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.





We are all in Public

4 02 2009

The BBC has dropped former Carol Thatcher daughter of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher from “The One Show” .  The BBC took the action after she apparently used the word “golliwog” to describe a tennis player.    The comments were allegedly made during a conversation with fellow presenters after filming for the programme had ended.  Carol has appeared on the show as a regular roving reporter for the last three years.

Other presenters reported her off-air remark to senior staff, leading to her sacking by the BBC.  The identity of the tennis player has not been revealed but there are rumours that it might even be Andy Murray. 

The critical issue here is not just the debate as to whether the remarks were racist (intentionally or not) but that the words of public figures are now seldom ever ‘private’.  Carol Thatcher needs to understand that the social web means that they can be published by anyone, anywhere in an instant.   The BBC should recognise this too and reveal the name of the tennis player.  Then we will all be better placed to make a judgement.





Are Bloggers Journalists?

22 01 2009

If blogging is citizen journalism then bloggers are citizen journalists, which by definition is a form of journalism.  Blogger relations might then have much in common with media relations.

I argued this case or something much akin to it in a lecture I gave for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in May 2008 at Leeds Metropolitan University.  

I had pursued this argument before with little opposition but when the Q&A section came round my argument hit a wall.  Richard Bailey, an academic blogger and university lecturer at Leeds took me to task on this view and Chris Norton Account Director at Wolfstar supported his assertion that blogger relations and media relations are very different. 

The two points of view can be broadly summarised thus:

The case for the prosecution

  • Bloggers don’t like and seldom use press releases
  • Bloggers are generally of independent mind and blog because they want to express their own views and opinions and not those of others
  • Blogs are not edited in the traditional sense and therefore can not be considered to be media in the conventional sense
  • Many blogs simply don’t have an audience
  • We have to engage with bloggers in a different way involving more dialogue and discussion

The case for the defense

  • Journalists don’t much like press releases either and never did.
  • I’ve met some pretty independent minded journalists in my time.  If in doubt read Nick Davies’s excellent ‘Flat Earth News’.  He’s man of independent mind (although he describes others that are not). 
  • The difference between blogs and ‘traditional media’ on line is becoming blurred.  The process of editing creates authority but it does not mean that blogs can’t be authoritative.  

I modified my view after listening to both Richard and Chris but I do believe there is a significant amount of common ground in how we approach the most influential bloggers and how we have deal with journalists who fit the more traditional mould.  I imagine however that the debate will run and run.








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