10 things that PRs do that really annoy journalists – part one


Having worked in journalism for many years I have had the genuine pleasure of dealing with PRs who know their clients, understand the broader business landscape, think about what journalists need from them, and know exactly how to deliver that in an intelligent and useful way.

Sadly, I have also dealt with many PRs who have been a right pain in the proverbials.

And I am not alone in this. Ask any journalist what he or she thinks of PRs and the reaction will vary from a slight groan or a rolling of the eyes at best, to a tightening of the jaw and a low growl at worst.

This is a problem. Journalists need good PRs as much as PRs need journalists to write good things about their clients.  The two industries rely on each other, are in many ways just one industry. And yet between the two there remains a simmering enmity, an ingrained lack  of trust, and a profoundly damaging lack of understanding.

So, here is my contribution to this ongoing debate – a list (to be  revealed over the coming weeks) of the top ten things that PRs do to really annoy journalists. I look forward to your feedback!

NUMBER ONE: Expect us to operate as a free media monitoring service

When I first started out as a freelance journalist I did my best to respond to all these queries. When a PR called up or e-mailed and asked if the article including his or her client’s comments had been published yet, I faithfully went through my clippings, dug it out and e-mailed it over.

Then, as I got more and more work, I found I was doing more and more of this.  Eventually I got to the point where I spent an entire day doing nothing other than this. At the end of the day I sat down and reflected on the fact that I had been working as an unpaid media monitoring service for all these PRs.

I was not happy.

So, now I try to get hold of articles and post them on my site as PDFs or links. I even e-mail them out to PRs in a newsletter that you can sign up to here: http://www.alex-blyth.co.uk. And when PRs call or e-mail me asking if the article including his or her client’s comments has been published yet I ignore them.

I’m sorry to have to be this, because I do understand that PRs need to show cuttings to their clients to justify their fees, and I am genuinely grateful to all those PRs who provide me with helpful interviews, quotes and information for my articles. But, at the end of the day I’m not a cuttings service. If any PR needs a reference to one I’ll happily provide it, but they shouldn’t expect me to do it for them.

In defence of the industry I will add that most people from reputable PR agencies, when I grumble about this, look surprised that anyone in their field would do this. They advise me to have no truck with it, as the PRs who are doing it should be paying media monitoring agencies to do this.

But it still happens too often. It annoys journalists and it damages the relationship between PRs and journalists.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “10 things that PRs do that really annoy journalists – part one

  1. I totally agree that the PRs themselves should be searching for the cuttings if they know that a comment has been used or an interview given. However, in some cases I’ll put a spokesperson forward and often submit a proposed comment (if a synopsis has been available). I will then usually not hear anything back – on occasion the comment gets used and, more often it doesn’t, but I rarely get told either way what is going on. I have to then go back to the journalist to ask what, if anything, is being used. Whilst I hope this doesn’t annoy anyone should I in future assume that if I hear nothing then it means that my submission hasn’t been of interest? Or should journalists make a habit of letting PR’s know if they’re included and when to look out for the coverage?

    • Thanks for your comment, Steph – I don’t really like PRs asking me if these comments have been used. It’s no different to asking if quotes from an interview have been used: I don’t know until I write the article, and once I have written the article I don’t have time to go back to everyone and let them know that I’ve used their comments. I’m sorry if this seems harsh, but it really would take a long time to provide this sort of feedback to everyone who puts forward comments, and, as Louisa has just pointed out, I do assume that if a company/PR wants to be in a publication they subscribe to it and are reading it, so will come across the coverage anyway.

  2. Celia Dixon

    I didn’t know that an ‘ask journalist’s to send the clippings over’ service was available? Gosh that would have saved me a packet in NLA, CLA and Durrants fees!

  3. I too agree that this must be incredibly frustrating. I would hope that if a client has a need to be in a certain title they or the agency would subscribe to that title and be able to cut the piece themseleves. Furthermore, surely PRs should know when the piece is scheduled as part of the submission process and can keep track of it on the update report. I have to admit though once or twice I have asked for a PDF version of an article, but from the editor, never a freelancer as on occassion montitoring agencies do miss cuttings.

