Hacks versus Flacks 2.0

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I recently attended PR Moment’s second ‘Hacks versus Flacks’ debate at Microsoft’s offices in London, rubbing shoulders with some senior level industry professionals. The overall purpose of the debate was to explore how the relationship between public relations practitioners and journalists has changed over recent years, how social media has affected the working relationship between journalism and PR, what has been the impact of the 24/7 news room, what both PRs and journalists get wrong, and finally what we should expect to see in the future.

The event panel included a mix of PR professionals; from the head of media relations at the Financial Times, to senior journalists currently working within the industry. It was a lively debate with a number of key issues being raised, ranging from the lack of finances within the media industry today, to PR practitioners pitching stories that aren’t of relevance to journalists and ultimately wasting their time.

One of the key takeaways from the event was journalism’s view of how the working relationship between journalists and PRs has changed over the years. Contrary to the stereotypical belief that PRs wine and dine journalists to get their stories out there, it all comes down to timing. In such a fast-paced media environment, journalists and PRs simply don’t have the time to commit to being out of the office, going for lunch, or meeting with industry professionals in order to build new working relationships.

In today’s environment, all of the panel agreed that it ultimately comes down to the content and story being pitched, and whether it’s news worthy for their readership, rather than who was pitching it. No matter how strong a working relationship between a journalist and PR might be, if they pitch a story that isn’t of any interest, or irrelevant to their editorial, they will simply turn it down.

The debate then moved onto how journalists preferred to receive pitches for stories. With so many methods of communication available, it was interesting to hear the journalist’s view on how they prefer PRs to send through story ideas or press releases, be it through email, a quick phone call, social media or via traditional carrier pigeon methods.

With the number of PRs currently working in the industry heavily outweighing journalists by a massive 5:1, the way to be successful again comes down to the content being pitched. Editors often have a near-insatiable thirst for exclusive content, and PRs can help journalists to meet this never-ending demand by sending through a quick email, thus saving time and leaving the journalist to read it as and when they become available. The journalists on the panel noted that they are not keen on PRs getting in touch and pitching stories through Twitter or other forms of social media, as they try to keep their social platforms for personal matters, with very limited professional life leaking in!

To quickly summarise the overall takeaway from the event was content is king! You could be the journalist’s best friend but if you’re pitching a story that isn’t of any use to them and their editorial, then you won’t be getting a story.

I’m sure a few good friendships have been ruined this way.