Public relations as an industry plays an important role in getting journalists the detailed news that they put out on a day-to-day basis. Even then, we as journalists often find ourselves more annoyed than appreciative towards them.
Although not said out loud, publications sometimes prefer reaching out to in-house communications teams, instead of routing a query through the PR teams. This might come off as corporate communications having supremacy over the latter.
However, it would be unfair to pass this off without certitude, and so we spoke to a few professionals in the industry, to help explore this.
What makes PR the second option?
Journalists sometimes eliminate the PR layer in the interest of time and reach out to the corporate communications team directly, from a contact that they might have received from the PR consultancy itself.
This probably leads to a notion that journalists take corporate communications professionals more seriously than PR professionals.
Giving a sense of another reason why this notion might still hold true, Amith Prabhu, founder, The Promise Foundation, said, “Those working in-house have better access to information and spokespersons. This happens because many in-house professionals are tight-fisted when it comes to sharing access and information, as this could lead to insecurities."
The fact that most folks in a PR consultancy end up being treated as dispatch vendors also tends to be an add on for brands, which essentially hire PR consultancies to do the work that they might end up doing. Believing that this is an archaic approach which needs to change, Sujit Patil, vice president, and head - corporate brand and communication, Godrej Industries and Associate Companies, stated, “If you treat your partners like arms and legs, they might not get their hearts and brains on the account.”
However, he also shared that agencies which act like couriers of information without understanding the content or business context, could lead to journalists not respecting them.
Is pushy productive?
This facade of knowledge expressed in the form of a nugatory pitch is sometimes an instant put-off and makes a publication want to question it.
Speaking about the same, Deeptie Sethi, CEO, PRCAI, states that PR professionals who understand the needs and requirements of journalists can never get on the wrong foot with them.
“Instead of being pushy, a good professional does their homework well - knows their subject, researches the journalist, the beat, backs their argument with facts and knows if there is a story or not, and also learns how to deal with rejection. One needs maturity to bring constructive feedback back to the client and figure out what can work and what cannot,” she added.
However, defending follow-ups done by agencies, Patil said, “Sometimes journalists too are pushy about getting data or quotes. While there could be some extreme aberrations arising out of a flawed database of journalists with PR folks or a fresher being given the task to follow up, most are just doing their jobs.”
According to Nitin Mantri, group CEO, AvianWE, most PR professionals understand when to follow up. “At times, releases or information could be time-sensitive and critical and a media person is informed about it immediately. Some media people appreciate the fact that we are alerting them to something critical,” he said.
Mantri did agree though, that there are times when PR professionals reach out at odd hours, but stated that it's an exception rather than a norm.
Public relations maintaining private relations
Experts think that the media as well as PR firms need better education to start with.
Mantri believes that an all-around sensitisation is required, where clients understand PR constraints and that of the journalists they work with. He added, “The media also needs to be a little more empathetic when they work with PR people. Internally, in our organisation, we do train our people to not miff publications, but ensure that the work is done without hounding journalists.”
On the flip side, Prabhu states that anyone who feels the pressure is outright lazy. “There are dumb people everywhere but they are outnumbered by smart people. Be it in consultancies, corporate communications or in journalism," he added.
In conclusion, Patil shares what he thinks would work best for all parties involved.
“I feel a great outcome is possible when there is a great understanding and good chemistry between in-house teams, their PR partners and the journalist. I would certainly not endorse people going on social media to vent their frustrations.”
And we hope it never comes down to that!
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