Why Journalists Hate PRs – and Why PRs Hate Journalists

Well, I finished my Huge Project O’ Doom, and have been lying in a small ball under the desk, rocking back and forth and muttering to myself ever since. Just the usual, then.

This particular project involves me receiving a couple of hundred press releases from PRs working for house builders across Scotland, which I then have to sift through to find the interesting stuff. This is made difficult by the fact that some PRs? Are crazy. Here are some actual, real-life examples of press releases I received this week:

  1. Two paragraphs – no header, footer or contact details, just the two paragraphs – extolling the virtues of what sounded like a truly fabulous new development located “on the waterfront”. Just which waterfront this was, however, will forever remain a mystery, because whoever wrote the press release didn’t bother to include that irrelevant piece of information. It could be Edinburgh, could be Glasgow – hell, it could be Aberdeen, for all I know. Who cares! It’s nice! And luxurious! And buying it would be like going on a mystery tour, never knowing where you would end up. Not that anyone could actually buy it, of course – no contact details, remember? Actually, it’s a little bit unfair to single out this particular PR here, because it’s amazing how many of them do this – send out press releases without mentioning where the development they’re trying to promote is actually located. Amazing.
  2. A press release complete with changes tracked, allowing me to see, in detail, the many redrafts it had gone through before reaching me. Interesting.
  3. A copy of a company’s receipt for buying advertising in the paper, complete with their credit card details. Did they want me to publish this, I wonder? Whoops, too late!
  4. An email containing four pictures of houses, with the words “here they are” at the top. Uh-huh, but WHERE are they? What are they? Oh no, let me guess – two words, sounds like “boat”…
  5. Numerous poorly written, almost-illiterate press releases, with such scanty details that I was forced to go to the company’s website instead to try and get the information I needed.
  6. A press release about a housing development in Dubai. Purpose of my articles: to discuss new developments in Scotland.
  7. And, finally, at the other end of the scale, two seventeen-page press releases, containing much more detail than anyone could ever wish to know. GOD.

And this is why journalists hate PRs. Well, partly. There’s also the complete inability to understand that a “deadline” really cannot be missed when you’re dealing with a newspaper, and that no, “5pm on Monday” cannot safely be interpreted as “8pm on Tuesday, or, actually, whenever you feel like it, we’ll wait for you!” I think the PRs have probably seen two many newsroom dramas, and have this mental image of me calling up the paper and shouting, “HOLD THE PRESS! There’s a development of two bed homes in Auchterarder that we need to include!”

Last time I dealt with this particular project, I got an email with some pictures I’d asked for TWO DAYS AFTER THE PAPER WAS PUBLISHED. I was really tempted to call up the PR and say, “You know, the deadline was two weeks ago and the paper came out last weekend, but don’t worry, what I’ll do is, I’ll reverse time and just pop it in for you, no sweat!” Because I can totally do that, you know. Such is the power of the freelance journalist.

The thing is, I have a lot of sympathy for PRs – no, really. I mean, I used to be a PR. I spent two years doing time in a press office (funnily enough, that was right around the time of the nervous breakdown), and I know that it’s not easy. When I worked in PR, I hated journalists with the fire of a thousand hot suns – mostly for their habit of sitting on a story all day and then calling me five minutes before their deadline and saying, “Oh, by the way, I’m writing a story that totally knocks your company and leaves them without a name – would you like to comment?” Also because they would always refer to me as “a spokesman” when they quoted me. Swines.

So. Does anyone need a press release written, then?

16 Comments

  • Mel says:

    "A press release complete with changes tracked, allowing me to see, in detail, the many redrafts it had gone through before reaching me."

    Someone in my company did this once with a very important client proposal. Not good. PDF! Everything!

    Did you get to write about the fantastic new equestrian development in Lockerbie!?

  • Linda says:

    Oh I have wittered on about this on our blog far too much.

    Journalists are actually jealous of PR people, apparently, according to something I read and have replied to…

    The best is now that within our company I am tending to work more on journalism and my friend and colleague Katie works on the PR side.

    Today as ever, we sat and argued about whether a potential client had a story.

    I tell her she is being far too fluffy and she tells me I am far too cynical. It's usually 50-50 as to who is right!

