Why Reporters Hate PR Professionals

By | March 21, 2008


Peter Shankman recently told the story of how lazy/dumb/thoughtless PR types can be when he forwards a journalist request and gets mostly lame and irrelevant replies. His conclusion:

Is this what the agencies are teaching their employees to do?

If it is, reporters have every right to hate public relations professionals.

We’re not doing our job.

At best, we’re an industry that relies on hope, and not skill, on the off chance that we’ll catch a break.

We’ve become an industry of posers, hoping that we’ll get through another day without being exposed as a fraud.

Peter’s response to this industry-wide problem was to set up a Facebook group. Now that’s gotten too large he’s set up a website and list, to which PR and industry types can subscribe. Peter will post journalist queries to the list. He tags on an excellent proviso: 

By joining this list, just promise me and yourself that you’ll ask yourself before you send a response: Is this response really on target? Is this response really going to help the journalist, or is this just a BS way for me to get my client in front of the reporter? If you have to think for more than three seconds, chances are, you shouldn’t send the response.

It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out. Sadly, I suspect many PR types don’t really care about relevance or blowing it with a reporter by making an irrelevant pitch; they just want to be able to add another number to their report. As Phil Gomes of Edelman points out, ProfNet owns this field but their usefulness has dropped off in recent years. There’s plenty of room for more and better players. 

(Vaguely related vent: I got another one of those emails with a subject line “May I call you on this?” this morning. How useful is that? Does it give me any idea of whether it’s relevant and interesting to me? That I now have to read the contents of the email to get a clue isn’t going to endear me to you. That you are so keen to phone me tells me you’re a high maintenance PR contact I don’t want to waste time with. I take great joy in sending an empty email with the subject line “No” to these emails. And I add their domain to my “PR spam” filter. I know, it’s harsh, but life’s too short.) 

The home of Peter Shankman – Shankman.com

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

6 thoughts on “Why Reporters Hate PR Professionals

  1. Phil Gomes

    Well… I wonder whether it’s the *usefulness* that has dropped off, or the *uniqueness*.

    One thing I didn’t mention in my post, but just hit me as I write this: Many folks probably have long since forgotten who started Profnet and why. In Peter’s case, if someone (journalist OR flack) has a gripe, there’s a face and name that they can beat up over email/comments/twitter/flickr/smokesignals, etc. Kind of a Craig Newmark level of customer/community service when you think about it.

  2. Rich Young

    Great post Jeremy. “Web 2.0” has certainly helped to expose the 90% of idiots in my industry that peter talks about. But it goes far beyond off off point pitches and silly email pitch tactics.

    There’s no doubt, many out there are just plain ignorant and stupid. Sadly, there’s no getting around that. But I’ve found that many others, though highly intelligent with plenty of common sense, are put in these situations by poor managers who have failed at the client expectation setting game.

    Let me explain.

    The client calls the PR manager and says: “I’m going to be in Chicago next Tuesday for a meeting, can you hook me up with the technology reporter at the Tribune. I want to talk about our new storage automation technology which will simplify and optimize storage operations..”

    PR manager (who’s thinking what do i say, what do i say… this client pays me $14k a month, I can’t say no…: “OK! Absolutely,sounds good, we’ll try and book in a lunch meeting to update the technology reporter.”

    PR manager to PR staff: “Joe Blow at Client XYZ will be in chicago, he wants to meet with the Tribune, anyone work with them in the past? I don’t care, let’s just get a meeting..”

    I won’t belabor the point but you catch my drift. It starts at the top, trickles down, and the staff are the messenger. Management are the true buffoons. See my point?

    My peers on the management side don’t have the balls to tell clients: “Actually, that’s not the best use of time. Here’s why, John Smith at the Trib typically covers consumer technology and now more than ever. However, when he does cover enterprise stories, the angle is always local and ties back to the community. It’s not enough that you have a sales office on Wacker Drive. He won’t care. Here’s a thought, a majority of your customers are major hospitals. There are several health care trades located in Chicago. Let’s see about meeting with one of two of them. When the Univ of Chi hospital is willing to talk about their ‘innovative’ storage strategy in six months (using your products), then we can approach the tech and healthcare reporter at the trib..”

    Clients don’t always want to hear a “yes.” A “no, a “here’s why,” and a “here are a few ideas instead” goes a long way in client relations. And goes even further in trying to prevent all this reporter hate of PR professionals.


  3. Jeremy Wagstaff

    Rich, thanks for the comment, and good insight there. And very familiar from a user’s point of view. I’ve occasionally, in a weak moment or because I’ve nothing else to do, taken up one of these requests, and had plenty of time to regret it. However much I stress that it’s not my specific area, and that I almost certainly won’t write anything, I’ll get a lot of follow-up calls about when I’m going to write something. That is presumably the client demanding of their agency where the column inches are.

    Your prescription saves everyone a lot of time and heartache.

  4. Sally Whittle


    I’ve recently set up a blog very similar to Peter’s off the back of a Facebook group (you can find us at http://gettingink.typepad.com/journos)

    Our site is a little different in that it’s run by journalists but it’s free, it’s open to anyone, and it’s a shoestring operation.

    I think one point you’ve perhaps overlooked is that from a reporter’s perspective these sites are incredibly valuable because they allow us to reach people who don’t get Profnet or Response Source enquiries. In the UK, to get all the requests issued by Response Source can cost up to $10,000 a year – putting the service well out of reach of many freelancers, small businesses, entrepreneurs etc.

    I’ve noticed that many of our 700+ (and growing subscribers) are from smaller agencies, charities, new businesses, as well as the usual PR giants, other reporters etc.

    The technology is there and I suspect this is going to be a growing trend in the media as we look for ways to reach more people, more effectively.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.