This is a guest post from Chris Owen, Tech Director at Grayling UK.
Late last week I saw a couple of tweets from Chris that kicked off a minor scuffle about the way the PR industry is perceived. It’s long been a major bugbear of mine and I may have had the odd rant about it myself, and so I asked him if he’d like to expand on his thoughts. I welcome your own opinions in the comments.
Last week, the Guardian published a thought provoking blog post from a hack turned flack entitled ‘I Used to be a Journalist…and Now They Hate Me’, who was bemoaning the abuse she, (and her colleagues in the PR trade), were receiving from the press on the end of the phone. Despite being an ex-journalist herself, she openly admitted that she “absolutely loathes pitching to the press”, and cited the far-too-oft heard line “…I just wondered if you’d received my press release about the …” as being a common precursor to being hung up on.
“Did you get my press release?” really should have become obsolete once the days of the fax machine came to an end – this being the archaic method of distribution which made the follow up calls necessary in the first place. What’s worse though is that we’ve known for years, as an industry, that “DYGMPR?” is an irrelevance, an annoyance, and one of the sure fire ways to get your name blacklisted.
Firing out press releases en masse just isn’t strategic. It’s what continues to reinforce the perception – voiced in the Guardian blog – that PRs are just ‘media graduates not smart enough to break into journalism’; stupid, spamming, desperate coverage beggars. It’s up there with ringing a journalist up and asking if their magazine ‘covers CEO interviews’ or similar. Jeez, if you want to find out, read the magazine.
It’s important to note, I’m not suggesting the press release is irrelevant, just that the delivery is wrong. Instead of spamming it out to a hundred hacks; ringing those hundred; annoying 96 of them; and getting coverage from four, why not think beforehand who the most realistic ten might be who’d cover it and ring them ahead of time? After all, if your news is relevant to a hundred journalists, it’ll get coverage anyway.
There’s never a need for a ring-round list as long as your arm that only serves to make frontline PR consultants cry, and journalists hate PRs.
Symbiotic or Sycophantic?
All it takes is a little time to get to know who to talk to, be it on Twitter or in person, so that you’re seen as having done your homework and having a realistic reason to ring. Otherwise, you’re just another anonymous unsolicited line in their already slammed inbox. That other PR favourite “hi, hope you’re well!” doesn’t help matters either – (“being nice to me isn’t going to make me give more of a shit about whatever it is you’re selling”, as Sophie Warnes at the Mirror so splendidly put it) – false pallyness only makes us sound sycophantic.
As has frequently been flagged – and, again, was mentioned in the Guardian article – PR and journalism are symbiotic industries. Yet I’m hard pushed to think of two so mutually reliant which continue to antagonise each other on a daily basis.
It annoys me that the PR industry still shoots itself in the foot and keeps repeating the same old mistakes year after year, and no-one’s breaking the cycle. Instead we’re teaching the next generation of consultants the same bad habits – crap AMs (taught bad habits when they joined the industry), are teaching their AEs bad habits, and in a few years’ time these newbies are the next generation of badly-taught AMs passing on bad habits to fresh consultants, and the cycle starts again.
It has to be broken.
Taking the time to plan ahead and actually think about media targets shouldn’t be a difficult ask and it certainly shouldn’t be something which we’re still debating in 2014. The longer these cyclical problems are allowed to remain, the longer that the PR industry will be seen as fluffy, and full of credit-card wielding drinks tab providers. What’s more, PR is a difficult, stressful and demanding industry; why are we making our jobs harder?
Download my FREE ebook Addressing Facebook Zero now!
Like this post? Subscribe to FutureComms and get it straight to your inbox.
Posted by Paul Sutton