Journalists and PR folks – both sides need to respect each other

Last week, there was a really nice article by Tarunjeet Rattan here on PR and media – how not to create a toxic work culture in the industry. 

As a former journalist, I did feel something as I read the article. Something that came from my college days, where I studied in a college that had both budding journalists and PR professionals in one class. It’s only in our second year we branched out into our streams of journalism and PR. This helped frame my attitude towards PR folks. 

I saw my classmates in PR people, and realised they had a job to do, and this is how they did it. 

Now, since I’ve been on both sides, I felt R.E.S.P.E.C.T. had to be broken down as follows: 

Research: Both sides need to be really good at research. For the journalist, it’s research regarding their interview, story. For the PR person, it’s knowing the journalist they are approaching. What beat do they cover, when is the best time to reach them and more importantly ‘how’ do they like to be reached. 

Earn goodwill: Both sides goof up, and we all know it. Can someone who has never made a mistake in their life put their hand up here? Exactly. 

Here’s how I experienced goof ups on both sides. 

Well before I became a journalist, back in 2004, I remember a young journalist asking me for a quote on the fire at Kumbakonam, which claimed the lives of innocent children. I still remember what I said, and what came in the newspaper was completely different. 

With PR folks, I still get calls and press releases from firms in spite of being out of journalism since 2013. Once it got too much as it was a really reputable firm. However, I did exactly what Rattan pointed out in her article, which was call the senior person and escalated it. 

For the press releases I still get, I just hit the delete button and avoid rants. I’ve rarely seen a journalist lose their job over extremely biased stories, but PR folks get dropped like hot potatoes for one public rant by a journalist. 

Show up on time: There are times both sides get late. Unless it’s a natural disaster or a blocked day, which pushes meetings here and there, please ensure both sides are on time. 

Pays to be discreet: Discretion is the cornerstone of both great journalism and great PR. You have to protect your sources at all costs. And for good PR folks, they know when they help journalists with stories, perhaps not for a client, they win a relationship. 

Empathy: Everyone is fighting a battle, and it pays to be kind. 

Conscious content: If PR folks were a bit more conscious on the content in a pitch note for example, it may help journalists too. More often than not, I find pitch notes ramble. Since I handled a PR firm too in my role, where I was responsible for the branding and communications for the Chairman’s office, I remember how the pitch notes were too ‘corporate’, and I’d end up rewriting them since I was a former journalist, and I understood what really caught the attention of a journalist drowning in pitches all day long. It did pay as we had 17 exclusive stories in eight months thanks to a great partnership between our account manager, Namita Narula, and I. 

The same goes for journalism. When stories are written, please ensure the facts are checked, the story is balanced, and as much as possible, do not let a bias creep in. We had a rule in journalism – speak to at least 20 people per story. It helped to balance the voice in a story and made our story mature. 

So, good writing and reporting, on both sides, makes a big difference to churn out good content. 

Transactional: Remember the relationships between PR people and journalists have to be transactional. Each one exists for a purpose. 

(A shoutout to Varsha Pillai, an old colleague and friend, who helped refine my idea of ‘respect’ into this column.)

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Nilofer DSouza
A former business journalist with Forbes India, Nilofer D'Souza, has, over the years, worked with leaders across IT, healthcare, and retail in the corporate sector. For over a decade, having won various awards, she's learned to deep dive into an organization's culture and drive effective communications.

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