This is a question that I have been asking and analysing for long now. I am a Public Relations professional with experience across multiple sectors along with some really good media contacts who are great friends too. But then I have some other media contacts that I was in touch with – some entertained me by responding to my emails or calls and some choose to ignore completely. Then there were some who ignored and entertained both, ignored when I wanted them to do something, entertained when they were working on something. So I am always amazed how to define this equation of Public Relations and Media.
In today’s digital era we all are connected either through emails or professionals platforms like LinkedIn or follow each other on Twitter. Instagram and Facebook I still give the leverage of being personal channels. So we all have a variety of contacts from friends, family to colleagues. Recently I saw a senior media professional tweeting frequently about how PR people need to be more professional and consultancies need to teach them how to write emails. The tweets went to the extent of even tagging the consultancy in question. I was really confused because the person in discussion is quite senior and has always been approachable and responsive on emails. Personally I didn’t like this because I have seen media friends writing random emails at odd hours. Many times they don’t even have any salutation and just the query without even proper context. But I have never seen a PR person tagging a media house or a journalist and saying such things on social platforms. So what could be the reason for such angst and power to only one side? Or is it that PR people know that they are on the serving side.
Let go’s little deep down before forming any mindset or reaching out to any conclusion instantly. I may sound biased after all I am from the PR background so let’s analyze it a bit. A media professional must be getting numerous calls in a day from various PR firms. He or she must be busy when the PR person calls randomly or even sends a message. There is no denying of the fact that while a publication would be having three people covering a beat, there must be atleast 15 PR firms with multiple clients in same space. So of course they all will hound those three people only if they have to get the story out in that particular publication and beat. So yes they are supposed to get angry or irritated but the consultancy people are also doing their job. They have no personal interest to call journalists and at times get insulted too. So what is the way out? We all have to do our jobs after all.
My first boss was an ex media person and a lesson that I learnt very early in life from her was that always ask a journalist if it is a good time to connect or whenever you talk to a media person always ask for his/her preferable time slot. I added one more bit to it basis my experience with preferred time slot also ask a preferred medium as in phone or email. Some people are email people – their response time and comfort level is much higher with emails. Believe me it works!
Another lesson which I learnt there was writing simple emails. Keep it simple and put your message upfront in first two lines. None of us are grammar Nazi’s here. It is different when you develop a relationship with someone but it takes effort and time to do that. Don’t always go with your ideas ask them if you could contribute to the ideas they are already working on.
Another important tip is that if you have given inputs and your client and boss is after your life asking the status on the story then it’s good to check with the journalist but don’t chase them like your client is chasing you. This is a very important factor that is missed especially with lot of new PR firms mushrooming today. They commit to certain number of coverages in a month but never make the client understand the real scenario. Take stand for yourself, explain your client how the PR and Media industry works – remember you don’t pay for PR, it’s an art.
Now let’s come to the other side of picture, that is, to our media friends and fraternity. Yes they have the right to get frustrated with random and at times unprepared PR calls. A PR firm may be calling at a time when you have just entered office or when you are writing an event summary but there are times when they have coordinated inputs after their designated office hours because the edits meetings and stories go in late at night, even responded the queries on weekends because there was urgency. There are both kinds of people in both the fields. I have met lot of journalists who take extra effort to do justice to the story with ample research but I have met more who would do stories only out of a press release. Even recently I experienced few who came, attended the session and yet asked for an event summary as they could not remember and had not taken any notes and some of them even got offended for not having tea coffee before the required schedule. But I personally have seen no PR professional tagging any publication or letting out his frustration on the unprofessional behavior on a public forum.
In short coming back to from where it all started can PR professionals and Journalists be friends? Well yes they both need each other to have a better result but there is more respect and understanding of each other’s profession that is needed. Not all media people are right nor all PR people are wrong and even none is doing a favor to the other by doing the work. There are few things on both the sides that need to be considered, respected and accepted.