Anthony Hilton: Too few PROs are of use to journos

One of my most enjoyable public speaking engagements over the years has been as a member of the team of journalists put together by Nick Van Zanten for his ‘Meet the Press’ series. This began in 1984 and has run every year since.

He runs many courses and the demand for the more advanced continues to be strong. But attendance has dwindled at more simple seminars – where journalists from print, radio and TV explain to relatively inexperienced PR executives how the press work, what the press want, how best to  form good working relationships with journalists, and how to supply them with usable material.

Van Zanten believes the dwindling demand reflects the changing nature of today's PR professional. When these courses began, almost no one read media studies at university, whereas today it sometimes seems as if everyone does. It was common for the PR function in companies to be filled by someone from another department, and that made it relatively easy for him or her to justify going on a course.

These days, most new PR people have a degree in media studies, or indeed PR, and it is therefore much harder for them to go on a course to find out how to do their job. Their degree is supposed to have told them that. It hasn't, of course – which is probably why the more that PROs proliferate, the harder it is to find one who really understands where journalists are coming from.

There are many highly skilled people though, and there are constraints on those, in the financial sector in particular, who have to tread carefully so as not to fall foul of the insider-dealing and market-abuse rules. The best know how to work within these constraints. But the best are few and it is getting to the point in the corporate world where PROs give the impression of knowing almost nothing about the business they represent or of what makes a credible story.

And so any request for background information results in yet another reading of the press release that was the source of the confusion. It reminds me of Gordon Brown's consultations.

If any one objects to a proposal he explains it again; other than that he doesn't budge.

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