  • Amber says:

    Linda – Ha, journo and PR in the same office – that must be lots of fun! As for the "jealousy" thing – hmmm, that's certainly a new one!

    Mel – I didn't get to write about the equestrian development, didn't get a press release on it! Am dissapointed now, as I would have loved that! I'm always being invitd to boring developments, but never to ones I would actually like!

  • Kim says:

    You know, the thing about deadlines is something I really don't get. You get this email that says "Maybe this is a bit late for your deadline but…" Well, yes, my deadline was last week. How is it going to work now?

    Recently I tried to get comment from a particular organisation for a piece I was writing. The PR kept saying the matter was in hand but no-one got back to me. Then a month after the deadline (yes, a month), I had a phone call from someone in the organisation asking if I still wanted to talk to him. Strewth.

  • Amber says:

    Kim, I know! What on earth do they expect us to do with their three-weeks-too-late call/press release/comment? It just beggars belief sometimes.

  • Ian Green says:

    Amber,

    I've worked in journalism (and probably still do) as well as PR. The point is there are good journalists and bad journalists and good PR practitioners and bad ones.

    My concern is why do you depend on the PR so much? Pehaps you don't need us to help you do your job as well as manage our clients reputation?

    Here's just a sample of requests we get from journalists through Response Source. I promise you these are all genuine and come from respected national and women's titles. We get fifty of these a day! Here's three examples arrived today.

    DEADLINE: 18-September-2006 at 20:00
    This enquiry is relevant to the following categories:
    Professional: none
    Consumer: Women's interest, Health

    QUERY:
    Hello
    This is rather an odd request but i am in desperate need for some case studies and i hope my request doesnt offend anyone.
    I'm looking for a woman in her mid 20s to mid 30s who is Speedballing – where users take heroin and crack together.
    If anyone is happy to tell their story to the public i would be very grateful.
    I hope you can help

    DEADLINE: 15-September-2006 at 12:00
    This enquiry is relevant to the following categories:
    Professional: none
    Consumer: Women's interest

    QUERY:
    A bit of a long shot, but if you know anyone, please get in touch asap!
    Looking for a female graduate whose university debts caused her to turn to prostitution or escort work to repay them.
    This will be a nonjudgemental and sensitive feature in XXXXXXXX.
    She must be willing to be photographed.
    Excellent payment on offer + publicity for any product, website, book etc.
    Copy deadline tomorrow!
    Many thanks.

    DEADLINE: 15-September-2006 at 18:00
    This enquiry is relevant to the following categories:
    Professional: none
    Consumer: Women's interest, Men's interest, Children & teenagers

    QUERY:
    Dear all,
    I am looking to do quick case studies for a story on how people juggle the work/life balance and am urgently seeking people to speak to, who will be happy having their families photographed, who would fit into one of the following categories:
    - the family where the man is the main breadwinner, working 9 to 5, and who don't let work dictate the time they spend with each other
    - the family where both parents work unsocial hours
    - the family where roles have been reversed, the woman now being the sole breadwinner whilst the husband stays at home to spend time with the kids
    If you have any clients, or may want to take part yourself, please let me know. Time is short, as ever, so I look forward to hearing from you!
    Thanks

    Doesn't say much for standards – or does it?

  • Amber says:

    I'm well aware that there are good and bad PRs and journalists, Ian – that's why I referred to "some" PRs in my post, and also made reference to the fact that journalists aren't perfect either.

    Why do you accuse me of "depending on the PR so much?" Do I know you, or have you just jumped to a conclusion because of my reference to "wading through hundreds of press releases"? Your comment – and accompanying blog post – makes a lot of assumptions about me (the first one being that I actually request these press releases – I don't) and about the project I was working on. Perhaps it might have been fairer to question those assumptions before passing judgement?

  • Great post Amber, in fact great blog. Wish I'd seen it sooner. I was in Edinburgh yesterday speaking at a PR conference on blogs and social media.

    One of the points I made is that when pitching blogs don't blast them with irrelevant press releases. I then pointed out that actually you shouldn't be doing that with journalists either so the difference wasn't as big as some people thought. Only problem is that SOME PRs treat journalists badly, and you'd expect them to be the same ones as treat bloggers badly.

    p.s. Ian's a good guy and I'm sure he didn't mean to cause offence. But it is an interesting difference between journalism and blogging that with blogs it appears it is more accepted to make assumptions and not check facts.

