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Media relations and PR: why oh why?

21 Sep

Stephen Waddington suggests that online searches are more valuable than press coverage as a promotional tool, so the PR business should change gear.

This reality, alas, hasn’t sunk into the UK PR industry yet, which still regards hard copy coverage as delivering the best value to clients when in reality web hits and increased search engine optimisation (SEO) is the way forward.

Andrew Smith adds a commentary on this, attacking the industry focus on news releases.

Given that no one could argue in favour of unproductive, wasteful PR tactics, the question must be asked why media relations retains such a prominent place in the PR toolkit in our disintermediated, Web 2.0 world. Here are some suggestions:

  • Media relations is the principal service that clients hire PR consultancies to provide, so there’s continued pressure on them to deliver ink and measure the thickness of cuttings. (In other words, there’s a procurement and client management problem).
  • Expressed another way, no other corporate function (eg marketing, HR, IT) has laid claim to media relations, leaving it unchallenged as a service delivered by PR. Contrast this with the turf wars over ownership of SEO, internal comms, events etc.
  • Given the low barriers to entering the online space, a tipping point is still needed to turn low level blog chatter into high profile campaigns. The traditional media (who also publish online) frequently provides this tipping point – so playing an important part of an online PR campaign.
  • Can so much experience simply be wrong? Just think of these recent campaigns and imagine how they could have reached public consciousness without the media – Apple iPhone, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Find Maddie, Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners campaign.

Relationship or one-night-stand?

31 Aug

Here’s why media relations is not the same as media publicity.

Take a typical scenario. Imagine you’ve surveyed 1,000 people on their attitute to inheritance tax or garden gnomes on behalf of a mortgage supplier or estate agent. It’s still August and your findings have made it into the pages of a national newspaper or onto a broadcast news bulletin. Great. Except for one thing: there was no mention of the mortgage supplier or estate agent in the news report. Your boss or client is not happy.

Hit or miss? As a piece of ‘free advertising’ it’s clearly a failure. But what about this as a piece of media relations? It suggests that your news release was newsworthy and that your targeting had some success. It also gives you an opening to go back to that reporter – not to recriminate, but to offer further relevant stories in future.

Here’s another consideration. Given the rate of churn in our industry, your relationship with that reporter will possibly be longer-lasting than your relationship with your client or employer. This isn’t an invitation to get sacked, but simply a plea for longer-term thinking to prevail.

UPDATE: For a behind-the-scenes account of how PR surveys are conducted, check out Ben Goldacre writing in the Guardian blog.

The Death Wish of the Press Release

12 Mar

[Please note: This post is a guest contribution from a dissertation student, Kate Talbot.]

Kate_5 Someone once told me that the relationship between journalists and PRs is like an alcoholic who does not know he/she is addicted. I am fond of this metaphor, probably because I am in the PR industry and despite journalists telling us constantly we are an unnecessary intermediary, it allows the PR professional a moment of satisfaction.

I also liken this metaphor to the relationship between a journalist and a press release. It is not uncommon to come across journalists who despise press releases. Come to think of it, there are a few PR practitioners who aren’t that keen either, so why does the press release dominate media relations tactics?

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Good news, bad

21 Feb

‘Why do they always hate us?’
‘It’s not you. They hate everyone.’

This is an abbreviated version of a conversation about the media I must have had with every client and boss in my time in public relations practice.

Any purveyor of ‘good news’ faces similar frustration when banging their head against the wall of media indifference. Is it any easier for charities? It’s even harder according to this report in a supplement on charities with The Guardian today.

Public relationships

17 Sep

The term public relations has been in use for a century. But for all of this time, people have in reality been conducting private relations. Not in the sense of illicit, but rather as discreet relations. Even today, the media can make a big story out of the normal conduct of these discreet relations. Newspapers should beware: public relationships will mean an end of the privileged access to information granted by most organisations to the media.

