It’s time for the PR industry to stop with self-loathing and demand better

The long-held tension between public relations and journalism is reaching toxic levels. Fixing it starts with PR professionals having the courage to demand better.

Stop with the self-loathing, PR pros!

Another day, another mean tweet from a journalist:

 

These folks sure don’t let a day go by without telling us how awful we are, do they?

For years, publicists have been the butt of journalists’ jokes, and increasingly, subjected to their verbal attacks and social media draggings, with the tension between both sides of the communications spectrum reaching peak levels in a post-pandemic world.

But are we really that terrible? Of course not. So, how did we get here?

PR is partly to blame 

There is no other industry that I can think of that would respond to harsh criticism of its own profession by adding to the pile-on. Think about police officers: even in the midst of tragic shootings, officers always find a way to rally behind their colleagues. Same with teachers, doctors, lawyers, heck, even plumbers, and other professionals.

 

 

And yet, every time a writer takes to Twitter or LinkedIn to air their grievances about PR pros, what do PR people do? They fall on their swords, pleading and apologizing for errors they themselves have never even made — further perpetuating negative stereotypes about us…how embarrassing!

We do our clients and our teams a huge disservice when we’re unwilling or too afraid to stand up to journalists and set boundaries. By doing this, we’re only allowing one side of the story to be told and perpetuating negative stereotypes that we’re all inept at our jobs.

Instead of automatically capitulating to journalists’ whims, PR professionals can and should feel more empowered to express boundaries of their own. When our knee-jerk reaction is to cower and cave in, we give journalists permission to keep treating us in a less-than-professional manner and that just makes it harder for all of us. When we back up our actions (including things like following up on pitches — a part of our job that seems to annoy most journalists) with a clear justification, it helps to set the right tone for how PR and media can work together better.

The scales of power need to be rebalanced 

Journalists may hold the keys to coverage, but we outnumber them…by a lot. Some data shows there are as many as 5.7 PR professionals to every one journalist. But what good are those numbers if we don’t put on a more united front?

Beyond the strength of our numbers, we also advocate for journalists a great deal whether they realize it or not. I have often advised my clients to advertise with certain media outlets they deemed not “top-tier” enough to warrant an ad spend, only to be treated rudely by a writer at that very publication.

The future of our industry depends on mutual respect

I have been in this business for 15 years, and I can tell you I’ve encountered some of the best and brightest communications professionals in this business, hands down. The work we do day in and day out is rarely easy, but it is important. With heavy workloads, client demands, deadlines, and constant fires to put out, PR is hard enough as it is. I’ve seen countless talents leave this industry altogether due to burnout, and, in fact, public relations consistently ranks in the top 10 of the most stressful occupations in the U.S.

The toxicity we get from journalists makes our jobs so much harder and can lead to a decline in one’s mental well-being. We deserve to be treated with at least a modicum of professional courtesy by every journalist we encounter.

Journalists aren’t exactly a walk in the park

While PR people aren’t perfect, many journalists have bad habits that make them a nightmare to deal with, too. Some journalists will commit to a story only to ghost us last minute, creating a snowball effect that compromises our chances of securing coverage elsewhere.

PR people often scramble to pick up journalists’ slack. When a journalist shows up to an interview late or unprepared, we’re the ones picking up the pieces, pushing back or rescheduling interviews, and resending information at their whim — all while dealing with angry clients who are unhappy with the way a reporter behaved as if it’s a reflection on us.

The truth is, PR pros and journalists provide enormous value to each other’s jobs as we’re essentially two sides of the same coin. No one party in the media equation should ever hold all the power over the other; we need each other to thrive. Rather than spewing complaints on Twitter on LinkedIn, let’s ask how both professions can improve our communication and collaboration, at the very least, treat each other with basic common courtesy.

Alysha Light is a 15-year communications professional and current founder of Flight PR, a boutique PR agency for disruptive brands based in Austin, TX. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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