14 things journalists think about PR professionals that just ain't true

Journalists might get your emails. But do they get you?

Are most PR professionals just failed hacks? (© ThinkstockPhotos)
Are most PR professionals just failed hacks? (© ThinkstockPhotos)

Last week, PRWeek ran a piece about PR professionals' misconceptions of journalists. It seemed to strike a chord - so, we decided to look at the incorrect generalisations journalists make about the PR industry.

We've taken contributions from PR people who have identified things that journalists just don't understand about their readers, and PRWeek staff have suggested other assumed truths about PR pros that abound in newsrooms.

As with the previous article, many of these are perennial myths that stick around, despite people knowing that they're not true, while others will be unnuanced warnings editors hand down to their reporters.

As per the previous article, this piece reminds us that making assumptions is a fool's game.

1 - PRs only call you to fulfill a quota

"Journalists often assume that a phone call from a PR is someone trying to hit a target, rather than someone who loves a story. I'd say 60 to 70 per cent of the time, I love the pitch I have and I want to see it beautifully told."

Russell Hargrave, press manager, Power to Change Trust

2 - ...and their pitches are all just copy-and-paste jobs

"The PR industry probably has itself to blame for this one. Journalists often assume that something they've been sent by a PR pro will have been sent in exactly the same form to all and sundry. Sometimes that will be true, but that ignores the fact that many a pitch is bespoke, personalised and the product of careful thought. Although many are not, of course."

Sam Burne James, news editor, PRWeek UK

3 - PRs' sole priority is journalists

Plenty of journalists seem to think they are the only people to whom PR professionals answer, as two NHS communicators note.

4 - PRs only deal in media relations

Similarly, NHS comms pro Parker, another public sector PR operator and the CIPR's comms man, suggested that journalists just don't get the fact that PRs are not simply earned media machines.

5 - PRs leave media relations to the kids once they get senior

"That would be tempting, but stupid. Think about it; we’ve spent years developing relationships with specific journalists. We’ve helped them get access to people at the drop of a hat. We’ve brought them good stories, we’ve wined, dined, beer'd and gin'd them. Why waste all that effort, and miss out on the fun?"

Richard Fogg, CEO, CCgroup

6 - PRs don't 'get' journalists

The assumption that PR professionals don't know how a team of journalists go about their daily business just doesn't make sense, points out one agency.

7 - PRs are mostly failed hacks

As referred to in no.6... "This one's an age-old cliché that smacks of arrogance, or even jealousy. In reality, a large number of PR professionals are indeed former journalists, but the vast majority of those certainly didn't fail in their previous line of work – more likely, they just realised their skill set or brain was more suited to communications. Or they just wanted more money... *sobs*"

Rob McKinlay, digital editor, PRWeek UK

8 - PR pros are overpaid

Ah yes, money. Do all journalists get paid less than PRs? Not necessarily, but there certainly is a perception, a sour grapes-flavoured one at that, of PRs being 'overpaid' - or rather, earning more than their journo counterparts. Jealousy is an ugly thing, lest ye forget, Mr McKinlay.

9 - PRs deliberately waste your time 

A facilities management firm's PR manager says journalists don't get why answers often can't be immediate.

10 - PRs don’t really read the news

"Journalists sometimes get the impression that PR pros are too client-centric to have a grasp of the news, but PRs that don’t follow the news agenda probably aren't very good PRs, and in my experience, they are few and far between. I know that plenty of firms require staff to spend time each morning reading the papers, looking for opportunities for their clients, and spotting trends."

Robert Smith, senior reporter, PRWeek UK

11 - PR people are only ever gatekeepers

"I'm reminded of a former colleague who advised me to avoid spending much time chatting to PRs because you 'need to spend your time talking to 'real people'' - the 'real people' term suggesting PR pros are middlemen and women who deal in regurgitating other people's information and don't have their own insights. It is short-sighted to write off comms pros as gatekeepers with whom you can only ever have a purely transactional, on-message relationship."

Sam Burne James, news editor, PRWeek

12 - PR people just do what their client says

"If we always did exactly what clients really wanted, all the time, journalists would suffocate under the weight of hyperbole. Yes, there's probably too much pandering to client demands, but the job of a good PR is to help clients understand what will/won’t work for our friends in the media."

Richard Fogg, CEO, CCgroup

13 - PR pros always want volume

Similar to Hargrave's point above that journalists assume PRs are only ringing you because they're trying to hit KPIs, one healthcare-focused comms operator dispells another myth. 

14 - PRs abhor the Ab Fab stereotype

Finally, it comes to the ultimate PR stereotype - that the industry is just as portrayed in Ab Fab. It doesn't really bother that many of the industry - in fact, some people rather enjoy it, sweetie darling.

Read next: 15 things PR pros have been told about journalists but are probably wrong

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