This column was inspired by a client of mine who told me it takes two to tango. To quote him directly, “Of course, it takes two to tango, and for every PR who is parasiting on their client, there is a journo who is doing the same.
“How about the fearless reporters who get the day to attend a conference, spend 10 minutes in the first session and disappear?
“How about the editors who fill space with ‘Staff Writer’ contributions, pretending they are news instead of PR?
“How about the journos who can’t be bothered to check where people work or what their position is? I guess it’s why it’s called ‘trade press’ Ã¢Â€Â“ I trade space in my publication for something from you (advertising, free food, free drink, free gadgets, free trip to anywhere in the world…).”
And how true it is. There is a bravado that runs through the media: “We’re the media… no one tells us what to do! We take all the freebees but publish whatever we want to.”
While PR practitioners might not hate the media for the stance, it can make their lives very difficult.
Some publications won’t look at press releases. They only publish original content and their journalists have to slave out in the marketplace just to make deadline. They might hail this as the purest form of journalism but hang on just one minute…
I remember what it was like as a journalist to get a few hundred emails a day, many of which were worth deleting and a ton of event invites too. But that does not negate the fact that there are some great PR practitioners out there who are getting some great content out of their clients and passing it on to the media and organising some events that are well worth attending.
Dammit, those releases are worth reading and those events are worth attending and sometimes I pull out what little hair I have left when journalists shrug such content and invites aside.
Many companies are doing amazingly newsworthy things that journalists would never hear about were it not for PR practitioners. I have two technology clients who have created world firsts. Journalists hate the term, labelling it as PR mush.
It’s newsworthy that two SA companies are doing work that is revolutionising their industries, which have far-reaching effects for consumers. I don’t spam the journalists, I don’t nag them on the phone, I don’t use “PR speak” they don’t like in their releases and I never send them nonsense. So why don’t they just make the effort?
There is an element of journalists hiding behind their freedom of the media mantra while they alienate the people they should be developing as key sources; people who could give them exclusives that they would otherwise not have had and, like the poor work done by some PR practitioners, it’s damaging the industry.
The PR practitioner/journalist relationship will always be a difficult one because the media pay not one cent for the content they receive. Companies are therefore obliged to pick up the bill and pay agencies to interact with the media.
Yes, there is always the danger that companies will try to pressure their agencies into saying certain things and the media resisting such content to maintain independence.
But the bridge between companies and the media is built by PR practitioners and if the media did more to invest in that bridge and abused it less then they may find their daily effort to find news that is worth reading about a lot less strenuous.