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Improving the PR/media relationship

Published: 22 November 2011

The PR/media relationship is generally a volatile one – public relations officers send repeated, irrelevant press releases on to the media, while journalists don’t bother to get back to PRs to let them know whether they will be using the information.

By Leigh Andrews

Entitlement is a big aspect of this, and not the oft-incorrect use of ‘entitled’ in press releases to denote the title of a play or book (it’s simply ‘titled’, if you’re not sure). No, instead I am talking about the fact that the media is often expected to provide editorial space to content for free (obviously not speaking about ad space here, which is bought and therefore yours to do what you like with).

Deon Braun, publisher of Go Multi, offers: “Our multisport magazine covers 11 sports including mountain biking, cycling, running and canoeing, so the volume of news stories coming at us on any given day can feel overwhelming. I have had members of sports teams calling me at 20:00 to ask why their press release wasn't on the homepage, while their rival's was! Fortunately we don't see this kind of expectation with PR agencies. We have built good relationships with PR companies ... that send focused, relevant information. We are candid when we feel that agencies should remove us from mailing lists. I think this is key to ensuring that the PR agency knows where your publication positions itself.”

So it seems things are improving as both PROs and journalists make more of an effort to get along. Sometimes called a ‘love/hate’ relationship, it is also referred to as the ‘dark side divide’. It’s no secret that things don’t always go smoothly in this relationship, but I have noticed a definite trend towards trying to improve the relationship of late.

One of my favourite bloggers, Laurian Clemence, who works in the PR department for Google, wrote earlier this year, “Our department is not unlike a newsroom. In essence, it is a newsroom. We deal with the press. We are the people that give statements, pitch ideas to journalists, conduct interviews, find spokespeople, deal with the overall company communication.”

In essence, it’s busy busy busy. On the other side of the stick, ask a journalist and they will give you a similar picture – our days are filled with fielding calls, answering emails, sourcing information, attending events, meeting deadlines and generally running around like headless chickens. What this little comparison boils down to, ultimately, is that the PR and media industries are very similar, and actually rely on each other to get by.

Publicist Lisa van Leeuwen offers the following: “Having waitressed for many years in my late teens and early twenties, when I now go to a restaurant and experience bad service, I cast blame on the restaurant management and not the individual serving me. Similarly, in the PR industry, when I hear horror stories of fellow PR practitioners contacting media to find out why their stories haven’t been used or to question when they will be placed, I usually can’t help but think that the fundamentals of our industry were not taught or explained to them at the [beginning] of their careers, whether during their tertiary training or with the first couple of agencies (by the mentors that the individual has worked with). Along their PR path, it would seem that no-one has sufficiently taught them the fundamentals of how the media machine operates – from the differences in deadlines (a daily newspaper, versus a supplement, or an online title), to pitching content that is relevant to the media, and also understanding that they are not alone.” She elaborates that hundreds of agencies out there are vying for the space and airtime that they’re after, which is why it is so important to ensure that your news is always relevant, newsworthy and pitched to the right person in a timely manner.

Van Leeuwen shares the following example: “I have been appalled to work in agencies over the years that have not been kitted out with a full range of the latest issues of magazines or daily newspapers; and where juniors have been expected to pitch stories without even the opportunity to check if a particular title would consider a story of that nature. By the same token, it’s up to the individuals who liaise directly with the media to monitor and ensure that they’re on top of their game in terms of what the media run, and know who covers what content and what is relevant and interesting to the particular media.

She concludes, “I don’t find fault in an individual contacting the media to politely ask if a piece has been received – we too, as PR individuals, operate in a professional environment and should be treated as such in response, because often, we assume that because we’ve ‘emailed’ it, it has arrived at its destination”. However, she says there are guidelines to follow when contacting the media, and again, if these aren’t taught at the grassroots level of their careers, “this kind of poor professional conduct will likely follow them to the top and even worse, get passed down to those that work in their teams.”

There you have it. Do you sit on one side of the PR/media fence? Do you work in both industries? If you have any tips or experiences you’d like to share, please leave them on our blog.
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