A Wake-Up Call for the PR Industry, or an Unwarranted Attack?


This is a must read for anyone in PR.

Are you still working in a company where they try and measure publicity success by how many media releases you produced?

Last week this practice came under fire and damaged the reputation of PR practitioners around the Globe, after Chris Anderson, the executive editor of Wired magazine, chided “lazy flacks” who deluge him with news releases “because they can’t be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they’re pitching.”

“I’ve had it,” Mr. Anderson wrote on his blog on Oct. 29. “I get more than 300 e-mails a day and my problem isn’t spam. … it’s P.R. people.”

After picking the fight, he then made it personal, posting the addresses of 329 unsolicited e-mail messages he had received and telling the senders that he had permanently blocked them.

The list included people from some of the leading public relations firms who, in Mr. Anderson’s view, should have known better: Edelman, 5W Public Relations, Fleishman-Hillard, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and Weber Shandwick. Beyond the public shaming, they soon received unwelcome e-mail themselves because computer programs called spam bots collect addresses from Web sites, which pleased Mr. Anderson, who wrote, “turnabout is fair play.”

It hardly seemed fair to others, though. Susan S. Bratton, chief executive of Personal Life Media, an ad network of Internet programs, commented on the blog that it was “appalling” to list addresses and called the post “mean-spirited.”

Anderson’s view have elicited some serious comment. See some of the replies in this article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/05/technology/05flacks.html?

In a message on a list someone wrote that he was surprised to read this article and to read how many people in
our industry still blindly send out press releases. "I thought that was PR 101- know who your targeting and make sure you target your pitch to the reporter".

That is the problem with the Basics. Most people tend to forget what they learned in 101 until it is too late.

Maybe it is the culture of the PR Industry, maybe it is the delivery pressure or maybe it is just laziness.Or perhaps the focus is all wrong.

Years ago when I was doing R & D into media stakeholder relations, I discovered a number of important truths.(One of my  interests is in advising companies on how to improve relationships with the Media (in fact all stakeholders) with the aim of developing a prime reputation).

For instance, Media inquiries, whether crisis-related or routine, are an outstanding opportunity for companies to manage the most important asset they have — their corporate reputation. However media relations need to be seen in a context. That context involves understanding the rules of the game and of engagement.

I always like start with the end purpose in mind (ala Covey). What is the end purpose in Media Relations? It is to convey messages to targeted audiences, for example – voters – messages, whose purpose is to advance your organisation’s goals, raise its profile, and uphold its reputation. This means that Journalists becomes a means to an end and are only conduits or tools. This means that the focus of Media relations is about creating an ongoing dialogue between a news outlet and your spokespeople in an effort to have you or your company discussed in a positive light, in public, through a publication or broadcast.

In order to this you need to focus on creating relationships with media people. But before you can create a relationship you need to understand the rules of the game. You need to know the rules of the game, because if you do not you may be caught out by not understanding the law, customs, conventions and standard operating procedures relating to the media. It means that you need to know how they operate and approach their job.

That knowledge in turn will shape your attitude towards journalists and editors. For instance if you distrust and dislike journalists, it will generally show and affect your dealings with the media.

I think that the media in general sees themselves as a ‘watchdog’ against big business and institutions. For example many major institutions have systems for communicating information. The entire advertising industry exists for the sole purpose of communicating good news and propaganda about products, services, companies, organisations and even organisations. You hardly see a press advertisement or a TV commercial telling the public what is wrong with a product or what a company failed to do. Why?

In an environment where the public is bombarded with information from advertising, public relations sources, organisation information units, ‘spin doctors’ in industry and professional associations, lobbyists and so on, journalists and editors believe that they must provide a balance by consciously and aggressively searching for the bad news. They see themselves as devil advocates, standing guard for right and truth. If you understand that you will understand how they view their jobs, and you can then find ways to make their job easy.

For example – by becoming a trusted resource you put money in the reputation bank for the future.

Too often I see people focusing on how wrong the media is, etc… Perhaps by focusing on the end purpose, there will be better clarity. In one organisation the management team was of the opinion that it was not their job to make it easy for the Media to report on them. Through work shopping and working with them I was able to get them to realise that the principles of negotiation also applies to media relations. That the focus should be on win-win, and not win-lose!

Once they had the knowledge and understanding it was easier to persuade them to see the use of the media as an opportunity and not a bind.

I hope that PR practitioners will understand this subtle difference.

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