  • Amber says:

    Thanks, Stuart, and I wish I'd known about your conference – sounds right up my street!

    The "journalism v. blogging" debate is a fanscinating one, and I think you're right in that blogging is a medium where we tend to "spit and upload" as I think of it, rather than taking time to check the facts. Ian's post makes assumptions about me, but of course, my post made assumptions too – I assumed that the people who read it would realise that I was ranting about specific examples of bad press releases, and not trying to claim that all PRs are bad ones! A lesson learned :)

  • Ian Green says:

    Hi Amber,

    I apologise if I have caused offence. But with a headline like: Why Journalists Hate PRs – and Why PRs Hate Journalists. Certain assumptions will be made even if the context is more benign that the actuality.

    I'm not suggesting you depend on PR and I am sure you are very good at your trade – but presumably you asked PRs to send you information on Scottish housebuilders. No problem with that we get similar requests all the time. Our response is to contact the journalist directly (most do not include a phone number too) to discuss what they are writing and discover whether what we have among our clients fits their bill.

    What intrigues me about this whole blog is Stuart's comments (thanks Stuart – I think I'm a decent guy too!) which agree with. Re the rigor of fact checking and comment. Surely blogging is all about comment, debate and push and pull rather than editorialising. Question: Is blogging about facts or (hateful word) memes?

  • Amber says:

    "…presumably you asked PRs to send you information on Scottish housebuilders."

    I didn't actually. Not that there's anything wrong with doing that, of course, but your assumption is incorrect. And if you're not suggesting that I depend on PR, I'm afraid I don't understand why you asked me: "Why do you depend on the PR so much?"

    I'm not sure whether your question about blogging is directed at myself or Stuart (I'm sure he's far better qualified to answer it in any case!), but for the record, I agree with you that blogging is about "comment and debate, push and pull", and I have no problem with that. I'm just puzzled by your question about my alleged dependence on press releases.

  • Ian says:

    Excellent and wonderfully inflammatory post, Amber. I've actually been coming round to liking PRs recently, but you've set me back on track!

    Seriously, while response source is brilliant for a first peek into a subject, you *will* attract a lot of riff-raff as well. I speak from experience.

    My No.1. grievance: "I'm phoning about the press release about bigcorp I sent you yesterday, and wondered if you found it of interest."

    (No I didn't – it's deleted. If it wasn't before it will be soon.)

  • Amber, Ian etc:
    The blogger v journalist debate is dead. Who cares? Get over it. I'm a hack turned blogger – what does that make me? Happy!

    The message is simple – take your hands off the invisible control panel, find out what's needed, read what they write (kinda helps), ignore lazy hacks that can't be arsed doing RESEARCH (god forbid) and don't promise or tease with stuff you can't deliver.

    I've been freelance for 14 years and it's sad to see the standard of flackery isn't getting any better. But hey ho – I've got 000's of great blogs from which I can garner the information I need. No flacks required.

    Qu: Has it ever occurred to the PRs why there are so many of them clogging up the blogosphere?
    A: The illusion of control has finally been exposed and they don't like it up 'em. PR has been exposed for the bankruptcy it represents and most flacks are clueless how to respond.

    And if you think I'm being harsh, then check out how SAP has responded to this media. A shining example in a desert of mediocrity.

  • Ian Green says:

    Just got in to find this in my inbox from UKPress

    Hi All,

    I am currently undertaking some freelance journalism work and would like to
    receive press releases on…pretty much anything!

    Thanks,

    XXXXXXXXXXXXXX
    News & Features Writer

    Now, where do I start?

  • Amber says:

    "Seriously, while response source is brilliant for a first peek into a subject, you *will* attract a lot of riff-raff as well. I speak from experience."

    Hi Ian,
    I just wanted to point out that the press releases I was talking about didn't actally come from Response Source – that was an assumption that the other Ian made!

  • Disgruntled PRO says:

    I work in PR and I hate it. It is a cancerous and cretinous industry. It is a sad indictment of current media cutbacks that so many talented journalists are being forced into PR to earn an honest crust. I honestly do not know how I can pay back the karma deficit I have racked up with my moronic ring rounds. “Did you get my press release?” “Yes, the one on the new water cooler.”

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