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Problems with PRs

June 4th, 2005

Dr Petra

In this week’s Press Gazette, Maxine Clayman shares her gripes about PR companies. Whilst she concedes journalists and PRs need to work together, she complains that many PRs just don’t know how to work with the media. Problem PR activities in her article included sending journalists large email attachments that blocked their accounts, not being able to sum up story/ideas in a couple of sentences, and not being sure about what they’re selling. Further errors included sending out blanket emails to large number of journalists that both defeat the objective of an exclusive – and frequently aren’t even relevant to the journalist concerned.

Within Clayman’s feature, ideas for good practice are set out for PRs – such as finding the right time to call a journalist, targeting the right newspaper with the right product/story idea, and not telling the journalist how to do their job.

Quite right. It would be even better if both PRs and journalists heeded Clayman’s advice, since either group when approaching experts rarely adheres to the above list.

Clayman’s article identified a common problem in PR. Junior staff that’re inexperienced at media relations carry out most of the sales pitches to papers. This trend sadly permeates across all media – juniors from PRs, TV companies and journalism – are set off to get information from experts and fail because they don’t know what to ask, how to ask it, or why they’re asking in the first place. Seemingly from Clayman’s piece, they’re unable to talk to each other as well.

What is clearly needed is better training for staff working in all areas of media, particularly around how to liase with each other, and to understand and sell their ideas confidently.

Unfortunately Clayman missed out the most important point. Rather than worrying about how PRs pitch to journalists, journalists should really be more concerned about what PRs are pitching.

Increasingly they’re promoting dodgy products by dubious means. They persistently misuse methods (particularly surveys) to convince journalists (especially health correspondents and those on glossy magazines) that their product or the survey promoting it is groundbreaking.

Frequently the ‘facts’ behind the story don’t add up, or are dangerous or misleading. Before journalists should fret about how poor PRs are at pitching, they should begin to take issue with the nonsense they get pitched.

It’s fine to have a shared relationship between journalism and PR, but currently PRs have the upper hand because journalists aren’t being critical about what they’re being sold.

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