I feel like I can talk about this topic honestly and openly because I’ve sat on both sides of the fence. Having trained and worked as a journalist in the UK, Channel Islands, and Australia and as a public relations consultant in Europe and the USA I believe I have a unique perspective on the matter.
I can tell you now that not all journalists dislike public relations consultants and not all public relations consultants dislike journalists. I think, for those who have crossed over to the ‘dark side,’ we have a different point of view because we’ve experienced the riggers of being a journalist and the frustrations of working in public relations.
As a news editor, I had, even more, respect for good public relations consultants and companies out there, dare I say it, at times I even relied on them to help fill the paper. I fondly recall, and he knows who he is, exchanging calls with a PR chap (who’s gone on to do great things by the way) about the state of my basket (usually on a Friday at 3pm while I was putting to bed Saturday’s paper, planning Monday’s and worrying about Tuesday’s edition) was it full, room for improvement, or empty. On the other side of the coin I once heard a PR colleague or mine say (following a presentation by an economist) ‘well, if he (the journalist) can write a story so can I,’ I hasten to add that she struggled, mostly because she didn’t have shorthand or a Dictaphone so missed chunks of information. This is what I’m talking about when it comes to respect for the other team. Journalists are trained to extract the salient details of a story, report accurately, and interpret information even a seven-year-old can understand. I loved being a journalist – I love the newspaper industry – it’s where I learned my trade and I put a lot of the success we have now at Gem PR & Media down to the fact I was taught by some of the best journalists I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. When I was news editor (and if you’re a West Wing fan you’ll know what I’m talking about) I had a post-it note on my computer and it read ‘WWJD’ – short for ‘what would X do’ J will remain unnamed. And, for the first year in the job I often got calls from J challenging my editorial decisions and pushing me to look at the newspaper I’d helped produce with fresh eyes – for this, I am truly thankful. One of my best friends crossed over from the dark side to the newspaper world and still, today, I hear her voice giving me advice when it comes to making decisions about my clients because she too understands the relationship between PR and journalism.
From a PR perspective, I think my best advice is to always go with your gut – if it doesn’t feel right then trust your instincts. It’s also the way you can justify your decisions. Experience counts for a lot. I’ve made some mistakes, the kind that causes sleepless nights, but I’ve always come away thankful for the experience and the knowledge I’ve gained to better serve my clients.
At the end of the day if you can build great relationships with the media, show respect for their work, and confidently provide good quality content you’ll do ok!