PR vs Journo: FIGHT

Sorry for the delay in this post. Been planning to put it together for ages, but struggled to find the time and brainspace.

Danny writes about PR hits and misses (and about a specific miss), and highlights some of the things that PRs do wrong when supporting journalists. He very kindly credits me as being someone who stands out from the PR perspective. Thanks Danny, I think you’re a great tech journo and enjoy our conversations too ;). /mutualbackslap.

My job, for those of you who don’t know, often involves (amongst other things) supporting journalists writing stories by facilitating conversations with my clients (technology companies, for the most part) or their customers, and relevant third parties when we have access to them. Matching the relevant spokesperson/angle/customer often requires a certain amount of research/understanding of the subject areas, and the journalists in question. My status as a creative geek and my past experience as a (student/freelance) journalist does translate into a passion for technology stories that helps me here, as Danny notes. And I love doing it — you have great conversations with very bright people on a daily basis, both media and client-side.

Danny laments, however, that many PR people often don’t get it and proceeds to give a whole string of (mostly pertinent) advice… But I had a couple of issues with the post as a whole:

(1) Bashing at inept PRs publicly is harsh. Even the most experienced PR professionals will occasionally slip up (as do the most experienced journalists), but where Danny pretty much names and shames an entire agency, PRs are often not in a situation where they can respond. Not that I think online feuds would be helpful, but the context of these PR slip-ups is often complex – deadlines, client pressure, etc… events that are mirrored and cause parallel crapness in the world of journalism. Given that most people, never mind most journalists, don’t have the faintest idea what goes on inside a PR agency (“PR, that’s like advertising, innit?”) setting the community of PR professionals up to sound like more of a hindrance than a help through public moaning seems unnecessary. I appreciate that’s not what Danny’s doing, but people don’t tend to focus on the positive with posts of this nature.

(2) The advice — great. The tone, I thought, was unnecessarily harsh. How many PRs treat Danny’s emails / requests for interviews for a National story “with contempt”? Is it possible they were ill / away / the email got caught in their spam filter / the story sounded negative so they needed to get client input? Not excuses, granted, but explanations, and things that could happen to anyone. If they were that hopeless, rude or unpleasant without just cause – then I agree, it’s a major issue. You should take it up with them / their managers / the owners of their agency, etc., especially if it had an impact on your story. If it really happens regularly, then they probably sould be sacked, but it does seem hard to believe that there are (m)any PRs who’ll let straightforward National opportunities slip through their fingers.

(3) The move to RSS. Yes. Absolutely. I agree — all of our clients should have RSS enabled newsfeeds. We advise them accordingly. But… how many PR agencies have complete control over website content, and therefore any control over how quickly that happens? Not many. And does the fact that we have clients with RSS enabled newsfeeds mean that our clients will be happy with us not sending out press releases by email / calling journalists etc? Of course not. So the press list issue will be ongoing, I’m afraid, and will face the same difficulties any significant adminstrative task does.

So in essence: yes, PRs sometimes mess up. So do journalists. And the advice that people like Danny and Charles give out is often helpful. But getting het-up about inadequate PRs in specific circumstances (just like getting het-up over specific journalists in specific circumstances) is, I think, going above and beyond the call… After all, if every PR who had a blog posted about circumstances where journalists cancelled at the last minute/forgot to turn up to/were late for/were rude at meetings with our clients… well, I’d have a lot more stuff under the tag ‘whinge‘. And of course – we couldn’t do this anyway. As a workmate pointed out, four things would likely happen:

    we might get the sack
    the journalists might not write about our clients
    we might damage opportunities for the rest of the agency’s clients
    we’d look petty

…which is probably a bit more of a risk than any of us would be prepared to take just to get it off our chests. And my thanks to the colleagues who looked at this post to make sure I wasn’t risking any of the above!

Update: Chris spotted that I misread one of Danny’s points, re; RSS. Danny seems to suggest that PR agencies should host newsfeeds for their clients, not their clients’ websites as I implied, as an alternative way of receiving press releases. This is a whole separate debate which I’ll come back to at some point… but apologies for now, I stand corrected.