Are millennials changing the journo/PR relationship?

Last month at a PR seminar, a TV journalist brought up the subject of how journos feel about PR professionals. Then at a WhatsApp PR forum, news about journalists joining corporate communications posts at companies led to some journo bashing.

On the face of it, it seems like nothing has changed for this key relationship, but an evolving media environment and PR role is pushing better interactions.

Subhash Pais, founder and business head, i9 Communications Pvt Ltd believes that, ”From suspicion and distrust to a better understanding and mutual respect, I think the last 5 years have seen both sides starting to understand each other and in some cases are also starting to respect the boundaries and challenges faced.”

This is also happening due to an emerging group of millennial journalists reporting in a content hungry world and the public nature of social media interactions.

Sandeep Rao, group head, blue lotus communications, points out that, “The younger generation of news media professionals are more open to networking with PR professionals, as are certain beats such as technology and music, where shared passion can often overtake perceived 'divided interests'.”

Journalist turned PR professional, Ritu Kant Ojha, founder-director, PRoact BrandComm Pvt Ltd, agrees that, “The younger generation seems to be more practical than the current one. They understand that at the end of the day it is just a job. While exceptions do exist, I feel younger lot is definitely more open to PR.”

Pais adds that, “The next 5 years will be a test of this particular relationship as consolidation starts to take place. I feel we are in an era of 'interesting' disruption as far as the media sphere is concerned and strong relationships could help both the media-person and the PR exec wade through a tricky period of transition.”

Challenges for the media-PR relationship

Subhash believes that PR professionals need to first focus on their mind-set to improve ties with journalists. He says, “I think PR professionals even today act too much as if the journalist is the alpha and the omega of his world and without whom his world would completely and utterly collapse. I think this mind set is damaging to the profession. PR is meant to be a knowledge based profession while unfortunately almost 90% of the PR agencies are run like sweat shops. Unless the industry overall does not buck the trend and move away from the normal 'let’s hammer the journalist with all we've got' attitude I am afraid the status quo will exist barring a few and the PR industry will only have itself to blame. ‘Soch aur tarika badlo, media badlega'”.

Pais believes that many PR pros do understand what a journalist wants, “The good ones do, and the brilliant ones are telepathic. I have also worked with some who wouldn't know what a journalist wants even if the journalist hired a plane, flew it over them and sky wrote the entire thing. I am not dissing the PR industry or its people but like every industry we have them all. I also feel PR agencies don't train their people. We are an industry where the entry barriers are almost non-existent and anyone can float an agency and charge anything to bring in a client. This then leads to a type of employee that is 'wrongly' trained – something that we see and hear in every rant made by a journalist.”

Rao agrees that, “The training needed to understand what it is that is required of a PR professional, and the value of being true to other PR professionals, clients and journalists alike is something that is missing for a large part of the communications industry. This has led to instances such as journalists being provided consumer technology products for review, minus the adapter/charger. Or where a mechanical approach to PR leads to a lack of understanding of the importance of a single review, either positive or negative. Training in operational and tactical aspects is well imparted, but a strategic outlook to the importance of image management is often missed out on for new entrants into PR just as the proverbial woods for the trees, with training methods in these subjects often being archaic.”

Rakesh Kumar Jha, PR professional with a leading PR agency admits that, “At times we are ourselves not clear of what are we approaching the media with. The story is not clear in our own minds. We do not prepare well for queries and information related to the pitch quite effectively. While it is good to tell a journalist that you would get back to them with more information, having to do this also raises a genuine question on our efficiency, understanding of the subject matter and in turn lowers our credibility, trustworthiness and shows us (and our client) in a poor light.”

The other side

While journalists get to bash PR professionals openly, PR professionals rarely get the chance to do so. Here are two examples of a media interaction gone wrong:

Pais says that, “We once did an interaction for a client on a trend story in retail. The media-person was from a very well-known wire agency and was known to us. They had covered this particular client for us many times and hence knew the top bosses working in that particular company. When the story came out (and ran across all mainlines and financials) the CEO was quoted, however when the interaction was held with the VP-Marketing there were dubious figures which were never quoted. Thankfully we had recorded the entire conversation. The problem for us was that we had every possible mainline and financial which had run the story and the global HQ of the client was very surprised at figures being quoted which were never discussed internally. This is in turn had an effect on the stock price as well.”

Giving another example, Rao says that, “A television anchor dropping in a mail with a one-liner less than a week before a shoot planned over a period of 3 months, in order to casually inform us of being unable to make the shoot, is a sad instance of an interaction having gone completely awry after being mutually planned. It is understood that there must be a reason, but the disappointment felt lies in the absence of a call or a mail saying, "I'm really sorry, but I/we don't think we can make it this time", where the apology or the explanation is not what is looked for, but the understanding that client, media and agency are all putting in equal amounts of effort in order to ensure a successful shoot.”

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