… A PR rep pitched a local college’s new MBA program but said it was against school policy to reveal how many students were enrolled.
… A PR agency sent a press release announcing that its client won a huge new contract without naming the customer. They instead argued that there were still many other "interesting angles to cover."
“What the hell is wrong with these people?” he asked.
It’s a question I’ve heard more in the last five years than in my whole career. Journalists tell me about all sorts of amazing PR stories:
… Press releases that arrive as Word documents, then shows the client’s notes and revisions when the reporter clicks “track changes.”
… A drug company sued by shareholders because its PR agency issued a "media advisory" promising historic news at a press conference, which turns out to be nothing. The PR agency argues that the release it sent over BusinessWire wasn't meant to be seen by the general public.
… A reporter tells an account executive that the press releases they keep sending him are useless. “We don’t cover product announcements,” he says. “That’s obvious by just reading our magazine, isn’t it?” The PR pro pauses and says, “No. But can you send me one?”
… Media outlets get a newsworthy press release regarding a large local company, then get calls 30 minutes later from the PR agency demanding they not cover the story because they "didn't mean to send it out."
People get paid for this.
There are many smart and talented PR people. But in the last decade there has evolved a subculture of publicists who seem to revel in their obliviousness about how news media works. This is the crowd that journalists, editors and producers can’t stand to deal with. Most good PR people can't stand them either.
It's the oblivious flacks who keep alive the silly, sophmoric notion that PR and media are opponents in some great battle for truth.
No, we just got some clueless people in our ranks.
It’s not hard to understand how most of them got here. These are people who grew up not reading newspapers, who didn't watch CNN, who didn’t open Time or Newsweek unless they had to for a school paper. They learned about current events from snippets on their Yahoo home page, by watching Comedy Central and reality TV, by picking up references to news injected in the celebrity gossip banter of their favorite drive-time radio stations. They know everything about pop culture but can’t name the last five presidents or explain the difference between a CEO and a COO.
Maybe they majored in public relations or communications, but they’ve never worked in a newsroom, much less published anything. And now they’re called media relations specialists.
The good news is that companies and clients that employ the facile flacks are getting the idea. There are now more ex-journalists in public relations – albeit with mixed results, as some reporters make terrible spokespeople. In other areas, you’re seeing more investment in training and in hiring real pros – young and old – who have a lifelong relationship with news content. And many bad media relations people have moved on to social media, where they happily don’t have to write long paragraphs or use the telephone.
Still, stupid press flackery gets plenty of attention on the Internet, from insiders like Bad Pitch Blog, Denver PR Blog and PR Daily, to mainstream media like The Huffington Post to the New York Times.
Sure. Some of it is terribly overstated.
But anything that chases PR people who don’t read newspapers to full-time gigs as Twitter Tweeters is good for business.
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