‘I hate media relations. Journalists are so rude’

Man on the phone looking unimpressed

Many people find media relations an ordeal. One senior PR practitioner told me last year that he deliberately tried to avoid any involvement in dealing with journalists because “media relations is a thankless task”. Another practitioner told me “I hate media relations. Journalists are so rude.”

This isn’t how media relations should be. The problem is that too many organisations try to do media relations by being press release farms. They export huge lists of journalists from pay-for databases, spam them with irrelevant press releases that lack news value, and then ring newsrooms to ask “Did you get my press release?”

Surely it is no surprise that this causes little but irritation from journalists. Yet the alarming thing is that this sort of bad practice occurs all over the place, including some very large and high budget organisations.

Good media relations specialists don’t rely on media databases. Instead, they start by studying the journalists they want to engage with. They read the writers and outlets (and watch the TV and radio shows) that are relevant to the organisation. They get to know what makes them tick. They also work internally in their organisations to ensure that materials are produced that are of a high quality and with news value that’s relevant to their target media.

Yet there are highly funded press offices where an immaculate collection of newspapers stay unread for an entire day, and PR teams who don’t bother looking at any of the outlets they’re trying to influence. This inevitably causes poor performance.

It is now widely accepted – at least intellectually – that PR more generally should involve a two-way process involving listening as well as talking. Well, in media relations this two-way process is absolutely vital. And the difference when PR practitioners relate properly to media is striking: it means journalists, rather than expressing annoyance, send emails saying “thank you” and value your engagement.