ANALYSIS: Journalist Survey - Journalists paint grim picture of PR industry/Gather a bunch of writers, mention ’PR’ and see what happens. Claire Murphy takes a qualitative and quantitative look at our journalist survey

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.

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

the job.’

Over half of the journalists said poorly written materials was

their number-one PR complaint, and was dealt with in our August

23 feature.

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

journalist’s call.

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

management consulting.

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.’


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.

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