The Two Reasons Journalists Don’t Like PR People

Dear Journalist Friends,

We’re sorry. We hope this is enlightening as to why some PR people act the way they do.

Dear Friends At Brands,

If you don’t know what we’re talking about, you need to read this.

A quick search of Facebook groups, industry scripture, along with Twitter and assorted other forums, will turn up instances where our colleagues, and possibly even ourselves (but doubtful ;-), have rubbed a few of you the wrong way.

And lest we forget that time Chris Anderson from Wired Magazine put some of the biggest PR firms in our world on blast way back when.

Let’s get back to our media industry clickbait-esque headline.

Journalists, do you know the reason you hate (some of) us? 

If we had to read your mind, it would be the nauseating amount of irrelevant pitches you receive and the annoying follow-up calls that come five minutes after we send them are likely culprits.

But do you know why we actually do this?

There are two main reasons PR people push too hard, often in the wrong direction, when it comes to dealing with journalists. It’s a systemic issue that many firms won’t want to address.

Reason 1: PR plans are developed and pitched to clients by senior agency leadership teams who are out of touch

The senior ranks of many agencies are led by people who no longer engage directly in media relations, resulting in grossly inflated expectations stemming from plans based on archaic thinking. They haven’t reached out to a journalist in years. They’re not in the trenches regularly communicating with our friends on the editorial side.

As a result, plans are developed based on outdated knowledge and experience.

Touchdowns help to win football games, but the style of play has significantly evolved over the years. As an easy example, we’re often told by clients and industry colleagues that <<brand / product / event>> would be perfect for Maxim. They’re usually right…if this were 2001. They haven’t opened the mag or looked at Maxim’s site or magazine in years. Its content has evolved. Are there avenues for the pitch they have in mind? Possibly, but the lack of direct media interaction and knowledge of the current media climate steers plan development in the wrong direction.

A good PR person pushes back on clients and internal stakeholders as appropriate. Despite being experts, when we do push back a bit, the response is often that we must not have strong enough relationships with the media we’re targeting. And if that’s the perception, we could lose the account or our jobs.

While good PR pros know that landing killer media coverage takes a lot more than strong relationships, none of us want to lose our jobs. So we push on and follow orders.

Reason 2: There is a lack of trust in PR teams and understanding of how long it can take for a journalist to show interest, let alone file a story.

That is our only explanation for the following, very common, scenario.

Click for video.

Sometimes agencies are expected to have boiler room-esqueoperations. In addition to update reports, PR firms are often asked by clients to provide call logs for review. This was asked of me at big agencies and later after co-founding Remedy PR. Detailed records of who we contacted, when and their response.

The result of that is intense pressure on the PR agency to tangibly show how our time is spent, even showing how our time is actually spent is not the best use of our time or the budget of our partners.

Do we keep logs? Yes, most agencies do. Some people keep pretty detailed notes. I can tell you where one editor’s significant other went to school, who refs hockey as a passion side-job, and who dislikes a certain feature on a certain type of product.

Our notes aren’t always appropriate to share with our partners, and sometimes we’ll reach out to a journalist about multiple brands, or maintain lists that are relevant to multiple client partners. When that’s the case, if a client wants a call log, we’re often spending extra time drafting something that is specific for them. Not the best use of our time.

And this doesn’t take into account the time spent researching media and refining pitches so they make sense to that Tier-A journalist you want to be interested in your story.

The misunderstanding of how much time things can take is where things take a major turn for the worse, not just for us on the PR side, but you, our friends on the editorial end.

PR people grossly outnumber journalists (6:1 according to some), and some receive hundreds of emails a day, a large part of them irrelevant. These stats get worse when the journalist writes for a high-profile media outlet or is an influencer (define that as you will). This makes it critical for those of us on our side of the desk to follow-up (sorry, we know you hate that) when we have a good pitch for you (we really do!) that may have buried in the previously mentioned hundreds of emails you’re receiving.

Giving a journalist time to get through their inbox and run something through the chain of command doesn’t make for a strong call log for our clients.

Again, the call log doesn’t account for the time we should be spending on strategy, or looking at a journalist’s coverage, tweets, etc., to get a handle for what they could be into in terms of potential story ideas.

We find it strange that many don’t grasp that even a response, let alone action, by a journalist, can take some time.

Most of us probably have friends and family members who may not to respond to a text message or email for days, if not weeks. If it’s not urgent and doesn’t require an immediate response, you probably don’t text someone every other day to check in. That would be annoying.

So why do we expect a journalist to get back to us right away?

Journalists aren’t public servants. They’re not firefighters – waiting and obligated – to rush out when the call comes in.

Unfortunately, the pressure some of us receive to generate these logs is the reason for the incessant follow-up.

If you didn’t get back to us on Tuesday, we need to call you Thursday and email again the following Friday to ask if you received our last email and call. And then we send a DM on Instagram.

So we smile, and dial (or the modern equivalent of that), and log every call for review later.

What’s the fix?

There are ways we can around these issues in PR. There are paths we can take that will get brands and PR teams on the radar of the media, and strengthen the relationships between journalists, PR people, and the brands they represent.

We need to change our thinking a bit, and we’ll get into that soon.

This article was originally posted on MuckRack.

 

 

 

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