Do PRs actually listen to journalists?

It’s quite interesting to work on both sides of the journalist/PR fence as I do, coupling my PR and social media work with writing for New Media Knowledge. I have to say that in my experience many typical PR approaches don’t seem to have changed all that much since 2000, when I was writing for the now defunct IT Week magazine. The platforms may have changed, but have the quality of pitches?

Journalists continue to rant about poor quality PR pitches, something I’ve blogged on before ad nauseum, so one has to wonder what effect endless PR degrees and expensive staff media training courses from former hacks have actually had on the PR industry. Or is it just a bad bunch of ostriches which have ignored advice and rants from those who should know but still continue to plough on in the old skool mode?

This podcast I recorded with freelance journalist Gordon Kelly for my new DIY marketing, PR and digital media resource, RunMarketing, should be listened to by all PRs and played to any clients who pressure them into peddling non-stories. By listening to each other we can improve this industry for the overall good of media and news reporting.


  1. There will always be bad PRs just as there will always be bad journalists (as long as the media survives!), just as there will always be tactics that work and tactics that don't work...

  2. I think you guys should also say that there will always be bad industry clients and spokespeople!

    :-) Adrian

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys. There's a Japanese word 'kaizen' (spelling?) which means 'continual improvement' - I think PRs, journalists AND company spokespeople all need to up their game.

    The sooner we see the back of puff like 'integrated solutions' and 'market-leading experts' the better for humankind!

  4. Whenever I'm media training clients I always try to manage their expectations, urge them not to pressure their PRs into flogging non-stories. And whenever I'm training PR operatives I always stress that their value is in consulting with their clients and talking unrealistic wishes down. I have no doubt, though, that when sales start to fall the client is straight back on the PRs' backs...

  5. I think Guy has a good point - clients do sometimes pressure us PRs into selling in non-stories and it is our job as consultants to advise against it. Whether they listen or not is another matter... I have also witnessed agency team leaders tasking more junior members of staff with pushing non-stories or, worse still, following up press releases. How that must aggravate journalists!!! It is often more difficult to negotiate your way out of this, particularly if you're new to the profession. I try to make sure that I only ask my team to sell in stories I would be comfortable doing myself.

  6. I sometimes suspect that larger agencies try to toughen up new execs specifically by getting them to pitch non-stories to irate hacks or call to ask whether we received a release three weeks ago - just to get them used to the hostility. Conspiracy theory from hell, I know.

  7. That's a great theory, Guy, but having worked at several agencies I can tell you there are a number of 'older' (they'd like to think 'more experienced') PR bosses who have not been at the coal face for a while. They might have their old connections who are still there but what about now?

  8. It's just bad management when a more senior team member farms out pitching a shit story to a junior exec, knowing that person can't or won't complain about it. The real shame is that even the most junior execs tend to have a sense for when a story is a pile of shit, but when climbing the career ladder most people tend not to rock the boat. I think bad team management is probably to blame for a lot of the annoying pitches and follow ups that journalists get. The other cause is client pressure, as has been brought up.

  9. I've worked as a junior, normal and senior account exec (read varying levels of tea boy) with Chris at Krappy, then at Bite and Burson and thankfully Guy's conspiracy theory wasn't true (then, at least).

    @Janine / Guy - Yup, clients pressure PRs into flogging pap and there is one consequence - less coverage.

    It's the PR's job to tell the client that a particular story will not get coverage and why; find alternatives and, if that doesn't work, prove themselves right with a weak sell in and tactfully explain that you told them so.

    PRs are paid to get coverage and make the client marketing manager look good - they don't have to do exactly what the client says to achieve that.

    And, clients need to learn that journalists are not paid to write about every press release that comes their way.

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  11. Simple fact is that many clients think they know best and if you don't try to flog their rubbish story, they'll find someone else who will.
    PR agencies need to be strong enough to turn clients down full stop, and be more selective - but that doesn't pay the bills...

  12. Accept the clients and then treat them like mushrooms - keep them in the dark, feed them s**t and they'll grow...

    At the individual level they pay you to make them look good in front of their CEO and get their bonus (as well as helping their business). Seriously - they'd spend more on metrics if it to increase income only. If you get them their bonus then they'll be happy if you don't tell them everything.

    Just repeat - "yes I did it exactly as you said." - and it will all work well.

  13. You all make really good points, and the video Chris and Gordon have made is definitely worth watching.

    I agree it’s a PRO's job to consult, but at the same time, you can only tell a client so many times that their news isn't going to get very far before they think, 'screw this, I'll find someone who does' and thus the agency is sacked off.

    As a PRO you try and get inside the business and find out what is the news that is worth talking about, but for every interesting story, you have to effectively 'play the game' and release stories which are self promoting and only fit, in reality, for the corporate website.

    Sometimes with this type of story it's best to use a wire service and if it’s of interest to a journalist, they will find it, rather than pushing it under their noses / calling them, flogging the somewhat stiff horse that little bit more.

    It’s a Catch 22, but there is a balance that can be found. This balance relies heavily on a strong relationship between the PRO and the client, something not everyone is blessed with in these testing times.