Are we politicians, or are we PRs?

This entire blog post (which I fear will drag on) can be summed up with one observation: my, I have noticed a lot of nepotism in PR lately. I am wondering whether Twitter has increased nepotism in our industry, by giving us the ability to create virtual cliques. We roam in packs, we do. Or it could be that Twitter just makes those packs easier to identify.

This is something that politicians have long been accused of. Nepotism is the easy road – hire those you know, and you know what to expect. But is it in the interests of your constituents? Obama was practically elected on the back of taking the anti-nepotism high road. His book The Audacity of Hope took me about three hours to read, I was so hungry for someone that ‘got this’ after Bush - who recognised the damage and wanted to reverse it. And he's no hypocrite; by appointing Hillary Clinton he let a valuable lesson sink in.

In PR, we tend to give exclusives to journalists we’re friends with. We are more likely to pitch ‘good’ stories to journalists we’re friendly, even chummy with. Increasingly, as journalists cross over to the ‘dark side’ of PR, and as PRs try to make a name for themselves as, ahem, ‘social media experts’, we are not just chums, we’re also business partners.

Is this making nepotism even more prevalent in our industry? What's the real impact? For some, I think it limits the ability to meet our real objective: raising visibility amongst new influencers for our clients.

I raise a specific example: creating a new 'award', and then giving it to yourself. People in other industries would probably find that incredible, but in PR it seems the norm.

Awards aside, editorial is far more important. Yes, PR is all about personal relationships and retaining professional connections. It's more important in some countries than others; the UK being high on this list. But if a PR agency simply gives stories to its business partner journalists, and the journalists tell people in the market this PR agency is the best at what it does, is that PR agency really achieving anything other than slapping itself on its own back? What do the clients get out of this situation?

When you ask people in the media scene their views on ‘key influencers’ the list is sometimes so nepotistic, it makes me feel queasy.

PR gurus – do you have a formula for avoiding this? How do you ensure your pitching is democratic enough? There are plenty of agencies out there that aren’t guilty of being overly-nepotistic. How do you ensure you’re not, as social media blurs the lines between PR and journalism?

I appreciate any thoughts on this matter and I’m not pretending I have all the answers. I just try to always meet new people to pitch and I try to spread the love of exclusives around as best I can. My first priority with granting exclusives is the audience of the publication, not who I know and like, because after all, serving my clients has to be my first priority. Is there another way?


  1. A very interesting post – although I fear you may be thrown out of the PR ‘magic circle’!

    Yes, there are closed cliques of PR types and journalists – but I believe the world is changing. Dare I mention social media/social networks? The very reason I ventured onto Twitter, some time before all the hype, was to ‘listen in’ on local journalists and other PR folk. Unless their updates are protected, these people are actually having conversations in public.

    Then there’s the reason I first started a blog. A local journalist in Birmingham suggested that if I ‘blogged’ a press release, complete with links to additional sources of information, I would not only be providing them with a better service, but they’d have transparency as to where they got their story from – and couldn’t be accused of being part of the old boys network!

    Maybe they’re a rare breed – but this mentality has certainly taken them to higher places.

    Of course, once a PR person ventures seriously into the world of social media/social networks, they might discover that their old ‘special friends’ on the paper aren’t quite as vital to get a message to the right audience as they used to be. Social media gives you the opportunity to go direct to the relevant audience…cutting out the middle man. Yes, there’s that whole third party endorsement thing of appearing in newsprint, but you can get that through links/referrals in these new networks. If a valued friend points you to a story, or a respected leader in a particular field links to, or distributes a news item, could that actually be a more powerful endorsement than newsprint?

    It’s a whole new world of relationship building, away from the comparatively easy world of calling up your mate on the paper. It will truly put the “relations” back into PR, which in many cases has come to mean just “Press relations”. Indeed, many management folk think that press cuttings = success, with lesser PR types delivering cuttings by the ton, with scant regard for actually reaching the right audience with the right message.

    However, I don’t wish to sound like a tech-centric upstart. The traditional media set still reach huge audiences and are likely to for the foreseeable future - despite all the predictions of doom. Personally I think they’d all do well to bring the PR/journalist relationship out into the open – as with my first social media PR experiment. There’s credibility to be gained in openness – and both sides need that.

  2. agreed on openness. it brings the conversation out in the open with a medium that all PRs would do well to learn from - getting to the point (nothing like just 140 characters with which to do it to focus the mind).

    The problem comes when self-congratulatory groups club together. I believe that if you're saying something salient on Twitter, people will listen regardless of who you are. It's about Twittering smarter, not harder..

  3. I think it's a really interesting viewpoint that social media tools provide further openness and that it's good for both sides. I agree and perhaps missed that in my first post. I think the openness reveals a lot about the mechanism of how PR works. Let the debate continue...