Anthony Hilton: The wall between PR and journalism

I have no idea how much companies spend on research and surveys of journalists with a view to improving their PR performance. I suspect a lot of it is wasted.

Anthony Hilton
Anthony Hilton

What such surveys illustrate most is the chasm in understanding between PR and journalism. The nature of questions asked reveals little understanding of the reality of modern journalism - how generalists have replaced specialists, how little time is available for research, how few people have any deep knowledge of the subjects about which they write and how little pre-planning there is about what will be covered and why.

Corporate executives will know on a Monday the broad shape of the coming week and month, and may have meetings already scheduled for much of the year.  Journalists coming in on Mondays will typically have no idea what they will be doing that afternoon, let alone next week. Yet survey after survey asks in detail for one's reaction to corporate actions and strategy, and to take a view on the impact of legislation, the detail of which is of interest to few outside the relevant sector.

An investment analyst focusing on one sector and following only a dozen or so companies probably has a grasp of such detail. A journalist struggling to cover a much wider beat will not. They are unlikely to remember anything that can be looked up when needed. For a brief period when writing a story, a journalist may be able to create the impression that he or she is an expert on any subject - and sustain it for three paragraphs. It is normally a mistake to get them to write any more.

The ignorance is not all on one side. Delegates at industry events often ask journalists how businesses can communicate better and be better understood. Such advice from journalists rarely delivers much of value. Were I a PR executive, I would despair at just being told to call back promptly and avoid telling lies. Such comments show journalists have no appreciation of the internal pressures and politics, egos and angst that govern comms strategies in an organisation. But if they did, they would be more sympathetic, so it is probably better we continue to misunderstand each other.

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