A lot of people in the PR industry probably received this link over the past couple of
weeks. Responding to a post about PR blunders on popular web-technology blog ReadWriteWeb, a commenter fired off an angry response titled “10 Nightmarish behaviors PR people hate about journalists”.
This provoked a lot of discussion in our office and, before we go any further, I want to say why I feel I can offer a balanced response; I spent 13 years as a technology journalist before leaving my own kind to live amongst the PR people in 2005, so I know what life is like on both sides of the industry.
Comments like this are deeply unconstructive. Instead of this kind of sniping, it might be a bit more useful to help both professions understand the challenges and frustrations we all face.
It’s important to understand that, from the point of view of a journalist, a lot of PR communication is not particularly useful. I’m sure that none of you highly skilled professional communicators reading this will have ever desperately pitched a weak story to whichever journalists will pick up the phone, or tried to persuade journalists to attend a completely irrelevant event just to get the numbers up, but you’ll have to take my word for it that this kind of thing happens.
Imagine trying to do your job while dozens of people every day are clamouring for your attention by phone and email, but only about 10 percent of those people have anything relevant or useful to offer.
It’s not surprising that journalists get frustrated, or that they occasionally write articles to let off a little steam, since they often have the benefit of a platform on which to voice their displeasure. PR people generally don’t have a platform from which to voice their own frustrations and, in any case, since a key goal of PR is to build good relationships with journalists, few would be willing to publicly rant about them.
So in the spirit of constructive dialogue, here are some things I did when I was a journalist that I am now deeply, deeply sorry for because I’ve seen the consequences from the other side of the fence:
- Not showing up for events or cancelling at the very last minute with a half-baked excuse – I was guilty of doing this myself many times, but now that I realise that I probably dropped a lot of PR execs into hot water with their clients and/or bosses. When a journalist agrees to attend an event or briefing, a lot of effort goes into preparing for them. It’s much better to just say upfront that you’re not interested in coming so that the place can be offered to somebody who would find it useful.
- Saying “I’ll cover your story in the next issue….” even though I probably wouldn’t. What I didn’t realise was that while I was just telling the PR what they wanted to hear to get them off my back, I was causing them a real headache because they’d tell the client to expect some media coverage that, in reality, was never happening. Again, I realise now it would have been better for everybody concerned if I was honest up front and simply told them why I wasn’t going to cover the story.
- Being excessively rude/harsh to PR people who called at a bad time or otherwise inadvertently irked me. OK, I wasn’t particularly guilty of this, because I’m a laid back kinda guy, but some of my colleagues used to treat haranguing PR people as a sport. Not everybody in the PR industry has a thick skin, when you give them an unnecessarily hard time it can have a very real personal impact.
So what do PR people really think of journalists? We love working with them and, of course, we couldn’t do our jobs without them – we just wish sometimes they’d be a bit nicer to us…
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Text 100 UK blog.