  4. Christina Holm

    I think this is an interesting debate and as already mentioned, most of us seem to agree that PRs and journalists need each other. However, I have by now read countless articles by journalists who list things they don’t like about PRs. I completely understand the frustration but is it not just part of the job and the industry in which we operate? I am sure a lot of PR professionals could write similar lists but quite frankly haven’t got the time and it would probably also just backfire.

  5. Hi Christina – thanks for entering the debate. I agree that this is not the first such list. I would only point out that there are clearly not enough of them as PRs are still making these mistakes!

    For example, just a few minutes ago I had a PR calling me up asking if I’d used the comments for an article in The Sales Professional. That’s an online publication, so is it not simpler all round for the PR to go and look on the site? Or doesn’t the PR read it? Does the PR even know where to find it? If so, why are they even trying to get their client coverage there? It’s an example of fourth rate, churn-it-out-and-fire-off-the-invoices PR that gives the entire industry a bad name.

    I agree that PRs could write similar lists about journalists. Please feel free to do so! I’m only taking the time to share my opinions in this way because I believe the two industries could work more effectively together for the benefit of all involved – I hope it’s useful.

  6. Christina Holm

    Hi Alex

    First of all I completely agree with your points above. Those who churn out poor copy based on non stories and then get the work experience kid to issue it to every regional rag across the country are giving the industry a bad name.

    However, I think I need to put things in a bit of perspective. Many journalists complain that PRs don’t read their magazine but do they appreciate how many publications we might be involved with on a regular basis? To highlight but a few, this week alone I have written material for the HR, Business, Insurance, Construction, and Healthcare trade media in addition to the key regional titles that we work with on a weekly basis. Are you suggesting that I subscribe to all the leading publications in each of these industries and read them cover to cover on a weekly basis? If only I had the time but reality is that PRs are just as busy as journalists and trying to balance ‘getting to know the media’ with ‘getting the work done’ is a constant balancing act. How many journalists can honestly say that they read even their closest competitors each week?

    This industry is full of what others might call ‘unreasonable requests’. I have lost count of the number of times a journalist has phoned me up asking for some written comments (which increasingly seems to be the norm as it saves them time) or an article with less than a day’s notice. I don’t mind at all because it is my job and I appreciate any opportunity to get my clients in the media. I also have good relationships with many of those who ask for last-minute copy and I know that they are often short staffed and under pressure to fill the pages.

    So my point in; appreciation of the challenges and pressures both sides face in their day to day work is the way forward. If PRs keep doing the same things and asking the same questions, maybe there is a reason?

  7. I have to admit that not so long ago I was one of the eye-rolling journalist Alex refers to, and I had a list of PR bugbears as long as my arm.

    But having recently made a career change into PR I have to say that I think journalists may be unduly harsh on PR’s.

    Alex, I do agree with most of your points and I certainly don’t think this post carries the same snarky, condescending tone that some other ’10 things I hate about PR’ posts do.

    But journalists – and I was no different when I was a journo – really have far too little understanding of what PR’s are up against in a day.
    I feel that I am now in a privileged position now, having seen what happens on both sides.

    I have experienced some awful PR’s in my time as a journalist, but since changing career I’ve also seen some bad examples of journalists too.

    Truth is, as Alex points out, PR’s and Journalists are not so different – there are good ones and bad ones. Whichever they are, people in both professions are overstretched, under massive amounts of pressure and have deadlines and targets to meet.

    I have to agree with Christina, we both need each other and if we’re ever going to find a good working balance we need to stop sniping and learn to appreciate the challenges and pressures that one another are facing.

  8. Pingback: Ten things PRs do that really annoy journalists – part seven « AB Words Blog

  9. Gerry

    Alex

    I have a lot of sympathy for the idea that a journalist should not be a free cuttings service.
    Sadly, clients don’t always want (or can’t afford) to pay c£1200 pa to subscribe to a monitoring service that may deliver perhaps a handful of cuttings a month but they still would like to see the coverage – and he who pays the piper as they say… I suspect when you talk about “reputable” PR companies, you’re probably talking about the larger ones, who probably have clients with bigger budgets and a lot more cuttings. Clients with limited budgets may also not agree to paying for subscriptions to magazines, several of which again can easily top £’00s. So I can understand why some PRs might ask first before buying. I confess to having done so…but always politely, and usually to check before it goes to press.

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