As a long-time public relations practitioner (also known as a PR puke, flack, mouthpiece, media whore, etc.) of more than 25 years, I have seen tremendous changes in the way many journalists do their jobs, and the many challenges they face.
Yes, they are often justified in despising those PR folks who pitch them silly stories in areas they don’t cover. Those flacks who call incessantly to follow-up on news releases should be flogged.
“Hi, this is Bambi Smith from PR Flack International. I was just calling to see if you received our press release on our client donating $500 to global warming to show the company’s commitment to stopping the melting of polar ice caps and saving those big white bears…”
Yes, it is embarrassing to the rest of us PR practitioners, but unfortunately, there are many people who are put in public relations positions because they “like people” (or knows someone in top management). Some are even former journalists with virtually no experience working in communications in the corporate world.
They make PR pros cringe. They are often idiots.
But, as it is often said, let he/she who is without sin cast the first stone.
There are a lot of people in journalism today who are also an embarrassment to their chosen profession. The number is growing as many media outlets are making hiring decisions based on political correctness and cost-savings rather than journalistic excellence or experience.
Journos frequently go back to their office complaining about obnoxious and ignorant PR people. Don’t feel bad. We do the same thing when talking about many journalists.
I am at the point where nothing would surprise me anymore in journalism.
As a public service, I have decided to compile the official “Dirty Dozen” list of 12 rules journalists should follow. If you have a colleague please share it with him/her, and maybe the world could be a better place for all of us.
Here we go:
1) Contrary to what you might think, PR folks do not sit around all day breathlessly waiting for your call. It can be tough to immediately drop everything to respond to your needs in the next 10 minutes to meet YOUR (often artificial) deadline. Yes, PR folks should always respond quickly to your needs, but sometimes those needs can be a bit much. Realize getting quick answers in a corporate setting can be a real challenge. Try to understand things from our end.
2) When we send you a news release it is an embarrassment when you turn it over to your advertising folks to call us for the “ad for editorial” bribe dance. (Yes, it’s just as embarrassing to us when our executive discreetly (or bluntly) reminds you that we advertise with you.) If we wanted to take out an ad we would have called your Advertising Department.
3) We realize sometimes the information we send you is often not the “stop the presses” variety. The reality is we are sometimes forced to send out watered down news releases that have been edited and approved by 15 people, including the Legal Department. Sorry about that, but think how tough it is to get your stuff approved by ONE editor.
4) The reality is for many PR people, our jobs are basically on the line every time you call. Our CEO does not comprehend that we don’t really “manage” or “dictate” things to the news media. He/she often doesn’t distinguish between the employee who does our in-house paper and a real journalist at a real media outlet. Yes, a negative story can result in our unemployment.
5) No one expects you to be an expert on our business. But at least check out our Web site ahead of time to get a rough idea of what we do. Heck, in a pinch actually read the background stuff I sent you. Your readers/viewers/listeners deserve some preparation.
6) We know YOUR time is valuable. We also know OUR chief executive’s time is pretty valuable. How long should we wait around for you to show up? An hour? Two?
7) Don’t throw a hissy fit if we want to sit in on your interview. Yes, there are some PR folks who do the “What CEO Mr. Smith really meant to say was Acme Corporation loves all children “routine. They should be flogged. Most PR people take notes during the interview. That way when you go back to the office and realize your recorder was broken we can save your butt.
8) Appearances can be important. Sorry, but when you arrive in cut-off blue jeans, sandals and a tank top to interview the CEO—rightly or wrongly— often takes it as a lack of respect. It is not a good way to gain confidence or make him/her feel comfortable that you will do your job professionally when you arrive late and look as if you just finished mowing your lawn.
9) We all realize the reality is today you are one layoff away from joining our lowly ranks. Don’t make everyone feel uncomfortable by asking about possible job openings for yourself (or spouse) at our company prior to an interview with our CEO. It can come across as a bribe.
10) Deal with the fact that the person you will speak to will often have been media trained. Those of us who are veterans of the PR business often media train our clients and brief them on your interview style and the direction the story may take. Many interviewees have little or no knowledge about journalism and are terrified. It is our job to level the playing field in interviews. Letting a client do an interview cold turkey could be likened to entering a gunfight with a knife (a rubber one).
11) Please, please do not offer my client the opportunity to review your story before it runs. Act like a professional journalist. Do you have any idea what a can of worms that opens up for me? The client will not be happy unless you have written a complete and total PR puff piece, and will likely ask me to re-write your story which will irritate the hell out of you. Don’t put me in that position.
12) Realize we both have jobs to do. You want to write an honest and accurate story, and we want to make your job as easy as possible and get some of our key points across. Story errors get you in trouble with your editors. They also get us in trouble.
The reality is we both have jobs to do. My goal is to make my client look good. Your goal is to provide an accurate story to readers.
With a little mutual respect and cooperation we can both achieve our goals