Journalists vs. PR Pros: This debate will never be settled

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When High angle view of five business executives in a meeting I read PR Week’s Industry backs controversial campaign aimed at cutting PR spam, posted on January 29, I had a #HeadHitsDesk moment. This battle, this debate, this controversy will never end, will it?

To sum up this piece by Gemma O’Reilly, a number of PR professionals have endorsed a campaign to end the spamming of journalists. My first thought? Kiss-ups. If you really want to do your part in not spamming journalists, don’t do it yourself or put outrageous demands on your lower-level staff to land an unattainable number of media placements (note: this is not me accusing any of those PR people backing this initiative. I have no idea how they individually operate themselves, their businesses or their staff. Rather this is a call to all PR pros.)

Another thought that comes to mind is the number of PR professionals who give a bad name to this industry. Throwing my “brethren” under the bus, or not, I don’t spam. Have I reached out to a journalist knowing it may have been a reach, but thought I’d try because I had read a similar story with their byline? Of course. Did I consistently berate them thereafter? No. Simple equation.

My favorite comment on this PR Week piece comes from Cathy Wallace:

“What strikes me about this is yes, anything that can help PR professionals and journalists work together better has to be a good thing and spam emails are maddening. BUT – it’s so arrogant. I’m a journalist and I think it’s arrogant. What right do journalists have to demand all these terms and conditions from PR professionals, when we don’t reciprocate?”

Ah ha! Put your light bulb idea caps on, everyone! Reciprocation. Collaboration. Relationship building.

Every journalist and every PR professional is not created the same. Nor do we all work for the same boss. If we are to find common ground (which I believe has been done millions of times) we must accept that we have sadly over generalized each other. PR professionals are stressed to the max pleasing clients who want big results. Journalists are on the edge with demanding deadlines. Yes, we talk about it and blog about it until we’re blue in the face, but when does the actual execution of better practices begin?

Thoughts and reactions are welcome. What was your first reaction to this PR Week post? Do you think the campaign will help? Can we all just get along?

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  • jeffespo

    Kate, I think we were talking while you bashed your head into the keyboard. Otherwise please clarify what asdfgvgbhji means.

    When reading the story, I had mixed reactions. Granted we all stretch things and send to journalists, however some folks just don't know the line.

    While it is easy to blame us flacks, another cause for the blame could be the overworking of newsroom staffs and the media contact services of the world. For example, I replied to a reporter's story when doing research and outreach for a pitch. The reporter sent a tongue in cheek response that well, that wasn't his beat. It was a nice email and I apologized, noting that his past three stories were on the topic. He then let me know that he was being overworked and could care less about said subject and was just doing his job. Our media tool at the time also noted him as covering that beat BTW.

    On the flip side, I have been repeatedly pitched by journos turned bloggers for promotion of their current projects (a side effect of the industry bust). So I feel the reporters pain.

    As Cog noted yesterday these suggestions and guidelines won't hold weight unless we are a licensed industry.

  • http://twitter.com/tjdietderich TJ Dietderich

    Maddeningly high five to Cathy Wallace. It's true; we're stuck in this us versus them mindset with journos when we're NOT the Jets and the Sharks. We work together or not at all. Yes, we flacks should not spam. We can all agree on that. And journos should not flood our airwaves with queries for silly things, like an expert to tell them how much an elephant weighs, when they have Wikipedia to answer that for them. (Didn't Cog do a post on this way back in the day?)

    I applaud anyone who is doing the right thing in their job, but here's the thing about those people: we're doing it quietly, without complaint, our heads down and concentrating on our work. We're making mistakes sometimes, because we're human, and we're learning from them. We're offering polite advice to those who ask for it. We're doing our jobs! Shocker.

  • http://twitter.com/stina6001 Christina K

    I've got to give a virtual ::high five:: to Cathy Wallace. Holy hell more journalists should be thinking like that. Neither a journalist nor a PR professional is on some higher level than the other. We're here to help each other create a story that is beneficial to both our our clients and audience.

    Also great comment from Jeff here – we're all being over-worked. I think we both need to cut each other some slack. If we're both doing research and respecting each other, it would be more beneficial for both parties. Don't let one bad seed leave a nasty taste in your mouth.

  • dannybuoy1

    As somebody who has worked in both sides, I really do not think it is fair to use the term kiss-ups. I think it is about reputation and about deadlines.

    We both have deadlines, but the bottom line is as PR professionals, we only have a limited time to get that pitch out. Not to mention, that pitch better be good because journalists will not change.

    So many PR professionals are so good at what they do and all it takes is one bad professional to ruin it. The constant emailing is lazy and I can see why a journalist would become irate.

    On the other hand, how simple would it be for a producer to just say, we are not interested. Then there really would not be a conversation like this.

    As long as you are using your time wisely and really think about how you are working with that news station, you will be fine and become a trusted member in that industry.

  • http://twitter.com/KOttavio Kate Ottavio

    Hi Danny – thanks very much for your comment. Regarding the term “kiss up,” it's my honest opinion. We as PR people put campaigns together for our clients. What is this movement? A campaign. Someone commented on the PR Week post that this is all a little self-serving in and of itself. But I do appreciate your opinion.

