Sometimes journalists wonder why PRs are so closed and protective of their client. Why PRs are private and controlling of every word that comes out from a company, organisation, public body or celebrity. PRs are on occasions not seen in good light, often a hindrance to a journalists job of getting news. Journalists complain that we spin, counter-spin, deceive them, etc, etc, etc. And on many occasions their complains often ring true, because above all the job of a PR is to promote and protect. Sounds simple, but it sure isn’t. Years back we were told that it was the people that were in the address book of a PR that made a PR great, rather that the brain that ‘lied’ on their shoulders. Effective communication is an art. Only today Max Clifford was quoted in The Times in a feature about Tom Cruise about how Cruise’s biggest mistake was sacking his publicist, the respected [Pat] Kingsley. Clifford is quoted as saying: “Protection is the most important thing in PR. He’s been too public about Scientology. He can turn things around because he’s still popular. It’s when you start to disappear from the centre stage that it gets difficult.”
And with regards to who you know it is the people you know as a PR that help. Very much like the people you know if you are a journalist and you want a story, it is the who you know and what you can do for them. And sometimes it’s the who you know and what you can do for PRs that set up opportunities for the future. But sadly, it is opportunities for the future that sometimes get missed by journalists. Let me share with you an anonymous experience.
A client asks to contact a number of people and carry out some research to find out what these targeted people think of them. A very worthwhile and proactive job for any company or individual. The project is very much a case of finding information out and then feeding it back to the client, warts an all.
So we get a list of names and start trying to set up meetings to carry out the survey, making sure that these take place at their convenience. On the list though there is a journalists from a top-tier title. Knowing how they work and the fact that they have daily deadlines to meet you plan your approach, or pitch, carefully, ensuring that we offer them the opportunity to take part at their convenience. Now, like with anybody we approach, pitching any story we PRs know that said journalist can always say no. They can tell tell you that they are not interested. In fact, we generally know that if we don’t know them or never given them anything then we have to know when to call them and that we have 60 seconds to pitch them a story, giving them enough time to consider if their News Editor would be interested. On this project though, there might be news or there might not be.
Anyhow, we approach journalist ‘A’, leave a message and send an email. No response. So we follow up on the phone, go through the routine, always being courteous, and flexible. Journalist ‘A’ tells us quite abruptly to send them an email, which is fair enough. So we do just that.
Now in most cases, if a journalist is not interested then they do one of two things, ignore you or reply and say, “thanks, but I don’t have the time.” Both of which is fair enough. They might come back and say, “Hmmm, if I take part, can I have a copy of the report? Will it be available to the public? There might be a story here, would you pass this on to me?” In effect, you look for opportunities to develop working relationships, all of which taking 5 minutes.
Having said the obvious, on other occasions PRs receive a reply, which on one specific occasion read like this:
“Are you serious? This is research that will be of absolutely no benefit to me, so you're asking me to do this purely as a favour, and you're proposing to take up 45 minutes of my time. Do you have any conception of how busy I am? I will give you 5 to 10 mins on the phone at the absolute outside but you must be absolutely mad if you think I'd agree to any more than that.”
So, there are ways of saying no and there is the above. If journalists wonder why PRs treat journalists with disdain an caution, then know you know. It really is a case that while certain doors open, PRs also have the ability to keep certain doors closed, knowing full well that journalists ‘A’ would try to circumvent PRs to get stories, quotes, etc, etc, etc.
And if you want to say thing with ease, then remember Nancy Regan phrase and “just say no!”