And there seemed to be a lot of them about. But when I started delivering PR training, I quickly spotted the problem. Many PR professionals haven’t spent time in a newsroom or magazine office, which means they are unfamiliar with journalists’ tools of the trade.
For example, few have seen a flatplan, a broadcast schedule or are familiar with terms like ‘on-diary’ or ‘off-diary’.
As a result, they tend to see newspapers and magazines as a mass of blank pages, rather than a collection of ‘slots’ or ‘sections’ to be filled with specific kinds of content e.g. news, features, opinion, interviews and so on.
Many PR professionals I speak to are unaware that daily newspapers hold a ‘morning conference’ where journalists pitch stories to their editors.
Nor do they realise that some daily newspaper content is produced weeks ahead of publication.
These knowledge gaps mean they often get their timing wrong on stories – pitching ideas too late for journalists’ deadlines, for example.
And few have walked around a busy editorial office and seen desks piled high with review products sent by PRs – books still in their packaging, unopened media packs and samples – which is why they often have unrealistic expectations about the kind of coverage they can expect.
During a brief stint at a parenting magazine, I couldn’t believe the amount of ‘stuff’ that was sent into the office each day: car seats, pushchairs, nappies, toys and beauty samples – it was everywhere.
It’s only when you see that kind of thing with your own eyes that you realise sending in a press release and a product to review is a scattergun approach to PR.
If you want to be certain of coverage, you need to be much more creative.
I can’t find a single course – from professional qualifications like the CIPR to degree courses – that requires PR students to spend any time in a newsroom or at a magazine. Or at the very least learn about the role of a journalist.
And while learning about ‘theories of public persuasion’ or ‘the role of PR in organisations’ is all very well, it doesn’t really help when you have to get on the phone to pitch to a journalist, does it?
So I don’t grumble about inept PRs any more.
But I do believe it should be mandatory for students of PR – and those in junior roles – to spend some time in a newsroom or editorial office before they practise PR.
Not only would this boost results, it could also help boost the reputation of an industry that has always had something of a PR problem.
Because it’s only when PR professionals really understand a journalist’s priorities that they really start to understand what makes a great story and deliver what journalists – and their clients – actually need.