Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

The things journalists hate about PRs (part 3)

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 21, 2007

This post is the third in a series. If you missed the previous two exciting installments, scroll down. (It’ll be like the EastEnders omnibus, only better).

Wanting to know what sort of questions you are going to ask the clients prior to the interview
This caused a lot of debate at our away day. In my previous career I often had no idea what I was going to ask until I picked the phone up to do an interview, so cobbling an email like this together in advance was often a little tricky, not to say a real distraction from the day job. But a colleague of mine pointed out that knowing the journalist’s angle can help the PR find the right person within the client company. ‘

That makes sense.

What if the journalist has a lot of technical questions, for example? Not everyone at the client will be able to answer them, so some email guidance about the angle of the interview will be helpful to all concerned – including the journalist.

Over promising things to keep you happy…
Don’t make rash promises. If you’re not sure you can get the CEO on the phone that day, don’t say you can.

Reading from a script/bullshitting
You can tell if someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve known of journalists who quite enjoy baiting PRs who clearly don’t understand the story they’re pitching. It’s kind of fun to ask them really awkward questions to see if how long it takes before they’ll crack and admit they don’t know the answer.

This should never happen. Why? a) As a representative of the company, you should know your onions. And b) If you get to a point when you don’t know the answer, say so immediately and get someone from the client on the phone who does.

Complaining about a headline
Reporters and feature writers don’t write headlines. Editors and sub-editors do. Many’s the time I’ve been made to squirm by an overly aggressive headline shoved inappropriately on top of something I’ve written, like a rancid Brussel sprout plonked on top of a beautifully constructed wedding cake. All PRs should know that over-egging the pudding in this way (to extend, or possibly mix, metaphors) is not usually the journo’s fault.

Asking for a “favour”
Depends on the favour. If it’s a gentle arm twist to attend a briefing, it’s probably acceptable. If it’s to cover a totally rubbish story, it isn’t.

That was my list. I could have come up with more items to put on it (e.g. pretending to be your best mate, making you pay for your own drinks), but I only had a half-hour slot at the away-half-day. 

For the sake of balance, you might like to read this – a straw poll on Mark Borkowski’s blog about the things PR people hate about journalists.

The Friendly Ghost has also had a go at defending the (ig)noble art of PR.

Brave soul.

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One Response to “The things journalists hate about PRs (part 3)”

  1. Sean said

    With reference to “complaining about the headline” –

    There are two things here I take issue with.

    First, subs et al are journalists too, no? They can, after all, join the NUJ.

    Second, I always hated that “I don’t right the headlines” line of excuses – if a writer isn’t prepared to stand behind their story as it appears on the page they shouldn’t have their by-line on it. As the author, I was always taught it’s part of your role to ensure the sub hasn’t mangaled the meaning of your story, misunderstood the point of it all, or – the lazy reporters’ usual complaint – edited out that very crucial last paragraph!

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