Opinion

We are not the enemy: An open letter to journalists from a PR professional

PR consultant Katie Clift, who has worked on both sides of the media fence, argues that for the industry to survive, PRs and journos need to learn how to work together.

The day I did it, I instantly regretted crossing over to the ‘dark side’.

When I quit my radio broadcasting job and become a full-time media advisor, I got a very big shock. It took years for me to get used to working on the ‘other’ side of media – a side I had some very big hang-ups with after working for years as a journalist.

I had some awful experiences with media advisors as a broadcaster. I still cringe today when I think of the constant follow-up calls – which somehow came most often when I was on deadline to go to air, emails with poorly-placed pitches for my show, being chased for interview audio relentlessly, and interviewing talent for 40 minutes, unable to get a word in, in what I was assured would be a three minute interview.

But, against the odds, I took the plunge. I’ve now worked in PR longer than I have as a traditional journalist. That first day of regret has now turned into years of satisfaction. I haven’t looked back.

And I’m here to pen an open letter to all Australian media: we PR specialists aren’t the enemy.

In fact, we need each other for our industry to survive.

I’ve received a lot of advice from journalists on how they like to work with PR specialists. That’s warranted, and important, but it’s time we PR experts knew our worth.

PR specialists and journalists are equals. We who work in public relations aren’t the enemy. We aren’t second-rate, less important, without power or obsolete – and it’s time we took a stand to say so.

For years I’ve heard about the annoying PR habits that turn journalists off a story, or off a company altogether. I’ve been there – I’ve experienced those habits first-hand. But PR specialists demand respect. It shouldn’t be a one-way street – we should be working together to get the best outcome for the media, for our audiences, our communities.

Good PR specialists work hard. We put in long hours to pull together all the elements to make a great pitch. We’re up early scheduling interviews, working late to explain facts and figures, all the while knowing the very next day we need a fresh, unbeatable story idea to stay in the game.

There are, of course, many PR professionals that don’t play by these rules. Just like there are some journalists who can be difficult to deal with. I hope this article also inspires us to reach deeper, and work harder in our industries – for each others’ sake.

Journalists need good PR professionals to provide timely, newsworthy, relevant and hard-hitting content. You need us to provide tip-offs, help navigate breaking news, find suitable talent, organise interviews, explain data and, at times, to create story angles out of nothing.

The best relationships I have forged with journalists – in TV, radio and print – have found a sweet spot. We’ve both known our strengths, and we have worked together in trust to secure front page stories, leading packages for bulletins and wide-ranging coverage. I let those journalists know how I like to work – and they let me know what’s best for them. 

Journalists: the next time you get a pitch from a PR specialist, think twice. We shouldn’t be perceived as the lower hand, begging for space, having to work tirelessly to convince you our story should get a run.

On both sides, we need to wake up and work together. When journalists see PR specialists as equals, not enemies, media begins to get exciting. When we share our strengths and lean on each other, we will see media wins we never thought possible.

PR specialists aren’t the enemy. Actually – if you let us – we could be your greatest ally.

Katie Clift is a PR consultant, journalist and broadcaster living and working in Athens, Greece. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or at katieclift.com

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