Advice to Hacks from a Flack

6 02 2009

Ever wondered why PR people are sometimes called flacks?  No, me neither but come to think of it I’ve dodged some in my time as a PR person and too often from journalists.  

This post was inspired partly by a really interesting piece from the Guardian’s technology editor Charles Arthur and partly as a result of a dare from fellow PR person Megan Codling  (some of us can be quite wary of the press….seriously).  Charles’s post was the first time I have ever seen a  journalist acknowledge the fact that we are advocates for our clients and paymasters.  We are in thrall to the media too but the relationship should be mutually beneficial.  So, swallowing hard, here are a few tips for the fourth estate: 

  • Don’t let fly when you get a call from a PR person about a story you are not interested in.  Politely and firmly let them know.  They may well be lacking in experience and sometimes even judgement but they have summoned up the courage to call you and they’ve probably been polite.
  • When you get something you don’t want by e-mail (or DM) click delete and chill.  Don’t get annoyed because there is an attachment or the story isn’t up your street.  We strive to send you what you want but we don’t always get it right and often we are under pressure too. 
  • Resist the urge to take us down a peg or three.  Most PR people have a great deal of respect for who you are and what you do (and sometimes a well developed sense of inferiority).  It tends to evaporate when you turn up the heat.
  • Believe it or not we counsel clients on what they should release to the media.  We have to develop a keen news sense and we work hard to dissuade clients from issuing non-news
  • Work with us, we can be a very useful resource, we will endeavour to respond swifly with words,  images or a good interviewee.  We really don’t expect you to use what we give you verbatim.  We know the value of your endorsement and we strive for it but we don’t expect it.

Let me know what you think, whichever side of the fence that you sit on.  Let’s have a heated debate.



11 responses

6 02 2009
Rob Skinner

There is bad PR out there, there is also bad journalism. Its up to those of us who follow the best practice of our respective industries to keep standards high.

6 02 2009
Sarah Taylor

Well said Rob. As Christian Bale will tell you, there are ways and ways to tell people you’re not keen on their activity. As elsewhere in life, the few (stupid PRs calling at stupid times with stupid stories) spoil it for the many, but that’s what keeps the good ones – us :-) – in business.

6 02 2009

Nice to hear a little common sense on a topic that has been ongoing for the 21 years I’ve been in PR. The truth is that journalists and PR consultants are dependent on each other to a considerable extent, so need to accept this and learn to get on.

6 02 2009
Charles on… anything that comes along » PR treats journalists not as resources, but like car companies treat parts suppliers (updated)

[…] this would have to be the companion piece, from a PR point of view, with its five-point advice to journalists. The scary part? Charless post was the first time I […]

6 02 2009

Always a tricky subject – and I take my hat off to you for writing the other side of the story. I guess it’ll always be a love hate relationship. I’d love to do a job swap for a day – and let the journo see the other side of the fence. If there are any journos out there that fancy it – let me know!!! Nice job Rob. ;)

6 02 2009

Very interesting to see someone speaking up from the other side of the debate. Rarely seen, but much needed. All honest and well delivered points – good post!

6 02 2009

I think all of those points are applicable to 90% of PROs out there. It’s like Sarah says though, it’s the PR people which would disagree with any one of those points which are the problem. There is a reason that some journos are so PROactive in their approach to PR people and i’m sure it makes their job easier and more effective in the long run.

6 02 2009
A few words of wisdom from a PRO to a journalist | Berkeley Blog

[…] doing my regular email, Twitter, Facebook and Bloglines sweep this morning I stumbled upon a great blog entry from Rob Brown. I am constantly getting feedback from journalists on how best to work with them to […]

8 02 2009
Danny Whatmough

Great post – nice to see a PR with the guts to present the other side of the picture. It is very easy to slag off PRs (and vice versa) and some of the criticism is fair in some instances. There is still a place for best practice media relations in PR and posts like this will hopefully help this along.

11 02 2009

I’ve been working on this issue for a few months now and infact PRWeek have organised a conference on just this topic. The aim of this conference, which is aptly named ‘PR & The Media’, is to provide those points from the journalists perspective. Take a look at the website, the event is in a couple of weeks (26th February) but there are still spaces available and it will be a good opportunity to hear from journos on how they like to work with PRO’s and a great opportunity to voice your thoughts and concerns – its a two way street after all.

11 02 2009

Here is the URL in case you are interested –

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