To move forward, PR industry needs to go back to the basics

This week's feature examines one of society's age-old relationships - that between PR pros and journalists. As the piece attests, the relationship has traditionally been one of love/hate, with journalists loving to hate PR pros or alternatively hating themselves for loving them.

The September 8 feature examines one of society's age-old relationships – that between PR pros and journalists. As the piece attests, the relationship has traditionally been one of love/hate, with journalists loving to hate PR pros or alternatively hating themselves for loving them. OK, I kid. But what isn't a laughing matter is that despite all of the progress the PR industry thinks it has made, journalists' complaints about industry professionals haven't changed one bit.

It's not that journalists don't recognize the important role that PR pros play in their job. Many might be loathe to admit that they often rely on PR executives to do their jobs well, but as the article shows, it is possible to find those that will acknowledge the value of a good PR practitioner. (In fact, many of the journalists interviewed for the piece were referred to me by some of my best agency and corporate contacts.)

Unfortunately “good” media relations practitioners have become harder to find. Even as schools increase the number of PR graduates they churn out, PR increases its prominence within the marketing mix, and a select group of very vocal practitioners champion the importance of the APR designation, the fact remains that journalists' general impression of PR pros is not good.

One only needs to look at some of the recent public lashings that PR pros have taken from journalists – from Wired's Chris Anderson and Lifehacker's Gina Trapani's public outing of PR people that blast them with irrelevant e-mails to CBS' Andrew Cohen's assertion that any PR person that is truthful is also unemployed – to know that there are still many journalists out there that view PR pros as useless spin doctors.

Unfortunately, the “spin” label is something that will likely stick with the profession for some time, but it's the “useless” one that should be more alarming. Even among those journalists interviewed for the feature, the most common complaint was that they often receive pitches that are not well researched and e-mails and voice mails that are clearly just part of the dreaded “call” list.

The problem is that while PR practitioners have elevated the prominence of the profession and its place within the marketing mix, some have neglected to truly pay attention to what is still the core of PR – yes, I'm talking about media relations. Sure, it might not be as glamorous as being a “strategic partner,” but unlike digital, experiential, or word-of-mouth marketing, it is something that PR professionals alone can do.

Why is it then that a 22-year-old AAE is allowed to “cold call” journalists with inane, impersonalized pitches? Or, as one of my corporate contacts recently complained to me, why do some agencies relegate pitching to a separate “media” team? Shouldn't media relations, like writing a press release or speaking coherently, be a required skill for all PR practitioners? In the quest to advance the profession, PR pros shouldn't neglect their roots.

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