IT’S TIME FOR HACKS AND FLACKS TO UNITE

2 September 2016

By Warren Johnson

At its best, PR is the most satisfying and effective form of communication there is – a hugely sophisticated form of precision marketing that transforms businesses and builds reputations.

At its worst, it operates like a dodgy market trader, shouting messages in the hope that eventually someone will stop and buy what we’re selling.

I remember a high-profile former national newspaper editor once taking me aside to describe a fellow PR executive in scathing terms as “overfamiliar and underprepared”.

Judging by PR Week’s survey, it seems his description still sums up the emotions our profession arouses.

To this day, I cringe when I hear just how poorly prepared many agency operatives are when speaking to media.

After all, no business would launch a product without understanding its market, so why do we assume we can afford to do otherwise?

Media are our consumers, and stories are our product. When journalists complain that the pitches they receive from PRs are irrelevant to them or their publication, it betrays a fundamental lack of audience research by people who ought to know better.

Google and social channels can be a godsend for quick desk-side research, but nothing trumps actually consuming target media to ensure that pitches are relevant.

Today’s PRs should never rely on poorly updated databases, but building their own rolodex of journalist contacts.

We should have fewer but better conversations with media.

The blunt instrument of a non-personalised pitch delivered to a generic list of journos doesn’t make any recipient feel special; we can all learn from the world of luxury marketing, and create a sense of scarcity that gives our offerings greater value.

And meanwhile, we should lose PR’s infamous overfamiliarity; “Hope you had a good weekend!” isn’t going to win friends and influence people on a Wednesday afternoon, particularly when they work shifts and didn’t even get a weekend.

On the flip side, with editorial budgets squeezed, journalists can’t afford to be quite so smug these days.

In fact, the opportunity for PR is increasing all the time – if only PRs understand how media actually work and what they really want.

We should be offering time-poor hacks stories of genuine value to their audience, underpinned with the integrity they demand.

PRs and journalists share a common interest in telling stories that matter, which means the relationship between the two can be incredibly powerful.

So for those who get it right and build productive relationships, we work together as allies, not adversaries. That should be the ambition of us all.

PR Week, 2 September 2016