Don't Kill PR People --- A Flesh Wound Is Sufficient

Adam Buckman, MediaPost TV columnist and observer of the boob tube business for nearly 40 years, occasionally will rant about the PR folks that reach out to him. According to him, that’s their first mistake. He HATES being “reached out” to. He's also not fond of embargo requests and loathes being asked to “chat” or “grab” coffee.

Despite the TV business being in a whole new world of COVID chaos, Adam chose this week to pick the low-hanging fruit and beat up on PR folks — specially those who ask him to embargo a story. 

This is a byproduct of being regularly published in a major trade journal. Even I get PR pitches simply because I have a byline. (When I am pitched, I ask PR folks to read my column a little more closely and decide if they REALLY want me to mention their client. If you are a regular reader, you know I'm often unkind to those who raise their hands and say, “ME! ME! write about me!”).



For every journalist who writes something positive about their interactions with PR folks, there are 100 others who complain about how lazy and unsophisticated we are.  

And we are. PR tends to be populated by many who have never been reporters or editors and are insensitive about things like deadlines, being first with a story --  and if there's really a story somewhere in their pitch (usually not).

But what angry mob of journalists fail to understand is that PR folks are often at the very bottom of the marketing flow, subject to following orders from above that compromise the integrity of their interactions with reporters.  

If you have been around for a long time and have accrued some internal power, you can fend off those who would have you pitch something of entirely no interest to reporters.  But more often, PR minions -- especially those at the execution level -- are forced to distribute what someone in marketing thinks is a good story (and is instead utterly self-serving). 

Think of it this way. The general tells the colonel a remarkably stupid strategy. The colonel protests, but knows it is his duty to execute. He calls in his junior-grade officers and tells them the plan.  They roll their eyes and agree to follow the chain of command.  Meanwhile, the kids in the trenches, who have nothing to say about it, are the ones who will get blown to bits.

There is a perception among many in management that PR is more about, “buy them a steak dinner...” than earning respect by being careful how and what you communicate to reporters and editors. Those who are most successful are honest, quick to respond with the right facts -- and, most importantly, staunch defenders that the client ONLY communicate news (versus promotion).

I suppose it’s unprofessional to put a note in with the release that says, “Look, I know this is bullshit, you know it, but my continued employment depends on convincing you to give it a mention. I apologize and ask for your continued indulgence since I will have to darken your door at times in the future with similar crap.”  In fact, editors would love this approach.

Having interacted with editors for nearly 50 years, I can assure you they have their own set of failings that would make great column fodder.  But we are a nation of human beings -- and part of that is being helpful and forgiving when the “other guy” makes a mistake.  For every pet peeve a journalist has against PR folks, I have five that I could label as lapses in professionalism by reporters, some of them at the very top of the food chain.

Finally, there is much truth in Adam’s rants, and smart PR folks will pay attention and learn.  Meanwhile, journalists who complain might want to reflect on how many of their ideas and stories came from PR folks -- and concede that as flawed as the system (and profession) may be, it can be remarkably effective.

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