14 things hacks need from flacks

I won’t bang on about how great PRmoment events are – there are blogs and quotes to prove that. And Tuesday’s event (I’m précising here), ‘why journalists think PRs are tossers’, did not let me down.

I was asked to put together a quick post on Chris Blackhurst’s brilliant de-construction of PRs in his ‘bad PR’ rant. And I’ll get to that, but I think the other speakers deserve a quick flag too…

Daryl Willcox was first up (the guy who invented ResponseSource and FeaturesExec – just imagine the column inches he’s facilitated) with a ‘not particularly scientific’ (his words) survey about media (hacks) attitudes towards flacks (PRs). Net result: half of journos don’t think PRs understand them and two thirds think that PRs are becoming less professional.

Second on stage was Mark Borkowski. It was unfortunate that he took the opportunity to slag off PR degrees (his advice to people wanting to get into PR: “Don’t get a PR degree!”). I’m a PR grad, I’ve employed a dozen PR grads and have always had a very positive experience. Mark’s message was one of needing to pay care and attention to the craft of media relations – something that I find impossible to disagree with.

Then Chris Blackhurst took to the stage with a brilliant collection of gripes about ‘bad PR’. These always make me smile. Here are 14 reasons why hacks hate you:

  1. You’re clueless – you have no concept of the story you’re pitching. You don’t understand the background, the context or the detail. You can’t answer a single question I have. Go away.
  2. You’re pictorially inept – you’ve totally missed the fact that in order to double the real estate you have on my site/page all you need to do is provide me with a decent picture. But you gave me a man in a suit. Go away.
  3. You don’t read my publication. You call, you offer something utterly stupid/vacuous because you have no idea what my audience wants because you don’t read my publication. Go away.
  4. You bring me stupid surveys. Oh brilliant, 45% of Bristolian males think their council is doing a crap job. I’m at the Standard, you’re irrelevant. Go away.
  5. You’re obstructive. You insist on babysitting your (vastly more experienced and better paid) CEO and finishing his sentences at lunch? Go away
  6. You’re too controlling. You want copy approval? Go away.
  7. You give exclusives to my competitors. You give another publication an exclusive and then try and sell the same story to me? Go away.
  8. You work for ‘evil’ clients. Your client pollutes the planet/tests on animals/sponsors wars? You can never make them appear ‘good’. Go away.
  9. You have high expectations based on entertainment. You take me to the World Cup Final and expect favourable treatment as a result? Go away.
  10. You’re slow. You take an hour to respond to me when I’m on an immovable deadline? Go away.
  11. You assume ‘the media’ are all ‘colleagues’. We are bitter rivals. Go away.
  12. You have a homogenous view of the media. You think we want the same thing and serve the same audience. Go away.
  13. You don’t understand ‘news’. You think you – or your client – is news by right. Go away.
  14. You’re deadline-insensitive. I’m closing the Evening Standard and you call me at 11:00. Go the f**k away.

Chris did finish with a couple of positives, but by then I was so beaten down with common sense that I was considering a career at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

Finally Howard Jones from EE took centre stage. He pointed out that there’s a lot more to PR than just looking after the media. He pointed out that actually, the PR person’s job is to help make sense of the story. And he pointed out that we’re not ‘PRs’ – we’re 60,000 people with hugely different approaches and, sadly, capabilities. We don’t all deserve to be tarred with the same brush. We’re not the homogenous mass that newsroom journalists moan about. Amen to that.

I’m not sure tonight put the age old hacks vs flacks debate to bed. I’m not sure anything less than a gladiatorial fight to the death could (if it comes to that the numbers are increasingly on PR’s side). But it did re-affirm to all present that all you have to do to stand above your flack peers, is to be slightly less crap than they are.

So, know what you’re saying, have a good photo, know your (their) audience, give up on stupid surveys, let go of your spokesperson, give everyone a fair chance at a story, work for companies that don’t deserve a panning, give happily without expectation, be quick, understand media rivalries and needs, know what ‘news’ is and – for heaven’s sake - call at the right time.

Pretty straight-forward really.

At a time when ‘media relations’ is often viewed derisively by PR industry ‘leaders’, it pays to remember that media relations requires real skill. Media relations is a craft, as Mark said, and it holds serious value for those that possess it and those that covet it.

Richard Fogg is a proud graduate of the BA (Hons) Public Relations course at Bournemouth University. When he’s not making trouble at events he runs CCgroup, a London agency with a tech PR focus.

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Here is a short video featuring some speakers from the night:

'What do journos think of PR people?' from PRmoment on Vimeo.

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