We have a media relations skills shortage

You’d think that media relations is so old now that highly skilled media relations practitioners would be easy to hire. Yet we actually have a significant skills shortage.

Graham GoodkindThe PR industry is “losing sight of junior people [who] understand traditional media,” Graham Goodkind of Frank PR told a PRMoment event on Tuesday. Instead, too many people doing media relations have “become database sales people” who ring up journos they don’t know and get their names wrong on the phone.

“Some PR agencies have got right of their newspapers,” he said, and the mistake is to think that because “lots of stuff is on social media”, everything is.

Mark BorkowskiThe view was echoed by his co-panelist Mark Borkowski, of Borkowsi.do, who said that we needed to “resist dehumanising” the relationship with journalists. He said that while of course social media is important “people still buy newspapers and read them online”.

Indeed, mass media is enjoying audiences never before experienced – although the sector is experiencing massive commercial challenges as a result of shifting online and the unleashing of global competition.

To my mind, the skills shortage has a profoundly negative effect on the reputation of PR among journalists. While every journalist relies on relationships with good PR practitioners, unskilled ones sully the whole sector – by exporting hundreds of email addresses from a media database, spamming them all with irrelevant press releases and then phoning to ask “Did you get my press release?”

Good media relations recognises that there is the word “relations” in the name. It involves developing long-term relations based on trust. It involves, first and foremost, being the eyes and ears of an organisation. And, contrary to the nonsense that people claim about the power of contacts books to get the banal into print, journalists won’t publish low-quality stories just because they know you (that would cause professional embarrassment).

But if they associate a PR practitioner’s name with someone who’s helpful, on-topic and delivers good quality materials, their emails and calls will gain attention.