At the recent MIPAA PR Masterclass, one of the speakers used an analogy of training a tiger to explain the relationship between journalists and PR practitioners; ie no matter how well you get on, the tiger can always bite you.
Relationships between journalists and PR practitioners are often said to be ambivalent as Anne Gregory wrote at PR Conversations in 2007 when calling for a discussion on the rules of engagement.
The controversy over relationships between News International journalists and UK politicians should be a reminder that a healthy distance should be maintained.
Love-hate dynamics are muddied by the revolving door of journalists "switching sides" into PR roles, as in the case of Andy Coulson – which I wrote about in 2007: do ex-journalists make good PRs? (my answer being, no!)
Appointing a journalist into a communications role brings the benefits of someone who understands how the media works (or at least the part they have experienced) and how to craft news/features (or at least what makes a good churnalism ready press release).
They can also boast a Blackberry full of media contact details; mates who will be willing to attend events, report favourably and maybe bury a bit of bad news. Well, that’s the pitch made for the "poacher turned gamekeeper" move.
Journalists can make good PR practitioners – but only if they realise the new occupation isn’t simply the other side of the fence. This includes following the recommendation made for drug/alcohol addicts to make new friends.
Being too cosy with journalists is bound to cause issues for PR practitioners as this is relationship with power at its heart. Professionally there is a mutual dependence, but allegiances are ultimately to other parties.
There is potential for many ethical dilemmas, which are compounded when the professional and personal get blurred. This is especially the case when sexual attraction is involved.
The image of a PR bunny flirting to get good coverage is nothing new as Lynn Zoch revealed at the International History of Public Relations conference last week. Her analysis of the image of PR within the New York Times (1904-1934) included an article revealing PR agents employed pretty young women to deliver press releases by hand to newspapers – gaining immediate access to the editor’s office.
This should seem terribly chauvinistic and inappropriate in our modern times – but have we really moved so far when national newspaper editors and prime ministers move in the same social circles, including taking holidays together?