As I wrote in this month's issue of PRWeek, last month marked my sixth year at the magazine. When I arrived, I'll admit, I was scared to report on an industry where the subjects and readers were so well versed in the media. Prior to that I had worked at a small local parenting magazine where I acted as everything from assistant editor to receptionist. And right before coming to PRWeek I had written for a trade magazine covering the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut printing industry, where the print shop owners along Varick Street (now a new PR agency hub- guess where all of those huge office spaces came from?) had zero media relations skill or savvy. It wasn't that hard to get news out of those folks.
Over the years, I've covered some big stories for PRWeek, and as I've moved into an editor role, I've tried to help our reporters learn how to break those stories while following the journalistic ethics that PRWeek so dutifully upholds. I've just come off of a West Coast trip where I presented PRWeek's offerings—both editorial and business-wise—to a wide variety of people. One of the main points I make about PRWeek is the line we have between editorial and sales. I've worked at trade magazines before; I know how sometimes there can be that “you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours” type of mentality when it comes to how sales impacts editorial and vice versa, and I can assure you it doesn't happen here. I wouldn't have spent six years here if it did.
So, imagine my frustration when after six years, I still get the sense from some of our readers that they think of PRWeek's editors and reporters as little more than PR people for the industry. It's especially frustrating to me when a friend or family member says to me, “Oh, so you're in PR…” No, I'm not in PR. I absolutely respect PR professionals, the job that they do, and the value that they bring to their clients, the media, and the public. But I am a journalist, as are the talented men and women that work with me. It's a lesson that PRWeek's readers need to remember.
A few years ago, I took a trip to Chicago for a roundtable event. During my stay there, I visited an agency with one of my reporters. We were hosted with great fanfare—a boardroom full of the agency's top leaders, soda, water, and cookies (yep, it doesn't take much to get me excited), as well as full PowerPoint presentation on the firm's capabilities, complete with a client list. Now, we have had similar meetings in the past with other agencies that are off the record or on background, which we totally respect. However, at this meeting, no such request was made. The team was candid and eager to discuss client work, including a new account it had won from another prominent firm. When we returned to New York, I had my reporter call up the agency and new client to get the story. Within an hour I had an angry call from the agency's PR person.
“Erica,” she said, “that was off the record.” Why? I asked. They had never said that once during the entire meeting. “Well,” she responded. “we thought we were having a fun little chat with PRWeek.” Would they have acted the same had it been Wall Street Journal in the room with them? Or the New York Times? The answer is no.
This came up again this week, when I received an angry call and e-mail from another agency marketing person. This time, the person took offense to something I had posted on my personal Facebook page that was construed to be “mean spirited” toward the agency and its leadership. Without going into details, it wasn't. And besides, it was my personal Facebook page. Just to clarify, I'm not “friends” with any PR people on Facebook that I have never met or spoken to in “real” life. In other words, they are my friends. This person was not. So, what was she asking me to do? Wait for it… take down the “offensive” post. Are you kidding me? I asked if she would ever make the same request of Suzanne Vranica or Stuart Elliot and she stumbled and then said ‘yes, I think I would.” Of course that's a lie.The reason why PRWeek has been so successful throughout the nearly 12 years in publication is that it reports accurately and truthfully on the goings on of the industry. If PRWeek reporters and editors are expected to be nothing more than "flacks" for the industry, then it does a disservice to all.