The relationship between PR pros and journalists is mainly a love/hate one. Get a bunch of PR pros together and the conversation will soon turn to gossip about writers and editors and their particular habits, styles and opinions.
The relationship between PR pros and journalists is mainly a
love/hate one. Get a bunch of PR pros together and the
conversation will soon turn to gossip about writers and editors
and their particular habits, styles and opinions.
Unfortunately for the PR industry, get a group of journalists
together and the conversation about the ’other side’ soon gets
heated. In fact, the perceived failings of PR pros can fuel many
a beer-soaked happy hour.
The litany of complaints are familiar to most PR people: badly
written press releases, the blocking of access to key clients and
unfamiliarity with the publication being pitched are just three
of the more common moans.
To provide a definitive snapshot of how the PR industry is viewed
by journalists, PRWeek surveyed 977 journalists across all media.
We wanted to find out how widespread this apparently negative
view of PR pros is.
More importantly, we sought the journalists’ suggestions on how
the process of media relations could be improved.
Some of the results make grim reading. The top complaint, named
by almost 60% of respondents, was ’unfamiliar with our editorial
requirements and format’ - an issue borne out in the extra
comments that many journalists added to their questionnaires.
’Don’t know my magazine, our audience, how the magazine is
distributed, the industry, don’t take the time to read even one
issue of my magazine before calling’ was representative of many
views. ’Poor understanding of journalists’ needs and deadlines,’
said one exasperated reporter.
’Not keeping up with the basic information. I have received
material addressed to the person who had my job four people
removed, three years ago’ was another comment.
All these remarks relate to a lack of research, something that
should be easily rectified by simply reading the publication you
want to pitch to or making sure that your mailing list is always
kept up to date.
Failing to gather information about the publication you are
pitching to is bad enough, but almost half of the respondents
griped that PR pros don’t even know enough about the product or
service they are representing. ’I want to deal with a real
source, not a spokesperson.
I want company officials and experts in their field, not a
polished PR person who has no real depth of knowledge in
anything,’ said one disgruntled hack.
’Shallow or no understanding of the industry or market they’re
purporting to be serving,’ alleged another journalist, while
still another talked of PR pros that are ’often unable to answer
questions beyond what is on written materials.’
But one journalist was aware of why some PR pros appear clueless
on an issue they are handling: ’(The) greatest problem is the
tendency of management to hand total responsibility for info flow
to the PR department or agency, but not the necessary info to do
Over half of the journalists said poorly written materials was
their number-one PR complaint, and was dealt with in our August
Then there’s that most-debated practice of calling to check
whether a press release has arrived on the right desk, and
inquiring whether it will be used. This issue - which prompted
48% of journalists to name it as their chief annoyance - also
generated the largest volume of comments on questionnaires.
Almost all of them exhorted PR pros to resist the temptation to
’I absolutely hate calls saying ’did you receive our press
release’ - what a waste of the client’s money.’ Another one
wrote, ’There is nothing worse than the ’follow-up’ phone calls
to a press release.’ While still another responded, ’They don’t
listen. They keep on talking and not hearing answers to their
questions. If I am going into a conference, I can’t always
schedule things in advance, but PR pros don’t want to accept this
These were just a few of the comments on this issue. On behalf of
all those journalists, the message is clear: If you’ve sent it,
it probably arrived and don’t press the journalist for an editing
decision he or she may not have yet made.
But conversely, while PR pros may be eager to place that call to
chase up a release, they may not be so keen to return the
Here are just a few of the comments on this issue:
’Bad attitudes, slow to return calls.’
’(They) don’t understand the need to meet deadlines, don’t
consider your call urgent. Hospital spokesmen are the worst, they
can be hostile and suspicious.’
’Do not have the ability to get back to me in a timely manner or
forget to send materials when requested.’
But it’s not all bad news. Thirty percent admit they rely more on
PR people to provide them with information than five years ago,
meaning that the PR industry now has more opportunity to get
their messages across.
There also seemed to be a widespread understanding of the role of
the PR industry, dispelling the myth that journalists view pros
only as information providers.
Over half of the respondents associated PR with brand
development, while an encouraging 17% even linked pros with
Well over two thirds of the journalists in the poll described the
majority of the PR people they had dealt with as ’competent’ or
better. And 16% even described PR pros as ’excellent.’ When asked
how much respect they have for PR execs, only 3.2% of journalists
said they had none - politicians, salespeople, management
consultants, lawyers and celebrities all fared worse on the
Rodney Dangerfield no-respect scale.
We were surprised to find that well over a third of journalists
had worked in PR themselves, and almost 60% would consider a PR
job - indicating that at a personal level, the gap between
journalists and PR pros is not as great as one might think.
One journalist may have hit the nail on the head when he offered
an explanation of why editorial staff seems so keen to knock PR
pros: ’I think journalists resent PR people because we know they
have a higher average pay range than we do.’
ABOUT THE SURVEY
The survey was conducted by fax among 977 journalists on August
Out of that group, 40.9% work on magazines, 21.7% on newspapers,
12% on newsletters, 5.5% on TV, 4.5% on radio. In addition, 3.4%
work on wire services, 11.2% categorize themselves as working
’other’media while 69.4% were business journalists and 26.1%
worked for the consumer media.