Why smug journalists should think before they tweet insults about PRs

Fellow hacks should ditch the snide remarks about a profession paid far better than them, writes Matthew Gwyther, the editor of Management Today.

Matthew Gwyther: If he tells you he loves you on email, it's probably an experiment
Matthew Gwyther: If he tells you he loves you on email, it's probably an experiment

With the dog days of August upon us, one is more than usually reliant on the gaieties offered by Twitter. If you are not doing so already may I recommend you follow @SmugJourno.

Smug Journo’s mission is simple: retweeting the pompous protests of journalists who seek to belittle and humiliate those in the PR trade who send them unwanted press releases.

These utterings are often accompanied by the hashtag #PRFail. Stuff like this is fairly typical: "Opens email. PR pitch: 'Dear Sean, it was great talking to you last week.' I never talked to this person. Delete." Sean, Sean, Sean. However busy you are with your deadline, however irritated at the apparent incompetence of those selling information to you... why bother going on to Twitter to post this in the first place? The delusional self-importance is quite something.

But Smug Journo can have unexpected turns. What about this recent post: "Hi Sam. I hope this finds you well and your week got off to a good start. My boyfriend moved to India for two years so I didn’t exactly have the best Monday." A lot of pathos for a Monday morning.

I receive several hundred releases every day and try to give them a very quick look before deleting. (Don’t ring to check I received it. I definitely did.) You never know when a grain of gold may appear among the panned grit. There are incompetents, as in any trade, but I know plenty of smart, amusing and highly competent people in comms.

Anyone who thinks that being the guardian of corporate reputation is for losers and wimps needs to get their head examined. I had a drink with one the other night who used to be a big cheese journo at The Sunday Times and now is comms director at a FTSE 100. He loves what he does, says he’s never bored by wading through unwanted emails and is probably earning about £400,000 annually.

Try this for size, Sean. You may be a righteous guardian of the truth but in 2004, for every dollar the average PR earned the average hack picked up 71 cents. By 2013 that figure for the member of the Fourth Estate had dropped to 65 cents. So hacks may be pompous but their industry remains in serious trouble. Maybe that’s why they are so irritable – they are panicking.

There’s another point. The more interesting brand extension/sponsored content that we run in Management Today these days does not come from traditional media buyers who just acquire clicks or old-fashioned paper square centimetres by the yard. The more thoughtful, and effective, stuff tends to come via PR outfits or the comms departments of corporates. This may appal the John Pilgers of this world but that’s the way it is.

Anyway, here’s my gag, which I won’t be putting up on Twitter. I received an email this week from someone called Piper in California. I’ll share the first couple of lines with you: "Hi Matthew, Firstly, congrats; managementtoday.co.uk is an awesome site. I was just promoted to US Team Lead, so I've been doing a bunch of research on how to be a good manager. I found your site very helpful! Do you work on it full time or is it a hobby?"

I have to say I was aghast. The misuse of that semi colon… A bloody hobby? Jeez. Being called an amateur is just about the worst insult imaginable. I sent it to my deputy who replied: "It’s definitely a hobby." Now, to be fair Piper isn’t a comms professional but a sales person and I’m not going to put her company name in because she doesn’t deserve, in her breathless, wide-eyed enthusiasm, to get the sack. But Piper, the first step to being a good manager is to use your eyes and ears. Not to mention your good judgement.

Hard on the heels of Piper’s note I saw something even more amusing. This one was about a hack called Ralph who signed off his response to every unsolicited PR email that he received with ‘I love you’. For a whole month. The result was very funny and, in some cases, very touching. A number of senders cut him off immediately as a creep/digital groper and a weirdo. Some were wary but engaged in a dialogue before the usual ‘Have a lovely weekend'.

But the fun ones took him on. The prize went to a guy named Michael who sent a businesslike reply before signing off with a deadpan ‘I love you more'. Ralph then sent a response ending ‘I love you so much it hurts'. Michael then, after doing the business, came back with: ‘I love you unconditionally, no matter what.’ So, well done, Michael. You’re in PR, you’re smart, funny and almost certainly make more money than Ralph. And Sean.

Matthew Gwyther is the editor of Management Today, a sister title of PRWeek. This article was originally published on the magazine's website. Read more of Matthew's blog here.

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