I hate public relations (PR)

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the public relations industry and I certainly don’t hate people who work in it. Some of my best friends…..(Jayne Howarth, Ros Dodd etc). Unlike some journalists I actually feel grateful to good PR firms. Let’s be honest, in recent years working on a newspaper would have been far harder without them.

What I hate is doing PR. That’s all.

I feel the need to say this because since I’ve been a self-employed writer, at least once a week I get a call from somone I’ve featured in the Birmingham Post in the past, who wants me to write about them again. They suppose that now I’m freelance I’m only to happy to tout my work round a range of publications and, they imagine, earn a multiple fee from them.

To which I can only say that I would sooner pickle my head. In fact I DID say exactly that to one hopeful – he still didn’t understand I didn’t want the job.

For those that don’t understand the difference let me explain. It’s about the difference between telling and selling. I love the telling. I’m a writer. I like to communicate, to connect, to build up relationships. I loathe the selling – picking up a phone and saying: ‘I’ve got a great story here. Do you want to publish it?’

That’s why I’m not in PR. It’s why I’m not in double-glazing.

Granted, there is middleground between telling and selling, a place where sales-patter and headline-writing sit. I’m comfortable on one side of that middleground, I’m not on the other.

Next time I’m approached by someone who wants me to both tell and sell their story, I shall put analogies about pickling heads to one side. I shall simply say: ‘The service you require is public relations. £1,500 would be the going commerical rate.’ Let’s see if that works.

Comments: 12

  1. Steve Zacharanda says:

    Great piece. A part of my soul died every day when I did PR – and I owned the company!
    Whether it was being toady to journalists or having to bend over backwards for demanding to customers I hated it.
    My first day back in journalism felt great, just phoning people up wanting answers instead of approval made all the difference.
    Shame I’ll never own my own house though 🙂

  2. So glad you’re back in journalism, Steve. Well done. Journalism needs you. I can’t see you being good at PR – and that’s a compliment.
    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Linda says:

    There are some good days in PR, you have to kiss a lot of frogs first though – more’s the pity. What can make it better is doing PR for something you believe in or can see that it will make a difference. You can also find clients who can treat you better than some newspapers, if you do, for God’s sake hang on to them! Hating PR can also make you very good at it!

  4. Well Linda, you’ve intrigued me now. I’m interested in knowing why hating PR can make you good at it. I’ve always figured that if I hate it, I’ll be crap. But there is someone I know who is excellent at PR and whom I suspect doesn’t really enjoy it. What’s the trick?

  5. Jayne Howarth says:

    Thanks for including me in there, Jo!
    I think of myself as a journalist first and foremost. When I was made redundant I started doing some PR as part of my wider portfolio and must admit that the transition was far harder than I’d ever imagined. I still want to write press releases as a journalist – and find it incredibly difficult having to include the bells and whistles that clients want, but what you know will be the first to be removed by any decent reporter.
    And get me on to selling in – hate it! But, of course, I know exactly how PRs felt when they phoned me and I dismissed their stories as nothing more than puffs.
    It has been useful experiencing both sides. Maybe all journalists and PRs should work in each others’ sectors: there might be far more mutual respect!

  6. Linda says:

    Aha! What I mean is that if you are a journalist at heart and you will always be a journalist at heart and you do (cough) find yourself working in media relations, the fact that you hate PR (or I suppose more accurately) hate crap PR, means that your skills in telling clients that their great idea *isn’t* a story and your cynicism/adopting a devil’s advocate approach brings them better results than someone who tells them they are the best thing since sliced bread. When I first worked in PR I hated it, before I worked in PR, I hated it, these days I am very selective about who I work for and no longer hate it per se.

  7. Jayne – I think it applies anywhere, that if you do someone’s job you have more respect for what they do. There’s always more to things than we imagine from the outside. I think I do respect good PR firms, but maybe I would respect them even more if I’d had a go at doing it.

    Linda – thanks for adding nuance to this debate. I can see now how hating crap PR can be a tool in being good at it. It’s inspiring to hear you no longer hate it per se as is seeing how successful you are at it.

  8. Linda says:

    I started to work in PR to help me work around my family which was far more possible in a PR role than having to meet the needs of a busy news desk. I don’t think there has been one day I have worked in PR that I wouldn’t have rather been on that news desk or filing copy bound for London so as my children got older I have become one of that strange breed who somehow try and do both. I know there are people who would say once you have taken the PR pound you have no right to call yourself a journalist, to some extent I can see their point but in the current climate in order to survive, more and more journalists are having to adopt a more flexible approach. Because I send out press releases to local media about a Midlands organisation doesn’t mean I’m no longer objective when writing about something totally unrelated for a national editor. Where the two clash is an ethical minefield and one I do my best to avoid. x

  9. That interesting. I have taken a job being paid to write a feature for an organisation and then placing it in a newspaper. I found the PR/journalism confusing to negotiate and told myself I wouldn’t take such jobs again.

  10. I love the idea of telling potential customers to go pickle their head. Some might think that’s the journalist in you speaking, but I suspect it’s more the you in you.

    There is clearly a difference between pr people who tout owt and those who place ideas and relationships with more thought. It’s a little like the difference between a comment relevant to your blog and spam.

    Part of me though is also wondering if attitudes to pr in people reflect their attitude to their work? Many journalists/writer see work as a vocation – others a business. I’m thinking the latter are more likely to be content in pr?

  11. That is indeed a neat thought, Nick – that those journalists who see their work as business are more likely to be content in PR. It makes sense, but I have to say I’ve never come across journalists who see their work as business. Maybe that’s because I tend to hang out with the foot-soldiers (at the risk of muddling metaphors)rather than the generals.

    I like the expression ‘tout owt.’ You can’t put it any more succinctly than that.

    Thanks for your comment.

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