PR or the journalist

What came first: the PR or the journalist?

The world of communications can often be one of the most exciting sectors in which to work – no matter what side of the PR / journalist fence you work on. Breaking news, sharing innovations, and delving into the crux of any business proposition arguably ignites fire in the bellies of all media professionals.

Just like the ‘chicken and egg’ situation, it’s tough to separate the circular relationship of PR vs. journalism. While one might argue that journalism, in its truest sense, doesn’t rely on public relations – and that may be the case in breaking stories or investigative reporting – as a former journalist myself, I have seen first-hand that to fulfil both agendas, and indeed news pages, one sector can no longer thrive without the other. Particularly in these fast-moving, digitally led times.

Without reporters, ‘word nerds’ like the Scriba team would be unable to deliver a significant part of our role – to raise awareness of clients’ activities. While, on the other side of the coin, without PR, reporters would be less in tune with what’s happening on their patch, or able to source a diverse range of voices on pertinent topics, quickly – and without too much legwork.

Of course, that’s not to say that every piece of content has ‘PR spin’ attached. News portals are still driven by public interest stories and the overarching topic of conversation across the board – such as COVID-19, the impact of Brexit or election campaigns.

And, thanks to the rise of the smartphone, and with 45 million active social media users in the UK – a whopping 66% of the population – the press agenda is often dictated by community conversations and questions which unfold online, too.

However, trade publications, business pages and even the national press all rely on additional content from PR and marketing professionals to deliver ‘the finished product’.

Whatever your personal thoughts are on the media, the decline in the number of reporters is bad for society. As the headcount reduces, correspondents are forced to cover more corners of the newsroom – and inevitably find their inboxes filled with pitches from people just like me.

That’s why it’s our job to identify what truly makes a story.

The perfect working relationship

Whether you work with me, one of my colleagues or a completely different PR firm, each time there’s a story worth sharing, you’ll (hopefully) be challenged to expand on what really makes every article idea newsworthy.

Granted, it might feel as though you’re sat opposite Jeremy Paxman at times, but pressing you for statistics, value, long-term impact, and of course the ‘who, what, where, when, how and why’ is essential to constructing prose which packs a punch.

By figuring out what makes a story, versus a blog or social post, we protect the inboxes – and sanity – of the media we want to befriend. Becoming a trusted source helps to cut through the noise when we do share a press release, pitch a timely comment, or bid for a larger, thought-leadership contribution. The ultimate goal is to become the ‘go-to’ person when a spokesperson is needed, fast.

As much as members of the fourth estate might dislike to admit it, without the daily influx of emails from public relations specialists, they would struggle to fill their pages. But, by the same token, PR experts need to make sure they sense-check every single email, pitch and phone call. And make a note of what the media says. If they’re about to head off on maternity leave, a fortnight’s holiday, or get married, update your records – don’t have the same conversation a week later.

A love-hate relationship, or a dysfunctional family?

Sadly, it has become accepted for the press to knock those working in PR – either for ‘spin’, controlling access or protecting clients at the expense of what they perceive as being ‘the truth’. But after all, that is what we are here for.

Consider a situation where an editor wants a new angle on a breaking news story researched, drafted and published within a few hours. This is where our sector comes into its own. A quick round-robin of trusted contacts can provide statistics, case studies and a diverse range of opinions and comments in under an hour.

This unfettered access to board-level comment simply wouldn’t be possible at short-notice either – as the CEO of an organisation is unlikely to give proper time and attention to answering press requests at the best of times – not least during a time of heightened interest. But a good PR professional can draft something on their behalf in a matter of minutes.

Now, this isn’t the hard sell, but PR firms are appointed to help grow company reputations in the areas that matter the most – we’re also here to manage the message and handle crisis comms, should you ever need it.

Of course, thinking of the worst-case scenario, a correspondent will want to run a story if it has a particularly significant angle. And, while you can’t control exactly what’s reported, the author will actively want to include the ‘official’ response – which provides an opportunity to manage the message.

In truth, the journalist’s little black book is fast becoming replaced by a solid PR database, media relations tools, and even social media threads dedicated solely to finding commentators for stories. And, by embracing this new age of collaboration, the media is more exciting, up-to-date, and accessible than ever before.

Unfortunately, while the impact of Coronavirus continues to ravage organisations across the UK, the media is not exempt, and has seen massive job cuts across the board – with substantial redundancies announced by the likes of the BBC, Newsquest, Reach Plc and The Guardian.

Now is the time for all corners of the media to unite, and help each other to survive and thrive, if we’re going to stand a chance of safeguarding the long-term future of the professions we love, and the friends we have made.

So, this is our call to arms. Keep buying your local paper, subscribe to a national newspaper website, renew your trade magazine memberships, and most importantly of all – keep telling your stories.

By Ruth.