The Economist is wrong about PR

The Economist is wrong about PR

This year marked my sixth year working in a PR company and my eighth year working in the communications industry. In that time, I have learnt many important lessons – from basics, such as what makes a story newsworthy, to how to craft an effective PR strategy for a global brand across multiple countries.

In my belief the most effective PRs understand the news agenda and create campaigns which tap into it – and in the best cases, help shape it.

Perils of PR – do they exist?

It was a little disheartening then to read a piece in The Economist about “the perils of PR”; not only because The Economist is a publication I have enjoyed reading, nor because I work in the industry. My biggest critique was that it underplayed the hugely positive role PR professionals play in getting journalists the access and information they need and want.

The article essentially identified every PR person as falling into one of three categories:

  • the friendly, superficial PRs who get hostile to journalists that ask awkward questions
  • the note takers whose sole aim is to attract as little attention as possible
  • the ones who are useful

While it is impossible to actually distil human beings down in this way, I put that aside and decided to ask myself – which one was I?

Am I friendly? Yes, absolutely – I am a big believer in treating people how I want to be treated.

Do I get hostile? Very rarely (unless I have run out of tea). In fact, I have only ever had one confrontational conversation with a journalist in my whole time in PR, which is not bad when you consider I speak to them every day.

Do I take notes? You bet I do, especially when I am learning about a new client, industry, or topic. I have often been the only person in the room taking notes during some briefings and without them, a lot of deadlines would have been missed.

Am I useful? That is the hardest question to answer (as I am obviously biased). But I look around at the team here at XL and the growing number of clients that keep choosing us to handle their PR and I think I can safely say that I am.

Balancing the scales

However, I also understand that (rather ironically) the PR industry does have a reputational problem. Bad and irrelevant pitches are sent out too often. And yes, some PR agencies focus solely on making money instead of always doing things the right way.

But there is a lot of good work that goes unnoticed. From prepping spokespeople so that they are engaging to interview and can draw in readers/viewers (which coincidentally helps get more eyes on stories and publication advertising revenue up); to sifting through hours of raw data to create engaging trend reports; sourcing information and comments from clients at the drop of a hat because a journalist “has a deadline”; and helpfully pointing media in the right direction when it comes to finding impartial experts or researching topics – even when there is no tangible benefit for us.

That is not to mention hooking up press with the review kit they desperately want (and at times having to persuade the client to make it happen), to working with them on an exclusive while you are flying to Prague for your girlfriend’s birthday, despite the angry look on her face when you say: “I am just going to be another five minutes”.

Ultimately, PRs do not work for journalists. But we do a lot of good work for them. It is, for some of us on both sides of the fence, a purely transactional relationship. But for me I have been fortunate enough to make some genuine friendships with journalists over the years. These are people I want the best for and would choose to hang out with outside work.

And there is nothing perilous in that.

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