Ooh, journalists versus PR people: the eternal debate. It’s possible the Middle East problem could be sorted before the two ever come to some kind of reconciliation. Somebody send in Tony Blair, quickly.
Hannah makes some good points in her two posts, although I think slightly simplifies and does the humble PR guru a disservice. That said, I’d share her despair about the PR person who suggested mixing up the names on a school photograph to protect the kids from paedophiles. That has to be the barmiest idea I’ve heard in a long time, and I’d like to know exactly what the hell was going through that person’s mind when they thought up the idea. Something along these lines, perhaps…
“Right, the parents are scared about paedos. They’re evil, and they’re everywhere. But the local rag want to publish a picture of them. I know, lets mix the names up. That way, if the paedo sees a child they fancy, they’ll call them the wrong name, the child will instantly get suspicious, and we’ll have protected the kids. Hurrah for us.”
In the unlikely event the paper did acquiesce to the request, they’d get it in the neck from anybody who knew the kids – if a paper can’t get simple things like names right, then it damages their reputation in the rest of the community. As Steve McClaren utterly failed to learn in football, get the basics right and you can build on that.
I’d also share her despair at the PR person who made a very clumsy lie. One piece of advice dispensed in my direction from public relations professionals in different walks of business, is not to lie. If you lie, it can get found and. Easily. Journalists don’t build their reputation on being inquisitive little beggars for fun, you know.
And yes, if there’s one thing journalists don’t appreciate, its PR telling them what, when, where, when and how to run stories. But equally, if there’s one thing PR people don’t appreciate, it’s the journalist who treats us as idiots,and who also tell lies to get what they want, whilst hassling, harrying and generally making unreasonable requests. Nobody working in PR likes to be told how to do their job by a journalist.
But I do think Hannah’s being a tad simplistic when she says all PRs don’t like bad news to get out. Well, in part this is true, but the press department aren’t usually the ones who make the mess but they do have to clean it up, and anybody working in press and publicity who can manage a story and prevent it getting any worse is worth their weight in gold. That most definitely doesn’t have to involve lying, it just requires being across a story, having all the facts to hand, and being able to spot potentially troublesome areas, much like a chess grandmaster. There’s ways of giving the journalist what they want while minimising the damage caused. Although some messes are just lost causes.
Journalists and public relations can work very well together. I had some very good relationships with some press officers and PRs, and usually this involved a fair amount of honesty and respect on both sides. If the journalist gives the PR a fair hearing, makes it clear what is running, but doesn’t muck them about afterwards, the respect will be reciprocated. I’ve dealt with some press officers who spin a good line, but don’t take you for a mug.
I often found the PRs I had good professional relationships with always came through when I needed something important, was on a tight deadline, or were more inclined to try harder when there was a potentially damaging story. Those who didn’t, I could usually find ways to bypass, if needs be, or just tended not to deal with them full stop. It works both ways.
Ultimately, PR doesn’t come down to some dark art. The majority of the time, we’re not spinning lies. Similarly, journalism doesn’t come down to us deliberately laying banana skins for the press officer to slip up on. You’ll get idiots in either profession but if you’re going to make any relationship you need respect. Perhaps Aretha Franklin can succeed where Tony Blair will probably fail.