Public relations must understand the world of journalism

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying one of our not-for-profit client’s Naomi Steer from Australia for UNHCR into the Channel Ten studio as part of the launch for a world-first education initiative called Here & There. It’s not every day you get to see the inner workings of a live television studio but it’s always fascinating to see what happens behind the TV screens.

That sort of experience is invaluable as a PR practitioner as it helps you understand how things work on the other side.  When it comes to media relations, and providing relevant content for reporters, our role is to understand how to package content, know who will be most interested in it, and how to get it to them.  Otherwise, we’re missing a trick.

And this doesn’t just relate to TV.  Who’s ever been inside a newspaper office, or sat in a radio studio at some point learning how live interviews happen?  This sort of exposure is vital to our proficiency in the public relations profession.

I was talking with good friend and fellow PRINKer Scott Rhodie recently about this matter.  As a professional who came through the ranks of journalism at London’s The Sun, a number of public relations firms, and now digital strategy, Scott is a guy who understands all sides of, over and under the fence of the communications world.

His main concern about practitioners today is that they simply don’t get it.  If we spend all day at our desk or on the phone, how will we ever know what our journalist counterparts are going through when we pick up the phone to discuss an idea?  We must, for the benefit of our careers and clients, understand how things operate in newsrooms, TV studios and radio station hallways.

Almost two years ago, that was the very premise behind setting up PRINKS: connecting with other like-minded communications professionals hoping to learn more about all sides of comms, not just PR.  A chance to chat and see how the world works through their eyes.

I love the fact that I’ve made some great friends through this group – PRs, journalists, advertisers, digital folk.

But this is only part of the understanding process; a social drink every month or so won’t help you prepare a client for a live radio broadcast.  What it will do is help you to think differently.

There is a world outside client work and it’s one that you should take the time to learn and discover.  By understanding the processes and intricacies, not just content, of media – that is what will separate you from other enthusiastic practitioners.

8 Responses to “Public relations must understand the world of journalism”
  1. Hao Nguyen says:

    Hey Roger,

    Totally agree with you here.

    I think understanding journalism is one of the most important aspects of the PR profession. I mean, there are so many similarities between the two of them, and they deal with each other on a daily basis that I think it’s critical.

    I reckon it would be great if everybody in the PR industry, whether you’re a student or manager, could spend a couple of weeks inside a newsroom just to get some insight into how journalists operate.

    What do you think?



  2. Iain Hopkins says:

    Very valid points. It’s much easier to learn from an experience than from theory or from a distance (as you might dealing with someone over the phone). I always encourage the PR people I deal with to at least ‘put it out there’ that you would like to meet the journalist face to face. Yes, you’ll get some knockbacks and claims of ‘I’m too busy’, but I believe it provides a much more sound insight into how they operate, even if you don’t meet them on their turf – in their office, in their studio or whatever.

    The good thing about PRINKS – in all its forums – is that it does open up exposure to ‘the other side’. It’s a good environment to ask questions. I’ve encouraged my intern to come along to the next event because she’s unsure if she wants a career as a journalist or in PR. Meeting some PR people face to face might point her in the right direction.

  3. Hao, you’re spot on. If we all had the opportunity to spend a bit of time seeing how the media operates I’m sure we’d be better practitioners. I suppose the question then is, should this be part of tertiary education for both PR and journalism, or is it something that needs to be learned on the job once you have some experience under the belt?

    I was reading a post the other day about journalism students coming into PR lectures and spending the first few weeks getting the ‘PR is spin’ attitude out of their minds and opening up to the working relationship these two professions share. I wonder if, from a student level, universities could take the lead on this?


    • Hao Nguyen says:

      I think for people who are already working in PR, it might be a little harder to just stop what they’re doing and jump into the journalism field for while.

      But for those students looking for internships while studying, it would be great if they looked outside PR agencies and maybe did some work with their local newspaper. I’m actually thinking about doing that, even if for couple of weeks or so.

  4. Absolutely, Iain. The more exposure each industry has to the other, the more likely we are to break through that professional barrier that ‘seems’ to exist. Both sides could learn so much from regular conversation and even heated debate about how they do and should operate.

    Makes you wonder where the division came from in the first place?!


  5. Scott Rhodie says:

    Hey Roger,

    Thanks for the praise. Not sure if it is deserved but I think having been on both sides it really helps you see a lot better.
    When I was a journalist there were days (especially ‘event’ days like Mother’s Day etc) where you would literally be bombarded by press releases then by the dreaded ‘follow-up’ call to see if I got the email. I have yet to meet a journalist who has thanked a PR person for calling them about the release.
    However I have met so many PR people who claim they have had loads of journalists thank them for the ‘follow-up’ call. Weird that.
    PR professionals need to release how tough it is working on a news desk, dealing with incredibly tight deadlines and having calls all day from PR people who don’t have a clue what you do or what you write about. On the flip side of this are the amazing PR people who get it and who build up relationships with journalists. They are worth every penny.


  6. Luke O'Neill says:

    Good piece, Roger.

    The single piece of advice I would give (as someone who has also worked on both sides of the fence) is: be direct when dealing with journalists.

    Long emails are not our friends. One to three lines suffice.

    I love the PR people who email to say:

    “I’ve got interview time with X, on Monday day for 10 minutes. Are you interested? Let me know.”

    Also, Scott’s point about newsdesk journalists is important. We’re under a lot of pressure so ill-judged phone calls or off-topic emails can be really unhelpful.

    We essentially ‘steer’ our news organisation’s output, vetting copy, and managing the news diary, all the while keeping across breaking news. Don’t be the iceberg in our way.


  7. Jared Hughes says:

    Public relations is great career/major. I just read this article on this new cool website check it out:

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