We are now entering a new era of public relationships. There are public networks such as LinkedIn championed by Simon and Alex, who have both used blogging to build personal-professional networks and advance their careers. And there’s the example of Paull, who is turning his global blogging network into a world tour and then into a new life.

Blessed are the newsmakers

3 Jul

I see my university is advertising for a ‘news officer’ (I’m on leave so I’ve not discussed this with anyone).

I like the title: it acknowledges the importance of news to any organisation, and distinguishes ‘news’ from ‘press’ or ‘media’. A university has to think of many stakeholders and the news media are not necessarily first and foremost among these (though they remain important).

Yet I’m surprised that we’re asking for ‘an energetic, creative journalist’ to fill this vacancy. For one thing, this large university doesn’t train journalists, but it does have a strong reputation for public relations education. A previous postholder had been a local newspaper reporter, but she subsequently graduated from one of our professional PR courses – and is now working in communications management. Shouldn’t we practice what we teach?

Write and wrong

26 Apr

In my previous post and in an earlier article at Forward, I’ve praised those PR students who have used blogs and online networking to further their careers.

There’s another way. One of our students had a letter published in a national newspaper on Monday. The letter criticised the rudeness of employers who don’t reply to application letters. A risky strategy, you’d think, but one that may pay dividends. As a result of the letter, a very high profile organisation has contacted the university to offer this student an interview.

Blogging is a great way to build a network, but the media remains the quickest shortcut to celebrity (or notoriety). Blogging hasn’t killed media relations. Why should it? Television didn’t replace the radio, nor has the internet replaced TV. Students and practitioners simply have more channels to master and a more complex media mix to map out.

For ever and ever. Amen.

23 Apr

It’s good to see Neville, Philip and David are all hard at work on Sunday dissecting John Lloyd’s the truth about spin in the Financial Times. (Me, I’m lightly at work…)

I find it a fair account of the symbiotic relationship between journalists and PR practitioners. And I agree that in a consumer democracy there is in effect a courtroom negotiation involving public relations and journalism in reaching ‘the truth’. (Yet some academics reject the advocacy role of public relations as unethical.)

Truth isn’t always simple and plain (the concept of The Truth is chillingly Orwellian). That’s why I thought Cristina Odone was being naive, and why I think Chris Edwards’s challenge to high-minded PR is unfair.

Faking it

15 Apr

Communications Overtones has a good analysis and debate about the Fake TV News report attacking Video News Releases.

I’ll confess to inconsistency on this. I’ve always shied away from VNRs on the grounds that they’re too packaged, too controlling and too expensive. Yet I have no problems with PR people pitching stories, providing factual background information and opening doors to the media.

Perhaps this is one debate that doesn’t cross the Atlantic so well. In the UK we have historically demanded higher standards of impartiality of our broadcasters than of our press. After a spectacular Greenpeace stunt, the BBC even updated its editorial guidelines to outlaw the uncredited use of VNRs, though this stance has since been softened.

With the growth of multi-channel TV, this is a world we’re about to enter. Brace yourselves.

Odone, oh don’t!

10 Apr

There’s more ink (but little new insight) into Editorial Intelligence in today’s Media Guardian. But Cristina Odone, who sparked this off, has this naive addition to the debate (scroll to ‘The moral of the story’).

Journalists are in the business of exposing the truth, PRs are in the business of twisting it… So no, there is no moral equivalence between journalism and PR.

How superior she must feel – but wait a moment, don’t journalists get paid too? And why does this honourable profession need a Press Complaints Commission (PCC) to investigate its transgressions? I’m not aware of a Public Relations Complaints Commission (PRCC) – though I think it would be worth considering. Only yesterday Peter Preston described Odone’s ‘occasionally febrile way with facts’. Perhaps her judgement is in question too.

UPDATE: Philip Young has written a good, measured post on this matter (he has a foot planted on both sides of this particular divide – which is different from ‘sitting on fence’).