Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

The things journalists hate about PRs (part 1)

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 20, 2007

Another unoriginal post topic I’m afraid. There have been many articles in the press about this. See the Independent for an example.

It’s not been ignored in the blogosphere either. Legal journalist Tommy Fernandez gave a speech (pdf) at some industry shindig in the US last year that launched a thousand blog posts on the theme (well, several, at least – and here’s the one that alerted me to the speech in the first place).

My favourite from Tommy’s list is number five: ‘Your clients are dumbasses and you don’t tell us.’

I must stress at this point that all of our clients are clever and supremely lovely human beings. But I digress.

I’m returning to the theme because I gave a presentation entitled ‘The 15 things journalists hate about PRs’ to my colleagues at our away-half-day earlier this week, and thought I may as well post some of its contents on the blog.

(As the list is quite long, I’ll split it into three parts over the next couple of days.)

The presentation was cobbled together from my own experiences as a journalist, and those of the couple of journalist friends who are still talking to me following my move into PR.

I should say at this juncture that most of these issues are relevant to agencies, not in-house PR departments, although some of them span both camps. Hope they’re of some interest.

“Calling up to see if I got a press release…”
That old chestnut… Some people (not mentioning any names, Charles Arthur) simply cannot stand it. Others (and I was one of them in my former life) didn’t mind too much, as long as the PR exec rang at a good time and was (ideally) adding some value to the contents of the press release. And I do recall at least one occasion where I was grateful for such a call – I’d missed an email which contained a story that I ended up covering.

The follow-up is just part of the PR/journalist dance, and isn’t worth getting too stressed about in my opinion. Junior account execs are often given this thankless task, and I don’t think the young ‘uns deserve to get shouted at for doing something they’ve been told to do.

True, you could say that, in these days of email/IM/RSS etc, the people who are doing the telling should know better than to make their junior colleagues pick the phone up. They could put an end to this frequently pointless practice. And I do have some sympathy with journalists such as Mr Arthur who are inundated with a host of badly targeted emails every day, none of which they’ll ever be interested in.

But I do think that maybe we need a bit more mutual understanding here, and less acrimony (as well as better targeted pitches, but that’s another story).

Asking why a story didn’t get covered
Sometimes it’s an understandable question: a good PR will try to learn what sorts of story rock a journalist’s boat. Many PRs do it so they can justify the lack of coverage to a client.

Either way, journos tend not to like being asked this. They don’t have to justify their decisions to anyone in PR – they are answerable only to their editors (or, at risk of sounding like a git, their readers). I hated being at the receiving end of these calls, especially when they descend into a verbal arm-twist (if such a thing can be said to exist). Some PR people seem to think they can make you change your mind and cover the story after all. They are wrong.

Not reading the mag or having any understanding of the readership/angle
When I was at – an online news service for senior IT professionals – I received three calls in the same week from a US PR who wanted me to cover his company’s new product. The company concerned made the software that underpins mobile phones’ predictive texting capabilities. So it’s of no interest whatsoever to a senior IT professional. Not only had our ignorant PR man clearly never read anything on, he didn’t listen to a word of my explanations of what was/wasn’t a story for its readership. I very nearly slammed the phone down on him the third time he called to persuade me that this ‘really was a strategic issue for senior decision makers’.

Putting a contact on the bottom of the press release but when you ring it, they put you on to someone else
If the CEO’s name is there, make sure s/he’s available. The marketing manager is not a good substitute. This one’s nearly always the client’s fault, but it is a source of major irritation for journalists – and they don’t really care whose fault it is.

Ringing for a “chat” or a “catch up” when you’re on deadline
That one speaks for itself.

Part two of the list will follow tomorrow…


4 Responses to “The things journalists hate about PRs (part 1)”

  1. Your take on the PR/media relationship is quite typical and makes me smile at the thought. As a poacher turned gate-keeper myself I fully appreciate the need to see if a PR has arrived with a journalist. However, I learned quickly and realised that most the stories appearing were those where the PR peson hadn’t been chasing the journalist. As a reporter myself, I remember those cheesy conversations I’d have with journalists trying to butter me up in order to run a story. No, it’s just like e-mails. You know it’s gone and you just have to wait for the response. There’s no point asking: “Did you receive my e-mail? Why haven’t you replied?” When in fact you only sent it 10 minutes ago and in the old days it would have taken a day by post. It’s a case of be patient. But I still find that difficult!

  2. […] The things journalists hate about PRs (part 1) […]

  3. Sean said

    Media Wales… were you making lunch when you wrote that comment? Cheesy conversations to butter you up..? It’s enough to send anyone to the sandwich shop.

    BTW, I thought it was poacher turned game-keeper, not gate-keeper.

  4. Sean. No, just working long hours, but a pint would have helped.

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