PR: Is it really “rubbish”?

It’s many years ago in Oxford Circus. I’m probably wearing a cheesecloth shirt and flared denim jeans. I’ve just hefted a typewriter from the cupboard to the desk, ready for the next lesson. I’m at journalism college, where – among other things – I’m about to be taught that “PR is rubbish”.

I remember it well. We were trained to expect press releases that would either be useless and irrelevant or that would need substantial rewriting. The tutor told us firmly that journalists make the best PR professionals, because only journalists know what other journalists want.

I ended up working as a copywriter rather than a journalist, but, all these years later, I’m wondering whether what I learned back then is fair.

So I did a quick Google search just now, for ‘do journalists respect PR’. The first page of results contained the following:

Do journalists need PR professionals any more?

Six ways PR flacks piss off journalists

7 simple ways to build rapport with journalists

Guess what – they’re still giving the same advice that I was taught, all those years ago!

The rules of good PR today haven’t changed. Target your publication. Know what will appeal to their readers. Find out what they’ve done before. See what fits with their plans for the future. Tailor your press release to suit.

It’s commonsense, but commonsense seems to be sadly uncommon, then and now.

It’s true there’s still a lot of bad writing about. Maybe even more so, with the Internet age. It’s also true that no-one will publish a promotional press release that really ought to be an ad. And it’s still true that journalists may want to rewrite your press release, on occasion, even if it’s just the headline.

Journalists need PRs; they still have column inches to fill. But they are still too busy to read everything that’s sent to them, so most press releases still go straight into the bin. Whatever you can do to make their job easier will be gratefully accepted.

Five all-time classic PR tips

Timeless PR advice that will give your press releases a better chance of being accepted:

  • Have a newsworthy story to share in the first place
  • Build good relationships with relevant journalists (and bloggers) so they know, like and trust you
  • Match your press release to the target audience of each particular editor
  • Write it in their house style; no jargon, no ‘spin’
  • Submit it in good time for their deadline

So if the “PRs are rubbish” attitude hasn’t changed, then what has?

The medium. For one thing, I don’t have to lug a heavy typewriter about any more. And the other thing? Well, if I’d written this piece for a paper publication, by tomorrow, it would be used to wrap your chips.

2 Responses to PR: Is it really “rubbish”?

  1. GuyClapperton (@GuyClapperton) September 4, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    One issue is that there are now so many outlets – blogs as well as magazines/newspapers. I’m a journalist myself but have a certain sympathy for PR people who are expected to tailor stuff for quite possibly hundreds of different outlets, in which they might score a line of text if they’re very lucky.

    House style always makes me giggle a bit, too – do people believe we’re going to scan their releases in? A good release should be a starting point, no journalist worth his or her salt will use a release verbatim (although I’m aware that some do).

    • jackiebarrie September 4, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

      “Score a line” – that’s an interesting turn of phrase, Guy!

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