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Defending PR
Posted on Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Defending PR

I feel compelled to write a blog in defence of PR after a recent attack on the profession by a practising national journalist.

This was was no 'off the record' assault – this fellow used up valuable column inches to assault public relations as a service, as a career, as a perceived hurdle to journalism and to negatively gauge PR practitioners' social worth because of it.

I'd like to be astonished, but I'm not.

So let's set a few home truths about public relations and PR as an industry and a valuable service in the modern age.

Firstly, a brief history lesson... The media has undergone radical change over the past ten years, change which has been exacerbated by the findings of the Leveson Enquiry and the foul deeds of certain media groups and their employees.

Leveson's findings and the subsequent judicial ruling left many journalists feeling disempowered, even emasculated – and justifiably so, as the penalty for the wrongdoings of a few have affected all.

The breadth of the media has also diminished dramatically over this ten-year timeframe through the advent of online news platforms which did much to eat into the traditional stronghold of print and broadcast journalism.

This diminishing trait has been further fueled by the recession as it wiped out many publications which relied massively on advertising or subscription costs to survive.

Secondly, in the midst of this, you have journalists at a national level who exist to access sensitive information and report on it. And they are extremely well trained and skilled at getting that information and crafting a hard-hitting story with it.

However, the pace at which the news agenda shifts in today's world, with social media as the primary distribution mechanism, is creating insatiable minute by minute demand for original news and a more challenging workload for journalists. And there are fewer journalists handling that workload.

Let me say, both as a PR professional and as qualified journalist, I will fight tooth and claw to protect our media freedom because it is one of the last bastions of a waning democratic system and one of the only remaining ways to challenge the seat of power.

And I understand the frustration of journalists who find that the way to the information they require may well be via a public relations agency or communications officer. Even we in the PR business are faced with the same bureaucracy as we seek out information and approval for copy.

What is missed in this journalist's debate is the other side of the story - the untold damage that can be done to businesses and professionals who are 'door stepped' by a fast-questioning journalist with little or no time to prepare responses, and no understanding of what they can/can't say.

Equally – if every UK company allowed its public perception to be controlled by the media then half of them would be out of business. Here's a hypothetical scenario – a company posts a loss in its accounts, which the media reports without quoting the management. The following year, they do not report on the fact that the company is back in profit. Difficult to see the negative effect for that company…?

With decent PR and media relations advice and help, a business can answer all of the questions it needs to for any news gathering service, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The scenario above would be balanced out as we would ensure a considered response in year one and a proactive news story in year two.

And another thing – many decent stories only get into the media because the PR industry puts them out there. And that makes for a broader news agenda which can only be good for the consumer.

As news organisation employment levels continue to drop – public relations practitioners step up and play a crucial role in the supply of editorial copy and news topics to the media, often at the request of the editors.

It is of course unfortunate that PR has its fair share of poor practitioners. It's an industry where a strong, high-level track record and knowing the background of the people you'll be dealing with day-to-day are the most crucial benchmarks.

So this is where my sympathies sit with any journalist who bemoans this industry. Not because public relations is here to deny your story or demean your career, because that's not the case.

No, you have sympathy because 'Media Studies' qualifications and the vast majority of PR degrees are not pre-requisites to join this trade and to participate in quality news provision. Strong news sense, journalistic qualifications and working to give journalists what they need for a good, honest story while working to uphold client reputations, are...