Dear Journalist,

Don't blame PR when journalism is falling short.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Dear journ­al­ist,

Traditional journ­al­ism is going to hell in a handbasket.

The fall of journ­al­ism is a ser­i­ous mat­ter, of course. Journalism is the Fourth Estate, and we all depend on the free­dom of the press and its will­ing­ness to tell mean­ing­ful stories. 

PR pro­fes­sion­als, on the oth­er hand, are doing bet­ter. The media logic is evolving, and so are we. Change is dif­fi­cult, but soci­ety needs more pro­fes­sion­al com­mu­nic­a­tion, not less.

So, dear journ­al­ist, let me pose this some­what naïve question:

Is there a way for journ­al­ism to let go of the idea that PR is the prob­lem and explore more con­struct­ive solutions?

Let’s dive right into it:

More “Flacks” than “Hacks”

According to journ­al­ist Mike Rosenberg, there are five PR pro­fes­sion­als for every news report­er in the US. Fifteen years ago, we had two “flacks” on every “hack”. Rosenberg por­trays an army of “Pitchmen”, sin­is­ter cor­por­ate mer­cen­ar­ies, attack­ing journ­al­ists from every direction.

And I agree that we, the PR pro­fes­sion­als, should improve and get bet­ter at media rela­tions in general:

However, a reas­on­able assump­tion would be that an aver­age PR pro­fes­sion­al spends less than 5% of their work­ing hours work­ing towards journalists. 

The rest of the time is spent on, well, com­mu­nic­a­tions. Communications with vari­ous stake­hold­ers, to be more precise.

The Stakeholder Model - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
The stake­hold­er mod­el in pub­lic relations.

Stakeholders in Public Relations

In PR, we often dis­cuss stake­hold­ers. And our PR spe­cial­isa­tions are named based on which stake­hold­ers we’re respons­ible for managing. 

In a cor­por­a­tion, a stake­hold­er is a mem­ber of ‘groups without whose sup­port the organ­isa­tion would cease to exist’, as defined in the first usage of the word in a 1963 intern­al memor­andum at the Stanford Research Institute. The the­ory was later developed and cham­pioned by R. Edward Freeman in the 1980s. Since then it has gained wide accept­ance in busi­ness prac­tice and in the­or­ising relat­ing to stra­tegic man­age­ment, cor­por­ate gov­ernance, busi­ness pur­pose and cor­por­ate social respons­ib­il­ity (CSR).”

This is the stake­hold­er mod­el in PR:

  • Corporate Communications = External and intern­al pub­lics, busi­ness journ­al­ists, reg­u­lat­ory insti­tu­tions, part­ners, sup­pli­ers, vendors etc.
  • Investor Relations (IR) = Shareholders, fin­an­cial mar­kets, mar­ket ana­lysts, fin­an­cial insti­tu­tions, trade journ­al­ists etc.
  • Media Relations = Journalists, edit­ors, influ­en­cers etc.
  • Digital PR = Inbound web traffic, brand com­munit­ies, sub­scribers, fans, fol­low­ers, influ­en­cers, social net­works etc.
  • Public Affairs (PA) = Voters, polit­ic­al journ­al­ists, polit­ic­al ana­lysts, colum­nists, interest groups etc.
  • Lobbying = Politicians, legis­lat­ors, gov­ern­ment offi­cials, com­mit­tees influ­en­cers etc.
  • Internal Communications = Coworkers, poten­tial recruits etc.
  • Crisis Communications = Crisis vic­tims, wor­ried pub­lics, the gen­er­al pub­lic, cowork­ers, journ­al­ists, influ­en­cers, cus­tom­ers, share­hold­ers etc.
  • Marketing PR = Potential cus­tom­ers, exist­ing cus­tom­ers, trade journ­al­ists, mem­bers, affil­i­ates etc.
  • Industry PR (B2B) = B2B cli­ents, B2B pro­spects, trade journ­al­ists, trade organ­isa­tions, niche influ­en­cers etc.

