Is it time to set up the equivalent of the Telephone Preference Service for journalists? Charles Arthur might be the first to sign up given his experiences with the dumber end of the PR fraternity. His post was followed by online debate regarding why PR practitioners, commonly junior ones, are routinely tasked to phone journalists with pointless questions plugging often inappropriate “stories”.
My view is that this practice is on the same lines as any other marketing-related telephone calls, which as Simon Wakeman wrote recently, are annoying, particularly if made by someone ignorant of who you are and why you might be interested in what they are “selling”.
One of the comments at theworldsleading… supports the practice of calling journalists about press releases because it is is sometimes successful. That’s the same logic that clogs up email inboxes with spam; the odds are one sucker will buy.
Why do so many people in public relations believe in “pitching” stories? Is it because journalists are ignoring the avalanche of puffy press releases so that practitioners feel compelled to inundate them with phone calls? Abuse as ever, destroys a successful method of communications.
So perhaps journalists ought to be able to opt out of receiving unsolicited calls from public relations practitioners, unless they have given their consent. Shouldn’t we move towards facilitating the media’s ability to pull information, rather than pushing puff at them relentlessly?
Does this fit with the call of Adrian Monk for a new discipline – public information. This would make factual material available to the public; freedom of information, removing the asymmetrical process of information being traded for vested interests at the expense of the public. He calls it good-fashioned journalism.
The World Assembly of PR Associations’ definition actually proposed the profession should serve both the organisation’s and the public interest nearly 30 years ago. There is little evidence that this “best practice” symmetric approach (championed by Grunig) is at work in most contemporary PR activities – certainly not in pitching phone calls.
So could PR practitioners also adopt a public information approach – another of Grunig’s models? This would involve publishing reliable, accurate information for the media to report and the public to consider. Wouldn’t this enable a more intelligent public opinion to form from an evaluation of available material?
The original “public information” approach is characterised ironically as the appointment of journalists as PR practitioners. Further, it is dated to the work of Ivy Lee in originating the press release as a factual, truthful document. But in practice, although truth was seen as important (unlike in the spinning, press agentry model), facts were presented in a way that is largely favourable to the sender.
I think the practice of unsolicited sales calls to journalists should be controlled by the TPS – it would be good for PR practitioners to recognise constraints on poor practices.
But any hope that the puff, spin and rhetoric could be moderated – either by journalists or PR practitioners seems rather naive to me. Everyone has an agenda these days and whether they mean to or not, this is betrayed in any attempt at communications.