Discouraged and puzzled - that’s how I felt about the results of PR
Week’s recent survey showing that 50 per cent of in-house staff and
almost two thirds of consultancy employees received no structured
Today’s most successful businesses have come to recognise that it is
their people that make a difference. So what is it about the PR industry
that leaves it so wedded to the idea of on-the-job training?
What PR staff really need is a thorough training programme that engages
in the minute detail that is at the heart of our work. PR staff need
strong interpersonal skills, first-class counselling abilities and good
technical skills underpinned by a clear understanding of the needs and
motives of the media.
Only then can they be expected to achieve excellence in the execution of
programmes for their clients by working with imagination and initiative
and striving for continual improvement. And they have got to do all of
this while maintaining a healthy irreverence which will secure the much
needed independence and objectivity that is the hallmark of the best
Judging by the ill-informed response of too many of the interview
candidates I meet - some alarmingly senior - most of the industry still
seems to be living in the vain hope that employees will ’pick up’ on how
the media operates.
Small wonder then that so many PR practitioners are surprised that
journalists are offhand with them. Too few consultants really understand
what is going on and as a result, too many remain oblivious to the fact
they’ve rung up just as a journalist is trying to finish a piece for an
But the problem of timing is not the end of the story. Because the art
of effective story selling is rarely taught in the industry, too many PR
people take their client’s point of view and ignore the journalist’s
need. Poor sales technique undermines many a good story. The PR industry
owes it to its clients - and the media with whom it works - to do
So why don’t PR staff get properly trained in media relations? Every
conversation I’ve had on the subject comes back to cost, but it
Doing a good training job in this area doesn’t have to be expensive.
There are many training activities that employers could and should
Firstly they should offer site visits to newspapers and TV stations so
that PR staff get to know how the media operates, the kind of stories
they’re looking for and the different deadlines they work to. Employers
could also invite journalists to come and give talks, so that staff can
see things from a journalist’s perspective.
Any ex-journalists within consultancies could be used to set up training
sessions where ’inside’ knowledge can be imparted to others, or they
could set up role play ’interview’ sessions, so PR staff can see story
angles from a journalist’s point of view.
Staff should also be made responsible for keeping on top of media
developments, and for spreading learning among their colleagues.
Finally, experienced staff should help newcomers think in pictures and
dig out those all-important examples, case histories and anecdotes from
Training in this most traditional area of the PR profession needs the
most up-to-date techniques - and, if you plan it right, that should mean
more mouth than money.
David Lake is managing director of Countrywide Porter Novelli in