No Loathing Lost
SITTING in the press office at an international boat show, chatting with a friend who edits an important trade magazine, calm was disrupted as he tried to hide face behind hands and bemoaned: “Oh no, here comes that dreadful tense whore.” “Tense whore,” I puzzled? “That awful Hortense from that equally awful public relations outfit on the south coast.”
I did not know Hortense but I was about to see her in action as she swarmed over my defenceless pal and gushed adjectives at him, eulogising about her client’s wondrous new widget, which we all knew was the old one repackaged. Shiny sales leaflets were thrust at him, along with a hastily personalised invitation to an afternoon press conference and champagne bash to relaunch the not-so-new product.
She asked me who I was. When I told her, she spun on her heels and flew off in search of the next hapless victim. I was reminded yet again of the chasm between journalists and many PR practitioners: so often, there is no loathing lost on the part of the former, and scant understanding shown in the case of the latter.
Down the years, countless books have been published giving advice to so-called PR professionals on how to work successfully with the media. To surprisingly little avail. ‘So-called PR professionals’ because it is not yet a profession – it is an occupation. A pre-occupation with client-driven drivel, some might argue.
It is not difficult to claim to be a PR person. There are no barriers to entrance. PR skills are not exclusive. The knowledge base is defined loosely, with no standard model. In spite of the efforts of the 60-years-old Institute of Public Relations and bodies such as the Public Relations Consultants’ Association, it has been inordinately difficult to enforce a regulatory framework or sufficiently high educational standards.
Nonetheless, while ‘spin’ is the aspiration of many, successful PR builds reputations, improves understanding and can influence decisions far more effectively than advertising. The harnessing of opportunities provided by the press, radio, television and new media can be a highly effective and cost-efficient means of communicating with and influencing target audiences.
To succeed, it is necessary to build working relationships with the editorial media. Taking time to understand what and how journalists write, then offering PR as a resource rather than a deflection or hindrance are ways in which trusting partnerships can evolve, with substantial payback.
Tell it as it is, not as you might like it to be. After all, no business is perfect. If it is a case of needing to return to the drawing board to improve the company, product or service, tell them how you are making it better. Keep it simple: avoid jargon and insider terminology. Look for and spell out the drama, allowing any genuine excitement to shine through. Shorten it and get to the point, quickly. By all means put on your best face, but remember that saying so won’t make it so. Be a good listener, too.
Top-of-the-league public relations practitioners know precisely how to enlist the support of editors, producers and compilers; they know how to provide them with the material they require in the formats they demand; they match or surpass the abilities of those with whom they are dealing.
Quality PR also calls for in-depth knowledge of – and sympathy with – clients’ needs, their culture, aims and objectives, and the relevant marketplaces. It requires innovative thinking and consistent strength of purpose. Furthermore, in an industry that does not employ comprehensive standards, adopting strong ethical principles is vital. Then, PR has the potential to become a profession. Some day …..