Media Relations: A perfect match?

Journalists and PR professionals inevitably end up sparring over working practices. Insiders from both industries tell Cathy Wallace how they could improve relations.

A blog written by a journalist naming overtly persistent PR professionals achieved notoriety this month. The blog prompted strong debate around whether it is ever OK for journalists to name and shame. It also raised the question - can journalists and PROs ever really understand one another?

The dilemma

Kevin Braddock, contributing editor of GQ magazine, published a list on his blog in December 2009, subsequently picked up on Twitter in early January, containing the names of hundreds of PROs he claimed persistently sent him press releases he was unable to use. He said these emails continued to fill his inbox, despite him asking to be removed from mailing lists. The list caused uproar and on 5 January Braddock took down the post and apologised for naming the individuals.

'I am not anti-PR. I am anti-poorly targeted PR and, on that score, I am sure I am not alone,' he says. 'The majority of material I was sent this year was of no relevance and I put up the original post because I wanted to be removed from these databases, after in many cases repeated requests.'

IN THE JOURNALISTS' CORNER

Mark King - Editor, guardianweekly.co.uk

'It is true that if most PR professionals took the time to look at what I do for a living and the content on my website, they would not send me press releases about handbags. But it only takes seconds to delete an email and it is often junior PROs who are forced to send out blanket emails and do the loathsome chasing up phone calls. So what happens if a journalist who has outed a PR professional in this way suddenly needs their help? A PR executive told me once that certain journalists had already become marked cards for the way they spoke and behaved towards PROs. Those executives could not wait until the journalists were in a weaker position, so that they could gleefully hand juicy stories to their rivals.'

Alex Blyth - Freelance journalist

'If PROs have been bombarding a journalist with irrelevant press releases and refusing to remove them from their lists, then I believe it is understandable for a journalist to name and shame them in this way. However, I do not believe it is the most constructive approach and I try to work with PROs, seeing them not as a nuisance to be avoided but a useful resource to be engaged. I offer them training courses and give individual feedback to PR professionals who invite me out for a pint so they can get to know me.'

Matt Cornish - Editor, News and Crier Series

'PROs who send out releases indiscriminately are spammers, cause considerable damage to the PR industry and are probably responsible for a large part of the animosity journalists have towards PR. It is not fair to tar every PRO with the same brush, but when you receive 350 emails a day that are totally irrelevant to your publication, patience runs thin. The random release is an ineffective, outdated and incredibly annoying marketing tool.'

Kate Solomon - Staff writer, Recombu.com and a former PR professional who was on Braddock's list

'Journalists generally have no clue how much time and effort is spent on admin, client-pleasing tasks and approvals, while PROs perhaps don't realise that most journalists are under constant pressure not to miss a single story and to meet targets. But every grumpy, PR-bashing tweet or list knocks the confidence of some poor overworked PR junior and makes them dread picking up the phone just a little bit more.'

IN THE PR PROFESSIONALS' CORNER

Will Guyatt - Media relations manager, Future UK

'I have no problem with poor PR professionals being named and shamed. After all, who can honestly say they have never uttered a bad word against a lazy journalist? Young PROs need to be reminded that the increasingly faceless carpet-bomb email pitch might generate coverage in the short term, but will cause long-term upset.'

James Warnette - Senior account manager, Octopus Communications

'This list points to a bigger and age-old issue. Some agencies take a very hierarchical approach to media relations and just hammer junior staff until they get results. I would imagine it stems from when the PR plan was created and senior managers have set targets that are unrealistic. The knock-on effect is that junior PROs, who were probably not even part of the pitching process, are left with a mountain to climb.'

Andy Barr - MD, 10 Yetis, one of the named and shamed agencies

'Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say "we cocked up". The media lists we create are researched to make sure the journalists we are targeting have written about a subject we feel they would be interested in, but sometimes this can go wrong. We are not the first and we won't be the last agency to which this happens.'

Jon Clements - Partner, Staniforth

'It is hard on those who have been named and shamed, but the journalist was measured in his explanation of why he did it. This serves as a reminder that PR professionals can't be cavalier about their relationships with journalists. Poor PR practices that used to continue under the radar can now be exposed just as easily as pressing "send" on an unsolicited release.'

POLL RESULTS

Is it OK for journalists/bloggers to name and shame persistent PR professionals?

51% YES

49% NO

Source: PRWeek website.

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