It may be true that one profession would struggle to survive without the other but, while many PRs and journalists work together well, sadly the relationship can be characterised by misunderstanding, mistrust or even anger on both sides.
PRWeek decided to undertake a detailed investigation into hack-flack relations in the current media climate, surveying journalists and PRs over the course of a month to lift the lid on how both sides regard the relationship.
The areas we investigated included the basic competency of their professional counterparts, pay and job satisfaction, the capacity for drinking on the job and whether they could make a good fist of the other’s role.
What journalists and PRs admire and abhor about their opposite numbers
We almost balked at the idea of asking PRs and journalists what they most like and dislike about each other, for fear of what might be revealed, but then we went ahead anyway.
Starting with what PRs like about journalists, many pointed to noble traits, such as "their determination to tell the truth" or "their rightly sceptical outlook" and "ability to cut through bullshit".
Others had more prosaic reasons for liking their counterparts, such as the respondent who wrote: "Sometimes, they give my clients coverage".
Some PR people just like hanging out with media people. One said: "They are good company", while another joked (we think) that they were impressed by journalists’ "ability to handle booze".
But even the most accommodating PRs sometimes have their tempers tested by journalists and there were some who thought their opposite numbers could do with a lesson in good manners.
One wrote "they are often rude", while another said "they can be abrupt and rude" and, continuing the theme, "arrogance, rudeness". There seems to be a pattern forming here.
In fact, the vast majority of journalists – 82 per cent – said PRs treat them with respect and, surprisingly, 72 per cent of PRs said the same. Is this a case of Stockholm syndrome among PRs?
However, at least one PR was sanguine enough to ascribe some journalistic rudeness to their own profession, writing: "I think the things people dislike about journalists – being rude/grumpy – are a result of crap PRs pitching irrelevant ideas. We’re creators of our own downfall sometimes."
Naturally, the journalists were also asked for their thoughts on what they most liked or disliked about PRs. PRs with a nervous or easily offended temperament should, perhaps, stop reading now.
When asked what they liked about PRs, one uncharitable soul wrote "literarily nothing". Others sought to subvert the terms of the question with sarcasm, such as the respondent who pointed to "their ability to evade questions". But most journalists kept to the spirit of the survey, with some praising the facilitating nature of most PRs they dealt with.
One pointed out "their positive attitude and politeness", while another said: "It’s an art form when well done. Individual PRs, who are good at the job, are an absolute joy."
Asked what they disliked about their counterparts, journalists did not hold back.
One wrote: "Phone calls asking if we got that email they sent 30 seconds ago! Wondering why we’re not running the story they gave our competitor first."
Another told the survey: "Mendacity, lack of urgency, laziness when they don’t have all the information to hand, generic emails to thousands of other reporters, clocking off early."
And one journalist confirmed a common bugbear: "Not understanding the area I cover and, therefore, pitching entirely inappropriate companies and content."
Favourite media outlets and PR agencies
The survey wouldn’t be complete without finding out which media outlets and PR outfits were most admired by their counterparts.
For PRs, traditional media, such as The Guardian, The Times, the BBC and the Financial Times, featured highly in their estimation, while fewer pointed to digital operations, such as Buzzfeed, Vice and The Pool. One wag named The New Day, Trinity Mirror’s short-lived newspaper.
Journalists were invited to pick their favourite agency. Many refused to play nicely and wrote "none", but of those who did name names, there were honourable mentions for Edelman, Houston PR, Lewis and Portland.
One journalist had a particularly high opinion of Eskenzi PR, writing "Clone them and you could invade China."