

  1. Our own client's time isn't always ours. Often we would like nothing more than to have our client's entire rolodex at our disposal so we can accomodate any window you give us ... but sometimes it doesn't work that way.  Often, the person you most want to talk to for your story is also the busiest and hardest person to schedule. So give us a break if we can't always make it happen for you.
  2. Sometimes we have to dump you for a better offer too. Admit it, if you found a better and more on point quote or source for your story, you'd dump us and our client to use it in a second. Just remember that sometimes we have the same situation. If a bigger or more relevant media outlet comes along and wants to do a story, we have to take it. Remember, we're all professionals trying to do the best job we can.
  3. Cancellations are worse for us than for you. We hate to cancel a meeting or phone interview as much as you. Actually, we probably hate it even more than you ... because we know that not only are we reducing our credibility with you, but we're also making it harder for us to get future media for that client and it means we'll have to do twice the work.
  4. The angle you're looking for isn't obvious. You may have a very clear idea of the story you want to write and feel that you have been forthcoming with it, but sometimes we don't get that picture as clearly as you think we do. So when we pitch a client or a story angle, sometimes it's not because we're trying to spam you, but because we are not quite sure how you'll write your story and think that we're on target.
  5. Your promises become our promises. We know we shouldn't do this, but in a world of tight deadlines and clients demanding constant updates, often what you promise to us becomes our promise to the client. So if you don't follow through or decide to take a different angle, we're the ones that look bad. The best thing you can do is either avoid making a promise, or follow through.
  6. Remember all the great stuff we do for you. We offer you writing that you can lift and claim as your own. We share new story ideas with you to make your job easier. We invite you to great press events, give you bags of schwag and treat you like royalty. In return, we have our ideas taken and used with no credit, are often treated poorly by clients and media alike and blasted as being "masters of spin" or "flacks." It's no wonder the PR industry as a whole has an inferiority complex. Just remember that it is often PR people that offer the infrastructure to let you do what you do. We don't need hugs or anything, but at least remember that the next time you want to "out" a PR person on your blog for sending you something that wasn't exactly on target.

NOTE: This post is a response to comments from many readers on my last post about "What PR People Should Know About Journalists." Before I was able to post this, Thomas Lee at 451 Marketing also wrote a similar response post worth checking out.


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Really enjoyed this- thanks!

I'm a full-time blogger who used to work in the PR world. I agree with some of our points and PR is a tough gig since you can end up having multiple "clients" (your agency bosses, your paying clients and the media).

"We offer you writing that you can lift and claim as your own."

PR folks do a lot for their clients/media, but this statement is the kind of thing that turns people off to PR in general.

I don't like it when bloggers "out" pr reps for just doing their jobs, but you have to understand that a lot of times they go WAY over the line (not saying you).

" is often PR people that offer the infrastructure to let you do what you do."
Again, PR people do help facilitate interviews, discussions,etc., but they DO NOT offer the infrastructure for us to to do our jobs.

"Your promises become our promises."
I feel your pain, but I've seen way too many PR people take something like 'I'll try to mention it on the site next week' back and tell their clients something like "he promised he'd have something up as soon as possible." And then it gets awkward for everyone.

I think the PR are a little bit more important that what you are making it to sound like.

I think journalists are just in for the money and fame and nothing else don't give a crap about anything else.

"We offer you writing that you can lift and claim as your own."

Wow... no respectable journalist would want this. I almost can't believe you wrote that...

I'm a writer. Not a journalist. I write because I love it and I love communicating an idea to my readers. I like to give them information they can use and I find incredible joy in writing a great piece.

Although I love talking to people (your client) who communicate well and can help me to understand their point so I can communicate to others, I don't ever want to use someone else's writing as my own.

That comment says a lot about the opinion that many PR people hold of journalists.

Thanks for all the comments. It seems like a few people took issue with my statement that PR people offer writing that the media can "lift and claim as their own." My very first experience working in PR was at the Cartoon Network more than 10 years ago. Every week we would offer up releases and information about our shows and programming and more than once I would see my exact words end up in a TV Guide or other such publication (without any credit, of course). The same thing often happens for things like event descriptions. The point here is that not everything that is printed or said in media is the result of exclusive reporting. To some degree, this is what many media outlets do with Reuters news stories. When we talk about media and what reporters need to do, let's not forget about this little talked about category of news and story compilation rather than just on exclusive reporting. Both have a place in media, and have for decades.

I can see both sides of the argument here. When I write a press release, I am really pleased if a journalist makes use of the words I have written. Clients dont always 'get' that a journalist wont use their quotes, just because they are Mr or Miss Big in their organisation.
Hey, we all need to respect each other more!

I'd add - we are not the enemy. And lose the baggage. There are some bad apples in our business - we all know it. But the coin flips both ways. If you can't use the information, say so and file it away. Be open to the question - how can I work with you better?

I'd add - we are not the enemy. And lose the baggage. There are some bad apples in our business - we all know it. But the coin flips both ways. If you can't use the information, say so and file it away. Be open to the question - how can I work with you better?

One thing that PR people and journalists (at least in my business) seem to rarely agree on is the level of technical sophistication that is required. PR people are specialists in PR, but when they are pushing technology, it requires them to be a lot more rigorous about what they tell you. The worst case---which happens more often than I'd like---is that the PR person takes as technical gospel something from the client, then tries to convince the journalist that it's true.

A few days ago I got a typical PR piece promising a new anti-spam appliance with a 0% false positive rate. Well, that's not possible, and anyone in the business should know it. The PR person repeated it because their client told them that, but when it came across my desk the whole relationship lost credibility: this client is obviously lying about this; the PR person didn't know enough to question this ridiculous claim; and now I'm wondering: "what else are they lying about? Is this product worth looking at?"

My point is: PR people (in the tech business) need to be sophisticated about the products or services they are selling, and cannot just be translating client statements into press release language. Without that, they lack credibility.

Since this is the "what I need to know about PR people" side, I guess this means: "journalists need to know that many PR people don't know diddly about what they are selling and so don't blame them for obvious nonsense." But I don't support that point. A PR person who knows what they're talking about will ALWAYS be in my rolodex; one who seems to act largely as a conduit for spewing nonsense I just don't want to talk to.

Great stuff Rohit. Question for you: what do you think of pay-per-article placed PR services like Publicity Guaranteed?

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