Fortunately there are PR folk who understand what the media needs, but there are so many more who don’t. Peta Krost Maunder vents her frustration at those who don’t.
As another press release drops into my email inbox about PPC Cement, I wonder what the public relations (PR) person who sent it thought she might gain by doing this. I have emailed her twice, explaining sweetly that there is nothing about PPC cement that would interest any publication with which I am involved.
I have also mentioned to her that the editor they are emailing left this publication more than two years ago. Surely, it is part of a PR person’s job to keep up-to-date about who is editing a publication in which they are hoping their dull press release will be published? Also, it might help to read the publication every now and again to check on the general content.
I stopped short of telling her that when I see the name of their PR company I immediately press the delete button because I know what is coming. That definitely doesn’t serve them.
In fact, all this brings the whole PR sector into disrepute. For every such PR agency, there are hundreds of others making the self-same errors and pissing off journalists and editors.
There are others in the industry who are said to even charge clients upfront to be published in particular media – something they cannot promise because they simply don’t have that kind of control.
I have heard PR folk assuring clients that they will get newspapers to print press releases because they have really good relationships with the editors or journalists. Boy, how to irk another journalist! I don’t know any journalist or editor who will print a press release of any kind because they owe someone a favour or they are friends with the oh-so-professional looking and sounding PR.
Fortunately, for me, I do know a number of real PR pros who understand the meaning of the term ‘public relations’. They understand that “public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their public”. This definition originates from the Public Relations Society of America. I wish all local companies understood this.
These pros source the kind of well-researched good journalism articles (that they mostly write) on behalf of their clients, using their expertise on relevant issues. Brilliant! I can also call them because we are on good terms and they will source information for me from their clients.
Because we have a good relationship, they know what I want and need for my publication and they offer me exclusive stories.
They know the editors and the reporters, and they would never ask me or another journalist to place a press release because they know that nobody worth their salt publishes such things. They would send relevant press releases that might spur a story but they would never consider putting pressure on to get them printed. They know any pressure or arm-twisting may negatively affect relationships.
They know the media that works for their clients and they make sure they keep in touch and up-to-date with what they use and what they need. That is PR.
They mostly also realise that press releases rarely work as anything other than information-providers and possible inspiration for stories and know there needs to be a variety of other ways to get their clients to interact with the public.
When around 40 owners of top PR companies around the world gather at international PR conferences, they discuss how they can improve on their operations and certainly how they can best send out mass press releases. Those at the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) conferences find out as much as they can about the media in the various countries and establish and build relationships. They all believe the essence of being a PR pro is about good relationships.
“The quality of our work always depends on our relationships with the media,” says Evelyn Holtzhausen, CEO of HWB and newly elected president of PRGN. He has a real understanding of what the media needs, having been a journalist and editor for many years. “Going into PR wasn’t the most natural move for me but I could write quality stories and I understood the media and know how it reacts.
“I have never called an editor, asking them to use a press release. My belief is if we send them a quality story, they will choose to use it on its merit.”
But in the same way as journalists are wary of the run-of-the-mill PR company, good pros are wary of unethical journalists. “I am hardly going to send my clients into a lion’s den. I want the journalists who interview my clients to be fair and professional,” says Francine Robbens of Public Relations Partners in Belgium. “I am happy for my clients to be challenged but fairly.”
Mark Paterson, principal of Currie Communications in Australia, agrees, saying, “[Because] journalists are under pressure these days to get the big story this (unethical behaviour) is happening. So, there is good and bad on both sides of the fence.
“PR people are communicators and we want a free and open press that supports ethical sustainable journalism. Because as long as that exists, we will be able to do our work properly.”
He explains that PR and journalism should never be routine. “We need to be asking constantly why are we doing this and for who?”
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