PRs & journos – “Never the twain shall meet”

My very first inkling of PR and their role in the lives of print journalists came when I was a sub-editor. I was a sub who wanted to write: it’s a sorry tale that I’ll not bore you with here. Anyway, despite the secluded lives that many subs seem to lead (and love) I did have friends in the editorial team, and many of them were journalists.

I could hear one particular journo friend on the phone constantly. Or more correctly, I’d hear muffled words and then a sharp crack as the phone was slammed down. Then there might be something more audible, usually along the lines of: “Bloody PR!”

Of course, it wasn’t until I reinvented myself (read: was the last man standing) and became a journalist that I fully understood what was going on. I’ve also since discovered the long-simmering animosity between journos and PR. I’m sure there has been plenty of mutual verbal bashing of the opposing team over Friday drinks for many years.

This is something I personally do not understand: in many ways journalists could not do their job without solid support from PR reps; and PR reps need to build meaningful relationships with editorial staff in order to get their clients out to the wider world. Surely in an ideal world it’s a win-win relationship?

Of course, it’s not an ideal world. Don’t get me wrong, I deal with highly competent PR reps every day, and they make my life so much easier.

At the same time, I’ve got some clue as to why journos get annoyed. My thoughts on this are nothing radically different to what countless other, better qualified people than me have said on this topic before.

However, in the interests of venting, and losing many of my PR friends, here are my top five complaints. Let’s play a game – PR professionals can score themselves as indicated below:

 1.      The follow-up call. I understand this may just be ‘following orders from above’, and I know that it’s possible (not probable but possible) that emails can accidently slip into ‘the great unread’. But really, is there an absolute need to follow up every email with a call? Last time I checked my inbox was working fine, and I was able to read and comprehend the media release. I also have full functionality in my typing hand and my dialling hand, so there’s a good chance I’ll be in touch if it strikes my fancy (give yourself 10 points for each time you’ve done this today)

2.      The ‘exclusive’ interview that somehow also manages to end up as the lead story for the competing publication (give yourself 10 points, plus an extra 10 if you managed to get the name of the wrong/competing publication in the subject field of the email)

3.      Not knowing the publication. Surely this is step number one for any budding PR person? Yet you’d be surprised how many people have precisely zero knowledge of the content, deadlines, or anything really to do with my publication (10 points for a totally irrelevant email. 20 bonus points for a follow-up phone chat about that email)

4.      “Oh my goodness! The senior vice president chief executive of A Very Big Company is flying into town, like, tomorrow, and we wondered if you’d like to do an exclusive [there’s that word again] with that person? He can talk about globalisation, outsperting and more!” (10 points; plus an extra 5 if you can drop outsperting into a conversation while keeping a straight face)

5.      ‘Hope this wets your whistle…’ – usually this accompanies a lame media release. OK, this is a minor quibble and secretly I love it. It sounds somehow…dirty. Actually, my whistle is bone dry but thanks for asking. How’s your whistle? (40 points – love it)


{0-20 points – you truly are a PR maestro, and you rock}

{30-50 points – I still like you, as if you care}

{60-90 points – I like you a little less, but if you buy me a drink all is forgiven}

{100+ points – I may shoot you on sight}

I know what you’re thinking. Where does this guy get off? To prove there are no hard feelings I present the following miraculous insights into the mind of a journalist. Consider these tips and the world will be a better place

What the journo says… What the journo actually means…
“Thanks for your media release. I’ve saved it for future reference” “Thanks for your media release. Unless I contact you almost immediately, you can guarantee that this has slipped into the black hole otherwise known as my inbox”
“I’m just a little busy right now, I’ll get back to you next week” “I have to write 12,000 words by 5pm. It’s now 3.45pm. Apart from that, life is great. PS – you’ll never hear from me ever again”
“Hmmm, I’m not sure if that would fit in with the theme we have in the magazine” “I love your scattergun approach – the vain hope that something will stick, somewhere. Unfortunately a story on the latest lemon detox diet isn’t something I can put into my magazine for HR professionals…ever.”
“I’d love to attend but unfortunately I have a deadline that day”* “A breakfast function at 7am? I don’t think so…”
“I’d love to attend your cocktail party” “I’d love to attend your cocktail party – free booze!”
“I’m sorry your client was disappointed with the manner in which he was portrayed” “There’s only so much magic I can pull off from ‘yes/no’ responses. A bit of media training required perhaps? Or a cattle prodder…”

 *note that the deadline excuse will be thrown around an awful lot. Sometimes there might be multiple deadlines in one day, even if in reality the one and only deadline is a month off. It’s a powerful but overused weapon in the armoury of the journalist and editor.

Without getting you, me (or us) sued, tell PRinks your most amusing PR-journo related debacle.

By Iain Hopkins, Human Capital editor

4 Responses to “PRs & journos – “Never the twain shall meet””
  1. Dylan Malloch says:

    My anecdote is:

    I was speaking the editor of some HR publication… Humanitarian Capitalisation I think its name was, and the magazine’s Editor, Iron Hapkins was so rude and so arrog…. wait a minute…what do you mean everyone can read this?

    • Iain Hopkins says:

      Yes Dylan, I’ve heard a lot about that Iron Hapkins. What a tough customer he is. I’d be shaking in my boots if I had to contact him about a media release. He’s just so…..scary.

      I pity the fool who has to call him next.

  2. Sue says:

    I’m glad to read this as I’ve been struggling with PRs lately. I’m a journalist and head of a section on a national magazine. When I write I like to include products and services that might be of interest to our readers so I have a lot of contact from PRs who send me releases and samples. The weird thing is, even though a PR is paid by a client to get publicity for their product and even though I am the person that they need to do their job, generally they are rude to me and they expect instant replies to their emails and badly targeted press releases. And if I don’t return their samples within 24 hours of a photo shoot at my own cost, they send me frosty emails with legal threats, even though I have exposed their products to hundreds of thousands of people.

    I don’t need to put any products and services in my pages and I’m feeling increasingly baffled by this strange attitude that I’m getting from PRs who obviously hold me in contempt, even when I’m totally warm and polite with them.

    I’m sorry but I’m finding increasingly that most PRs don’t do their jobs properly and arrogance, superiority and snobbery seem to be the qualifications needed to get into PR. None of this fits in with the situation at all and I just don’t understand what’s going on.

    This has become so bad that I am about to hold a conference with my staff to find alternative ways to get products and services into our publication without having to deal with PRs, bypassing them altogether. If I can’t do this, I’m thinking of stopping free advertising altogether.

  3. Lou D says:

    Again, your transparency into your world has me in stitches! The strange thing, is that while I know all of what you’ve pointed out exists, I can honestly say I have never committed a single crime.. aside from the last one about wet or dry whistles.. and largely that’s down to the type of client we’re working with! The more difficult they are, the more wet or dry the whistle gets!

    And Sue, your comment about PR struggles – can I apologise on behalf of our race? We should probably call our agency “Bend Over Backwards PR” instead of Rockstar PR! We’re not rude to anyone, let alone editors and journos who give us a commercial existence! So, while we are based in New Zealand, if you need anything from us, give me a shout.

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