Why journalists hate PR people

A Vancouver journalist-turned-communications consultant named Ken Coach has written a blog post titled Why PR People Hate Reporters. Predictably, it has some (presumably offended) journalists yapping on social media.

I’m not bothered by Coach’s overgeneralizing post. You see, I do two of the things he cites, but I think this is justified. (Reasons: One public-relations agent’s “crackpot” is another citizen’s community advocate. No matter how good a PR rep thinks their “good news” story is, it’s typically not a story to anyone else but their client.) Nevertheless, I think a response to Coach’s post is warranted.

But, despite my somewhat misleading headline, this isn’t really a post about why journalists “hate” PR professionals, but a (possibly helpful) list of annoying don’t dos. Here’s 10 of my PR pet peeves.

1. PR people who waste an email asking if they can send a press release. (Just send over the press release, please.)

2. PR people who use software to email press releases that look like they are personalized but aren’t. (Hint: the Atlanta area code is a dead giveaway.)

3. PR people who send invitations to events in faraway cities.

4. PR people who distribute press releases at a time when the proposed interview subject is not answering their phone or out of the country and unreachable for days. (Universities tend to do this.)

5. PR people who call on a Saturday night with a non-earth-shattering pitch that could have waited until Monday or never.

6. PR people who phone when an email will do.

7. PR people who pitch saying they just got their client coverage from another media outlet.

8. PR people who help arrange an interview for an in-depth feature and then send out a press release on the topic before the piece is published. (Depending on the story, this can backfire on the client if the prominence of the article is reduced as a consequence.)

9. PR people who send pitches that have no relevance to a journalist’s work. (I’m looking at you, bespoke tailors from Hong Kong.)

10. PR people who follow up incessantly on an uninteresting pitch.

In his post, Coach admits that, as a reporter, he was often rude to people from the “dark side”. Don’t let my post fool you: I actually generally get along great with PR reps (you know, the ones I call back). There’s no reason not to be polite.

Although the best stories (true journalism) never come from PR agents, these folks help many of us get our work done every day. And journalists shouldn’t forget: that could easily be you on the other end of the phone line in five years.

Got any of your own pet peeves about PR people or journalists? Post a comment!

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Comments (9) Add New Comment
Miranda Nelson
Corollary to #7: PR people who email pitches but can't identify the name of your news outlet properly.

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Deb Pickman
Good post Stephen. I really admire journalists. I so envy the ability to craft a great article, book, play - you name it. I think a PR person who doesn't like journalists is in the wrong biz! My peeve is when a reporter won't tell me simply "this story isn't for me". If I'm convinced I have a great story for a journalist I follow up until I get a "no thanks". I follow up with emails that have new angles or info on the original pitch until I run out of good ideas or fresh info. I don't do this if I'm unknown to a writer - but if we have a relationship I'm hoping they'll take the time to say "no thanks".
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Dave
There is a difference between "public relations" and "press agents." Sounds like most of your gripes are with press agents, especially those from out of town, rather than the PR folk who live and work in your community and focus on the "relationships" side of the business.
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Bob
10. PR people who follow up incessantly on an uninteresting pitch.

This. so. much.
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Charlie Smith
I don't hate p.r. people. Many of them are very nice people, which is why they often leave journalism to work in this industry. They're looking for a line of work that involves less conflict.

The media should be more willing to deconstruct p.r. tactics.

I don't know how many times I've seen someone release a company-financed opinion poll on the eve of an important vote. Polls are often used to promote political candidates in leadership races.

Other tactics: recruiting third-party endorsers to boost someone's flagging credibility, and changing the topic by not addressing the real issue of concern to the public.

The best book on p.r. that I've ever read was Trust Us—We're Experts, by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. It should be required reading in journalism schools.

http://www.prwatch.org/books/experts.html

Charlie Smith
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Mike Chouinard
Agreed with all the above. Building off #4, add all those government communications directors (regardless of who's in power) that send the "bad" news release at 4:30 on a Friday, near deadline and when no one is around.
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Martin Dunphy
Deb has read that book. Four sentences buttering up the victim (complete with requisite exclamation mark!) before she slips the knife in.
That said, her point has merit. No need to waste everyone's time.
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SalishSeaSam
It all depends... I love creating fact-based, objective media releases (yes, there is such a thing) that are often cut-and-pasted into local community newspapers word for word. I dislike journos from major dailies even who don't take the time to understand complicated issues (despite copious backgrounders) and go for the quick-and-dirty. There are PR hacks and news hacks, and there are pros on both sides who understand what communicating is all about.
Good article this.
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Sandra Thomas
My pet peeve is when I've been covering a beat for years, or even a decade when it comes to the park board and Pride Society, and a local PR person sends a release to a colleague who has never written a word on the subject. I then assume they don't read our paper or anything I've ever written. A simple two-minute search on Google or our paper's website would direct a PR person to the right reporter.
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