    I completely agree with your points, especially on using your time wisely. Thank you again!

  • Laney

    Not that I want to place blame anywhere else, but sometimes I feel like our media databases point us in the wrong direction. For example, with the healthcare trades, there isn't always this expansive list of reporters and I have to pick the one that Cision says covers my beat. Then I get emails back from the reporter asking to be removed from the list and I just feel like that makes me look bad.

    And, I don't want to be one of those blacklisted PR flaks.

    Can't say I agree with these guidelines either though. The way I pitch science to health trades is different than the way alcohol is pitched to a lifestyle blogger and that makes having guidelines too difficult.

  • http://twitter.com/PRNicoleV Nicole VanScoten

    Kate,

    Great post! When I first read the story — I thought “great, a list of guidelines for new PR pros to follow so they don't end up becoming spammers”…but then when I actually went to the site, I was a little annoyed. The site IS arrogant. At what point did journalists & PR pros decide we're on opposing sides? Aren't we supposed to HELP each other? This would be much better as an open discussion instead of a list of demands that are clearly just pissing PR people off.

  • @jaykeith

    Laney,

    I think your comment about the media database is a good one, but really all that points out is that PR pros need to do more and more homework to make sure that they are pitching the right people. Lists are nice, but nowadays you have to then check that list against real life stories to make sure things are the same and match up.

    An interesting example of this actually happened with @TJDietderich and I last week. I was talking to her about a reporter who I'm friends with, who was doing a story on the iPad's name, and how ridiculous it was. When I told TJ about it and who the reporter was, she said “oh the careers reporter?” Well yes that is “her beat,” but clearly she isn't JUST covering careers if she's doing iPad stories. This is my point, the PR pros who do their homework and only pitch targeted people get results. Reporters are changing topics and beats nearly daily, so you can't rely on what Cision tells you.

    Those who rely only on lists generated by Cision etc, are going to hit the wrong targets. It's inevitable. So really, it's on us as PR pro's to make sure we're doing things right and hitting the right people. And considering it only takes a few extra minutes to double check and make sure your list is really solid, you can somewhat understand why journo's get frustrated from time to time.

  • Laney

    Thanks Jay. I completely agree with you about doing your homework. I spend many hours double checking all of the people on my list to make sure they are in fact writing about the things that I need them to be writing about. Unfortunately though with some of the trades it doesn't always work and I still get those “please remove” emails.

  • rachelakay

    Kate,

    I love this post. I also blogged about this. Good PR pros have always rallied against spam, but I think trying to create a movement complete with “Bill of Rights” is just silly, not executable, and just highlights the bad seeds rather than the significant role we play in brand building.

    Rachel Kay

  • http://twitter.com/KOttavio Kate Ottavio

    Jay, you know I agree with you. But I see Laney's point in that often lower-level PR folk are forced to hit a certain number of journalists with every e-mail/press release they send. It's often times out of the messenger's control when a PR boss is telling you to e-mail 300 reporters. I know I am fortunate that this is not how my firm operates, but it happens far too often I think.

  • taraberkoski

    It really only takes a few to ruin it for the rest. There's always going to be the people that aren't good at doing their job and it won't change. PR professionals can always make a good name for themselves though by not spamming. If you pitch the right people about the right topic/client, they'll remember it.

  • Thelittleprlady

    It's an attempt at sucking up to journalists who don't really deserve the attention. I studied PR and Journalism at university to really understand the beast… That is assisting the relationship, not some half baked attempt at getting your name in lights.

    I hate the way some journo's act about PR's, but I also hate the way some PR's will blanket email just to satisfy clients unrealistic expectations.

    I let a client go last week because she insisted that I not choose a handful of specifically targeted mediums and that I blanket email to a list of 750 media outlets.

    I was quite happy to let her go, rather than upset some of my very valued media contacts.

    This is how you strengthen the relationship.

    PR people are supposed to be about tactics, journo's should beware of the PR agencies signing on to this microwave attempt at strengthening their relationships.

    Can anyone smell advertising execs attempting to be PR consultants?

  • http://twitter.com/jamesmulrennan JamesMulrennan

    Whilst I believe in principal that ‘an inconvenient truth’ is a good idea and its great to see it spark debate, I do think this is a double edge sword and I agree with Cathy Wallace that there should be some middle ground.

    Why can’t we all put flowers in our hair and run through the fields holding each others hands? OK, perhaps this is a step to far but certain journalists could be more responsive to PR’s and actually give them greater detail on what does and doesn’t interest them, this way none of us have to waste time sending and calling about releases that we know will not interest them.

    PR’s have to remember that they need to keep on side with the journalist but Mr Journalist has to remember that they too rely on us mere PR mortals.

  • http://twitter.com/Maxicom Max Tatton-Brown

    I got so bored of reading those kind of articles that I came up with a solution.

    Current plan is here: http://j.mp/prspam and version 2 is on the way.

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