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In response to Nick Cohen: PRs are not all the same

Posted by Darren Willsher on 27th June 2014

Alastair campbellFresh on the back of Robert Peston’s attack on the PR industry, Nick Cohen has penned a piece for Standpoint where he compares PRs as “the nearest thing to prostitutes you can find in public life.” Which was nice of him.

The article makes some excellent points and I don’t doubt for a second that those in central government are a nightmare to deal with. There’s also a real issue with the growing influence of advertisers on editorial copy and the amount of news stories that are essentially just press releases.

What’s annoying is that based on his experience of dealing with particular PRs and departments he has tarred the entire industry with the same brush. It would be like me saying all journalists are phone hackers.

Consider the following lines:

“PRs do not do what they do because a cruel world has left them with no alternative to selling their souls, but because they want to.”

“…every dandruff-ridden PR in every backwater office now thinks he is Alastair Campbell.”

“We should refuse to speak to press officers unless we intend to give them the ridicule and contempt they deserve.”

These aren’t sensible or well-argued points, these are excerpts from a thinly veiled rant at some very specific people that generalises a very diverse industry.

Firstly, “PRs” are not all the same and I’m sure the majority of us are perfectly aware of the benefits of using Head & Shoulders.

Secondly, I’d argue that the growth of the PR industry is a reflection of the changing media world we live in.

Many of our clients simply don’t have the time or the know-how to spot a good story and to get it in front of the press, yet the fact is they’re doing some genuinely great things that are deserving of attention. And for every terrible press release you see, I guarantee there are hundreds more that a smart PR has advised a company not to bother announcing.

Our role therefore isn’t to yell at night-editors or insist on press releases being printed verbatim, it’s helping companies spot interesting stories and then getting the relevant information in front of the right journalists at the right time.

Many companies also need more guidance now on what they can and can’t say in public. Before the growth of online media, people had more time for media enquiries and there was much less scrutiny of what was said. In a world where companies employ teams of people to track mentions of them in the press and where social media can send stories around the world in seconds, that’s simply not practical.

Even for clients in a very niche technology sector, an off-hand comment can quickly wind its way back to a potential or existing customer and I’ve seen this happen.

The role of the majority of PRs isn’t to stop the press writing up stories or dictating what’s said, it’s providing an increasingly time-pressured media with information they need to quickly pull a story together.

So yes there is certainly an issue with the role of PR in certain sectors and the growth of ‘churnalism,’ but all PRs ≠ a dandruff afflicted Alastair Campbell wannabe.

Photo credit

Darren Willsher

Darren has been with Wildfire for six years and is one of the driving forces behind the agency’s telecoms and networking portfolio, with experience working on a range of international, multi-channel accounts including CSR, Picochip (now Mindspeed), Real Wireless, The Small Cell Forum, Samsung and Allied Telesis.

  • Sean Fleming

    For every dandruff afflicted PR pro who wants to think they’re Alastair Campbell (Malcolm Tucker, more likely though) there’s a puffed up journo who thinks they’re Woodward and/or Bernstein.

    I’ve been both a journalist and a PR consultant and feel pretty bullet-proof when I say that this has always been, is still, and will probably always be one of the singularly most pointless discussions in the meeja sector.

    This is not intended as a criticism of Darren Willsher, the author of this piece.

  • Darren Willsher

    @sean_fleming:disqus Thanks for commenting. While this is a topic that’s certainly had its fair share of attention (and will no doubt appear again in a few month’s time), I’d disagree it’s a pointless one.

    At the level of “aren’t PRs bad” – yes that’s getting a bit tired now. But some of the questionable Govt practices (if true) deserve highlighting and the same goes for companies trying to buy editorial influence.

  • Alex Perryman

    If it makes anyone feel better, I can fully back up the assertion that Darren’s dandruff is, in fact, out of control. It’s just embarrassing that, with a major journalist making these noises, he’s still not getting the hint.