It’s an age old problem: you ring up a press office or PR company for a quote or some figures and they take two weeks to get back to you with a pithy quote that contributes nothing to your piece. But is it really their fault? Do they deserve as much stick as journalists give them? The Student and Jazmin Cabrera, an account executive at Conker Communications fight it out till the death (figuratively).
‘We can provide you with this information but not today I’m afraid’
‘Sorry for the delay, we’ve had to get our resources team to dig out the information’
‘Sorry I haven’t been able to get hold of the information for today’
‘My team is pulling together the information but this may not complete till tomorrow’
The above are all actual excuses that I received from council and university press offices whilst working on the News desk at the Sunday Times last week. Asked to find out local government spending on road maintenance and the breakdown of students who go to a university near their home town, I was confronted with a long list of snivelling apologies and flat out refusals.
It amazed me how often I was told ‘we don’t hold that information in that format’ which, in PR speak, means the stats you’re looking for are on different spreadsheets, take a bit of time to extract and therefore aren’t worth the work. And throughout the whole charade, I feel like I’m being fobbed off and that the PR person who took my call isn’t at all bothered about my deadline. We’re just playing a game of email chess, which I guess is why the reporter gave the job to me in the first place.
And that’s not even taking into account the scepticism. I’m trying to write a well-informed piece about the cuts to council spending or whatever and these people treat you like you’re looking in their knicker drawer. ‘Can I ask what the information is for?’, one asks one council comms employee whilst another is just keen to know all councils are being contacted and that the piece won’t be a major exclusive solely focusing on them. Every question is an obstacle and it feels like I’m doing some dirty deed, when public spending figures, in this case at least, should be freely available and not something I should have to jump through hoops for.
I should make clear that this isn’t a journo rant per se – I worked in my university press office for a year as an undergrad, enjoyed it, got a lot out of it. And some press offices were very good in getting back to me (even without me calling up to remind them I was still waiting for my figures). But the majority, by nature, push out what they want and, in the very nature of doing so, even if they don’t actively conceal it, relegate other possibly newsworthy stories to the trash. And that’s not something that is conducive to good journalism.
NO – JAZMIN CABRERA, PR ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE
Bill Gates once said that if he were down to his last dollar, he would spend it on PR. Strong words from one of the richest men in the world and great PR for PR itself.
Some people would have you believe that the job of the PR is to spend their days lying and exaggerating to journalists, yet reality lies far from this- a day in the world of PR consists of flagging-up newsworthy items to journalists. When a deadline is looming and there is space to fill, you can guarantee that the journalist’s PR contacts will be their first stop.
Of course, the client is vital to a PR’s business so any press release will paint them in a positive light – it’s down to the journalist to question the information, research the subject and request further details if they believe claims need substantiating.
PR looks after an image and a reputation, but it is simply a matter of promoting and polishing abrand rather than concealing the truth. The PR industry is a popular scapegoat for journalists butgood PRs work alongside the media, providing much needed ideas and perhaps a ready-written article. In turn they get a client mention – PR supports journalism and vice versa. There’s nothing underhand to it (at least not at Conker Communications!)
PR is simply an act of opinion expression - if the journalist doesn’t believe the information given, they should drill-down and question it. It really is that simple.
Jazmin is a 23-year-old PR Account Executive at Conker Communications in Manchester. Since graduating from the University of Sheffield (BA Journalism and Hispanic Studies), she has worked in PR both in the UK and in New York. She enjoys fashion PR and the commercial side of the other accounts she handles, from hi-tech process engineering clients through to lettings agents, plumbing suppliers and pawnbroker.
Manchester-based PR company Conker Communications boasts of a diverse range of clients- from hi-tech industrial systems to letting agents and from fashion websites to plumbing suppliers. Conker see themselves and the role of a PR company as a tool for journalists to use rather than a hindrance.
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