Every public relations person should hear this

“I’m just a messenger” – that’s what the press officer at South Yorks police tells MCN (Motorcycle News Magazine) in a 10 minute recording of journalist Steve Farrell seeking answers regarding why a speed camera staff member resigned after a criminal inquiry.

Listening to this, it is easy to understand why journalists often hold such a poor opinion of public relations practitioners.

Press officer Penny cites policy, hides behind legal advice, reads out the “statement” already provided, refuses to expand on it, says she is relaying a message, states she is “not in a position” to find out anything further, retorts she’s “not dealing with this case”, then advises the journalist to resubmit an email request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Her ultimate answer is “you’ve got your statement, you just accept that”.  When he says he doesn’t accept it she asks “what are you going to do about it?”

An increasingly frustrated Steve is polite, professional and persistent – exactly the role of an investigative journalist.  Penny comes across as rude, condescending and unhelpful.  Frankly, I’m shocked if this is the way this, or any, police press officer has been trained to respond to the media.

Note: Although Steve doesn’t appear to have informed the press officer she was being recorded, this is such a brilliant case study in how not to respond to media enquiries.

[Thanks to Rich for the heads up on this]

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

5 thoughts on “Every public relations person should hear this”

  1. Is Steve setting himself up for some sort of sharp retort – or worse – from the press officer once she discovers she’s being discussed on blogs through a recording she didn’t know was taking place?

    We didn’t cover this in law class. Perhaps because there is no law against recording people on the phone?

  2. I understand you don’t need to advise someone if you’re recording a phone conversation for your own use, but you do if 3rd parties are involved. I’m sure the police know the law if anyone does!!

    I also gather that police press officers have been advised to not speak with MCN as a result of the tape – so clearly some bridge building will need to take place. Although it may suit MCN to portray itself as a victim and the police as the enemy as there is a flavour of “poor persecuted bikers” on the website.

  3. I wonder what request under a freedom of information act would throw up. I guess if the criminal case is over it’s no longer prejudicial to release info that’s been heard in open court. I hope Steve follows up with an enquiry and tells us what it reveals.

  4. An amazing recording. I’m making it compulsory listening from a training point of view for all my editorial staff as a lesson in how not to get frustrated with PRs.
    As an aside, it’s a shame the recording only seems to work on PCs and not Macs. Although that may be my IT skills that are in question.

  5. Tristan – thanks for your take on this. There is the Paxman-technique here of keep repeating a question over and over, which as when dealing with a 5 year old child using the same tactic, is guaranteed to annoy. However, I feel the PR could have closed this down earlier and avoided the repetition of “why…why…why”.

    On the Mac/PC – I simply took this off the MCN site, and am not sure if that did something to the recording…

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