Developing and main­tain­ing rela­tion­ships with vari­ous stake­hold­ers is a sig­ni­fic­ant chal­lenge for PR pro­fes­sion­als since their inform­a­tion needs are typ­ic­ally very dif­fer­ent. 1A wide­spread mis­con­cep­tion is that the PR func­tion only deals with journ­al­ists, edit­ors, and influ­en­cers (Media Relations) with­in the scope of attract­ing new cus­tom­ers (Marketing PR). But such work … Continue read­ing

Stakeholders in Public Relations - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Different stake­hold­er needs in pub­lic relations.

Learn more: Stakeholders in Public Relations

Media rela­tions is only one focus area of sev­er­al. The typ­ic­al PR gen­er­al­ist will devote more time to cor­por­ate, intern­al, and inbound com­mu­nic­a­tions.

With a decreas­ing num­ber of journ­al­ists com­bined with an increas­ing num­ber of ways to com­mu­nic­ate with the inbound pub­lics dir­ectly (yes, we do see oth­er people), it makes sense for the PR industry to focus even less on tra­di­tion­al mass media.

Not more.

It’s a Privilege, Not a Curse

In 2000 – 2003, when I was study­ing pub­lic rela­tions at Mid Sweden University, I inter­viewed the Editor-in-Chief for one of Sweden’s largest even­ing news­pa­pers — Thomas Mattsson, Expressen.

For our thes­is, my study part­ner Markus Christiansson and I wanted to dive deep­er into the rela­tion­ship between journ­al­ists and PR professionals.

When asked wheth­er Mattson ever felt irrit­ated about the sheer volume of use­less press releases and lousy PR pitches, he told us that he was­n’t bothered by this. 

For Mattson, people needed to pitch their stor­ies, good or bad, to Expressen. He said he would be more wor­ried if people, includ­ing PR pro­fes­sion­als, did­n’t pitch Expressen.

The edit­or-in-chief Thomas Mattsson wel­comed PR pitches because being a gate­keep­er is an essen­tial priv­ilege of being a journalist.

The Elephant in the Newsroom

I can under­stand resent­ment com­ing from journ­al­ists who are under the impres­sion that pro­fes­sion­al com­mu­nic­at­ors are respons­ible for mak­ing mat­ters worse:

Corporate com­mu­nic­at­ors make mis­takes every day. However, it’s a stretch to claim few­er mis­takes would be made if all PR pro­fes­sion­als decided to quit their jobs tomorrow.

The real prob­lem is that there are too few journ­al­ists, and not that more organ­isa­tions pri­or­it­ise bet­ter communication.

Almost all organ­isa­tions today, pub­lic or private, must com­mu­nic­ate pro­fes­sion­ally with both intern­al and extern­al stakeholders. 

The ratio of pro­fes­sion­al PR pro­fes­sion­als versus journ­al­ists could be twenty to one, just as long as enough journ­al­ists to report the news.

Dear journ­al­ist, per­haps news pub­lish­ers should even con­sider hir­ing more PR professionals.

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

Bonus Resource: The Difference Between Journalism and PR

Spinning Top on Table
To spin or not to spin.

Journalism vs Public Relations

PR pro­fes­sion­als and journ­al­ists share many prac­tic­al skill sets. Still, pub­lic rela­tions and journ­al­ism are fun­da­ment­ally different:

Journalism is the effort to report the news on the pub­lic interest’s behalf object­ively.

A fun­da­ment­al cri­tique against journ­al­ism is that objectiv­ity is unreal­ist­ic and the pub­lic interest heterogeneous.

Public Relations is the effort to advoc­ate pos­i­tions on behalf of spe­cial interests sub­ject­ively.

A fun­da­ment­al cri­tique against pub­lic rela­tions is that advocacy of spe­cial interests is manip­u­la­tion by the affluent.

But even if both journ­al­ism and PR fail to live up to their ideal states at all times, both prac­tices play vital roles in uphold­ing a bal­anced and stable democracy.

Learn more: Journalism vs PR

1 A wide­spread mis­con­cep­tion is that the PR func­tion only deals with journ­al­ists, edit­ors, and influ­en­cers (Media Relations) with­in the scope of attract­ing new cus­tom­ers (Marketing PR). But such work rep­res­ents only a tiny per­cent­age of all the stake­hold­er rela­tion­ships PR pro­fes­sion­als must man­age daily.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo


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