If journalists stopped printing puff releases…

Good to see Kevin Taylor, CIPR President blogging about real PR issues at PR Voice.  His advice here relates to the practice of phoning up the media to ask if they got your press release – something that I’ve never understood or justified as an approach.

The Guardian’s Charles Arthur wrote about this aspect of the relationship between PR practitioners and journalists

Okay, so on the one hand, Charles was engaging in the regular journalist slating of PR practitioners which is much older than the online media that enables the routine regurgitation of the “they don’t understand us” whinge.

I’m not going to get into the debate that PR is about more than media relations (which it is) – but focus instead on the allegations that PR people ask dumb questions and that PR companies hire simpletons.

Yes, sweeping and unproven statements that hardly show robust journalistic research.  But I can’t disagree that there is too much “carpet-bombing of know-nothingness” in what I’ve always called spam PR.  As a tiny media owner (ie this blog), I get spammed releases that I would never use from people I’ve never heard of.

Is it the job of PR practitioners to give the journalist what they want?  Not always, but we certainly should do our best to help or explain why we aren’t able to meet their needs.  We also should have a good knowledge of whatever it is we are seeking the journalist to cover – and more than that, whether it is relevant to their publication (or medium).  That shows we’re neither dumb nor simple.

Charles raises the question of “who pays the PRs?” and feels that clients are to blame, as they are PR’s customer.  His analogy is that PR companies are car manufacturers, their clients are car buyers – with journalists as suppliers responsible for producing widgets.

As such, he evokes the Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News argument that the media are as dependent on PR as component manufacturers are on the car companies.

But this presents a very passive position for the media – sitting around waiting for the latest press release before they know what to report.  Aren’t journalists supposed to be more proactive?

No component manufacturer could afford to take that approach – indeed, most car companies are equally dependent on their supply chain and engage in joint research and development.

Using the car analogy, the power in the relationship isn’t totally in the hands of the customer (although at the moment, the financial might is there – or not).  The expertise of the car companies and their suppliers is vital in designing and engineering cars that meet the customer’s needs. 

And, often the customer has to be told that their needs aren’t feasible – a £2,000 Ferrari that delivers 100mpg anyone?

Of course, PR consultants need to focus on what their client (customer) needs are – and then determine the best way of achieving this.  But they need to provide expert advice, not simply spam out a press release. 

Likewise, we need to remember that the relationship between PR practitioners and journalists works in both directions.  The PR function must be responsive in assisting the media with questions they have or story ideas.  So building a reputation as that helpful PR is essential.

And, finally, if more journalists were less keen to simply reproduce press releases that have zero news and are pure puff, maybe the client would realise that they are dealing with a PR company that has no relationship with its “suppliers” and practices junk PR.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

2 thoughts on “If journalists stopped printing puff releases…”

  1. Thanks for the supporting words Heather.

    I think if the President’s blog is to mean anything it must tackle some PR issues.

    Like you, I think the blog by Charles is a little passive – but actually that’s not how he is when dealing with PR practitioners.

    Try reading the “contact me” section on his site – that contains some harsh truths about pitching to busy media.

    And yes – PR is about so much more than media relations. If we, as a profession, allow PR to become press relations then we are in a straightforward race to the bottom.

    We have to take control of the overall message and means of communication and earn ourselves respect in the board room.

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