Platform: A little media knowledge is a dangerous thing - When it comes to handling journalists, companies need to make sure that their spokespeople are media savvy, says Annie Gurton

As a print journalist with 20 years experience I have seen PR trends come and go. These days I find that the PROs are more hands-off than they used to be. Middle and senior managers are now routinely expected to deal with the media more or less on their own, as part of their job specification.

As a print journalist with 20 years experience I have seen PR

trends come and go. These days I find that the PROs are more hands-off

than they used to be. Middle and senior managers are now routinely

expected to deal with the media more or less on their own, as part of

their job specification.



The PR person tracks feature lists and news stories, spots an

opportunity coming up, then passes the lead on to the relevant manager

and lets him or her get on with it, perhaps following up to check that

the journo got all he or she wanted.



I don’t have a problem with this - from my perspective, it is nice to be

able to get straight through to executives who are, after all, more

knowledgeable about a topic or product than the PR person who can blur

the message with Chinese whispers.



I would hate to go back to the days when the PR executive had to be

present every time a manager spoke to a journalist, and before every

interview there was the same negotiation about seeing copy. I like it

more now that PR people are happy for their clients and managers to

develop their own relationships with a handful of key journalists, and

are trusted to deal with incoming calls and queries from the media.

Unless there is a crisis situation and the hatches are battened down,

that’s the way it should be.



Unfortunately though, for every half dozen managers that are competent

and confident at dealing with the press, I still meet many who are

ill-informed about the way the press works, what journalists want or the

best way to deliver their message.



Despite the rise in media training as a standard part of a manager’s

education, I still encounter managers who try to ’sell’ to me as though

I was a customer, who don’t understand the discreet separation between

advertising and editorial, and who insist on going to great lengths to

thank me for mentioning them. Much as I welcome the more discreet

hands-off role of the average PR person, I wish they would prepare their

spokespeople a little better.



And for every manager who is terrified of anyone with the tag of

’journalist’, who will probably never relax no matter how much is spent

on training them, there is another who has let media training go to

their heads. These are the ones who fancy themselves as personalities or

pundits and there is no holding them back.



Few journalists would complain because loudmouths always make good copy,

but from the PR person’s point of view they are loose cannons who are

out of control.



The vogue for unshackling managers and encouraging them to do their own

press relations is reaching the inevitable watershed and I now see many

PR people facing a dilemma: should they take more control of their

clients or managers and insist on being involved in every contact they

have with media, or should they persuade them to invest more in media

training so that their managers above a certain level are reasonably

media savvy and can be trusted to be opinionated without putting their

foot in it?



My vote is for the latter course. Pandora’s box is open and there is no

going back. With the new digital media around the corner, there is going

to be a sharp rise in demand for opinions. Traditional PR executives may

disagree, but I say best to train the managers well, give them the

confidence to go it alone, and even if they do make the occasional gaff,

just hope that the company name is spelt right!



Annie Gurton is a freelance journalist and author.



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