When I was a reporter, public relations people were the enemy, the bad guy. As far as I know, this perception has not changed in the few years since I went over to The Dark Side.

PR folks usually shamelessly promoted their companies’ or clients’ “news,” no matter how small and insignificant, and were happily – if not willingly – blind to the real news, the information we journalists as well as the public wanted or needed and deserved to know. They stood at the gate of this wealth of knowledge – or, at least, the people who had it – and refused to let us in, all the while wearing big smiles on their faces and politely repeating only what they could (or perhaps would) tell us. It seemed as if “make ’em beg” was their motto.

Now, not every PR person I dealt with remained my enemy. Some were very competent and not only understood but empathized with where I was coming from: I was serving the public interest and it was my job to make that story as informational, interesting and accurate as I could. They were willing to divulge information to me they might not give other reporters – because I earned their trust by reporting correct and accurate information and usually wrote it well. If I asked the right questions, they didn’t deny me the answers. I didn’t always get the story I wanted or I thought was there, but I knew I could trust these PR folks to tell me honestly what they did know or could tell me.

On the other side of the court, you have the journalists, who are the gatekeepers of information – as they professors and editors impressed on them time and time again – to their community and, with the proliferation of the Internet, the world. Depending on the size of their community, they are receiving dozens if not hundreds or even thousands of press releases a day – and that doesn’t include the calls and tips they are receiving from other sources and via other formats. Only a small percentage of those press releases quantify a brief mention in the newspaper, and even a smaller percentage of those releases qualify for a story or mention on the evening news or radio broadcasts. So when you’re bombarded with “news” everyday that may be news to the person sending it but doesn’t meet some pretty heavy criteria for publication or broadcast, you grow a thick skin and grow critical of “public relations.”

And thus you have an often shaky relationship that’s like mixing oil and water between the media and the promoters. Understanding this relationship between journalists and public relations people and each side’s point of view is crucial to seeing information about your business in the media. In my next blog, I’ll talk in more detail about what might qualify as a valid press release – and I say “might” because what may qualify for publication or broadcast by one entity may end up in the recycle bin at another.

Yes, the art of public relations is indeed complicated.

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