PR and journalism: pulled together with mutual need, separated by different agendas

My re-entry into journalism after a decade’s gap was a bit of a shock to me. For as long as I was in journalism I had a highly proscribed relationship with PR pros, who, as any old school self-respecting journo will tell you, were the “enemy”, and little more than logistics people.

It took me a while to accept pitches and answers via Facebook messages, my phone pinging away well into the night. The fact that the PR professionals are by and large much more informed than they used to be and certainly play a role that can no longer be described as “the enemy”.

Which leads to the question are we journos completely out of touch with what a PR’s role is?

Tiny tales of journos and PR pros
Pratishtha Kaura
“I will not name the publication or the journalist but I was pitching for an interaction of our global spokesperson and just so that all of us i.e. the journalist and the PR team had enough time to prepare, we started preparing well in advance. Since it involved global spokesperson, I went to meet the journalist to understand his expectation. Taking a note of all those things that he wanted out of the meeting, he also agreed and we blocked the day for the meeting. Just a day before the meeting, the journalist refused for the interaction saying you are trying to get a story planted and I will ask whatever I feel like during the meeting. While I did convince him for the meeting and the interaction went off just fine, the story never came out.”

The complex journo-PR bond
Says Pratishtha Kaura, senior account executive with Text 100, “ Both PR professionals and journalists are facing the pressures of the digital world. Gone are the days when the journalists considered the PR as their enemy. However, even today they often forget the intricacies of our job requirement where we need to answer our clients and at times we bear the flak from them. There are some of the journalists who try to demean the role of PR but then they also cannot function without PR. On the contrary, there are also some senior journalists out there who are not only polite enough to talk to the young counterparts but also understand the fundamentals of PR.”

Tiny tales of journos and PR pros
Aman Dhall  
“The most challenging experience with a journalist that I can recall has been with a senior editor of a business daily, who just didn’t want to listen to your views. I understand that you have had your own experiences that make you believe in some theory, but that doesn’t mean you won’t listen to someone else’s views. As a journalist, one is always taught to be balanced in your condemnation or praise. Or even if you have a strong view about something, you need to listen to and put across both sides of the story.  You can’t discount views of a leader in the industry. There is something that the player is doing right.”

Aman Dhall - group AVP and head of PR & Communications,, himself is a journalist turned PR professional agrees that, “The relationship has been always one of mistrust, suspicion and misunderstanding. I met one of the senior PR professionals recently at a party, who said journalists can never be trusted and be friends. The statement from such a senior professional shows the relationship has not overall grown and evolved, even in today’s times. There might be exceptions, but the larger percentage on both sides fail to understand each other’s profession at large. The relationships are very shallow.”

Senior journalist Mala Bhargava associate editor at Businessworld  explains why the relationships must always be shallow bluntly saying that “ Just as there was a disconnect between journalists and sales teams, there is a disconnect between journalists and PR professionals. The agendas are different, its humanly impossible to have the same agendas. As younger people join the PR team, this is something they don’t understand.”

Tiny tales of journos and PR pros
Ritwik Sharma
Before meeting the Editor of a Tier 1 financial daily, I was told by colleagues that I was going for a suicide mission “she will eat you alive,” “you’re better off pitching it to someone else”, “do you want me (my Manager) to accompany you?”

Obviously, my excitement soon became anxiety. So I did my research again, read all the stories she had done, re-wrote my script and basically restructured my entire strategy and approach before I met her. To my, and everyone’s surprise (including the client), she gave us amazing coverage and an ear that was willing to listen. When all others shun away.

I am not saying that we are now Facebook buddies, but after this incident, we both respect each other and would at least listen to each other before reaching a conclusion.

Expectation mismatch between journos and PR pros
Ritwik Sharma, client operation lead with the PRactice agrees that there is a failure of meeting each other’s expectation. Sharing his perspective, Ritwik says, “Journalists need to know that we are our clients’ consultants and advisors, but there are times when the client will ask to do something against logic and reason. Then we will end-up requesting something from a journalist that would leave a bad taste in their mouth. Journalists need to understand “Don’t kill the messenger”.”

However, Mala feels that at the end of the day understanding the PR person’s job is not her agenda. She says, “For example with product launches, it’s not about a positive or negative review, it’s just that a PR person’s agenda is different. I have had actual clashes with companies who say that why did you start the story.“

Mala adds that, “The equation has been disturbed by bloggers and by new people who have not seen the older environment of journalism. I hate it when people call and say how is the review going? Leave me to do my job.”

Naming and shaming PR professionals

The cartoon above shows one of the main points of conflict between PR pros and journos.

The journalist’s propensity to name and shame PR pros causes a lot of pain, especially for the newbie PR pro.
T. Anand Mahesh, Director, Mavcomm consulting Pvt. Ltd., managing director, (Mavcomm, says now PR professionals too are in a position to express their points of view and he sees that as a healthy development pointing out that, “As a community the exchange has increased between the two sides with the proliferation of social media communities that are catering to members from both the professions. This has also given both sides an opportunity to rant out their frustrations with each other. This may not be good in the short-term but am sure will help in increasing understanding of both sides about each other.”

Anand says there is also an exchange of roles happening between journos and PR pros which can only help to improve mutual understanding.

He says, “Many PR professionals are also blogging and even contributing some pieces to media while some journalists/ bloggers are also undertaking assignments in the field of PR and branding. “

Sharing examples of this trend Anand points out that, “At least half a dozen very senior journalists to whom I looked up to in the beginning of my career are now either working in corporate communications or in PR agencies. I am sure their juniors and others from their friends’ circle now look at PR completely differently.”

Another development, according to Mahesh is that, “The number of Mass Communications and integrated communication colleges are increasing. This has led to both journalists and PR professionals coming the same institute and in some cases they study some foundation modules together. This has led to greater understanding of the profession and lot of linkages and networks.”

Pressures on Journalists
Journalists are under acute pressure too. Content is getting affected by the agenda of the online news edition which can cater to the dumbing down of media to grab eyeballs. Last month, Reliance Retail’s launched their new smartphone, Lyf Earth 2 which focused on the ad made for the phone with Priyanka Chopra. Says Mala, while she wanted to do an opinion piece as some of the features being touted were hardly unique, the website of her organisation wanted a focus on Bollywood star, Priyanka Chopra.

There you have it, like any symbiotic relationship, both are pulled together with mutual need, but perhaps not a lot of mutual respect.

The cartoon in the story is drawn by Karan Bhujbal (@KB_Ideabaker). His blog Ideabaker, focuses on producing news and stories in visuals. These PR themed cartoons are drawn exclusively for PRmoment India. Karan is an award winning marketing communications professional and also one of our top 30 Under 30 PR professionals for 2015. 

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