Journalists’ complaints about PRs are the same in 2010 as they were in the early 90s when I started my career as a reporter on a trade magazine.
We used to receive 400 to 500 press releases a week by fax and post. 90 per cent were complete bollocks. Nine per cent were on target but dull and were usually followed-up if we had time. Only one per cent (4 or 5 stories a week) would end up in print. Our title was a name in a media directory organised by topic and was all too easy to add to a generic mailing list on the off chance that we’d cover a story.
I crossed over into PR in the mid-90s and joined the ranks of account teams building mailing lists using database systems to despatch hundreds of copies of press releases to the media each week.
Paper turned to email in the mid-90s but the direct mail driven mentality continued except now it was even easier to add a recipient to an email list.
But I’m optimistic. The PR industry is at a threshold. The distribution of press releases by email and wire prevails but the media is shifting to networks as a means of newsgathering. Bloggers and journalists are building trusted networks on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and will begin to use these exclusively. Email will be turned off and PR professionals will need to earn their place in a journalists’ network through personal expertise and reputation.
But this won’t necessarily be a cure all for relevancy. People can abuse networks and spray their content around the web. But it’s far easier in the long term to be transparent and put in the effort to build a network.
Tackling the issue
In the meantime PRs are divided on the issue of press release spam either ignoring it altogether or placing themselves beyond reproach. And for their part journalists use the issue as a stick to periodically beat up PRs. Rarely does meaningful dialogue take place.
This is an issue that the whole industry needs to tackle. I commend Realwire for launching the Inconvenient PR Truth community. Agencies, clients, journalists, publishers and PR professionals need to join in this conversation to resolve this issue.