8 Reasons Why Journalists Are Bad PRs

by PR Coach on May 25, 2011

Slime-slingers need not apply

PR: Slime-slingers need not apply

In light of the recent Burson Marsteller/Facebook debacle I thought I’d serve up eight reasons why journalists sometimes make the worst PR people.

This is a risky post to write. There will be some who will be offended and others who will disagree violently with me. But hey, if The Economist can do a take out on PR professionals in the article “Slime-slinging”, turnaround is fair play.

Jim Cameron wrote a very interesting post recently called 4 Reasons Why Journalists Still Make the Best PR People. Cameron’s four reasons were:

  • Knowing First-Hand What Motivates Media and “Key Influencers” – understanding news values.
  • Killing Non-News – if it isn’t news, it isn’t news.
  • Transparency in Advertising/Messaging – calling BS when they see it.
  • Finding Out What Makes You Special – skilled at investigating and finding the unique hook.

He’s right. The best PR people, whether they were former journalists or not, know how to find the news. They’re great storytellers. My former PR agency partners worked as a reporter and a TV producer respectively.  Each with more than 20 years experience in print and TV. They were superb at media relations and they were quick studies on the PR agency business and the other skills you need to run a business.

Our hiring of former reporters as PR consultants sometimes worked wonderfully and sometimes didn’t work very well at all. So with my tongue firmly in my cheek, here are my eight reasons why journalists make the worst PR consultants:

  1. Need constant assigning – unless they’ve been an editor or worked on the radio or TV assignment desk, journalists need “assigning” and oversight. As any editor will tell you, it can be like herding cats.
  2. Not entrepreneurial – most have never run a business.  They bristle at things like timesheets, client reports, financials and group tasks. They innately dislike “management” and the worst pairing on an account team is a former news reporter and an entrepreneur client. Stand back and watch the sparks fly.
  3. Hypercritical – journalists are expert at finding problems, applying critical thinking and offering up criticism. Unfortunately, they’re not so strong on problem-solving, preferring instead to move on to the next problem to analyze and report on.
  4. Work ethic – in a busy PR agency, you can’t selectively avoid some deadlines. Especially for things you hate like timesheets, client reports financials and team meetings. Ironic given they come from a deadline-driven business.
  5. Anti-social – journalists love gossip and coffee break conversations. It’s the caffeine and newsroom culture that run in their veins. But many also prefer to write, interview and chase down a story rather than spend “face time” with clients or colleagues. Some will do anything to avoid these tasks. Unfortunately, the PR business is much more than media relations.
  6. Undiplomatic – many times I’ve had to referee relationships between clients and former reporter/consultants whose comment to me was: “I just told it like it is.”
  7. Conflicted – between their news sensibilities and clients’ needs for results there is sometimes a huge gap regardless of the story “value.”
  8. Untrained for PR – many times, aside from media relations, reporters and journalists are untrained for the other important roles and functions public relations plays. Think internal communications, community relations, crisis management, marketing communications and strategic planning. That’s not a knock on their training or work experience. We sometimes expect them to simply know what to do in PR right out of the gate.

So, would I hire a former reporter again? Absolutely! We don’t need more “slime-slingers” do we? Some of the former reporters I’ve employed have been my best consultants though others have been a challenge to train and to manage.

Let the slings and arrows begin. I’m very keen to hear from other agency owners, senior managers, clients and former journalists whether any of these reasons for PR-challenged reporters ring a bell.

I’m still trying to figure out the two former senior level reporters at Burson-Marsteller. They should have called BS on the client and agency management on the issue of non-disclosure. Any good journalist would have spoken up and also pointed out the expected consequences.

What do you think? Was the bottom line driving B-M’s pitchmeisters? Do any of my reasons strike a chord with you? Comments are always welcome.

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Photo credit: Tony Case/Great Beyond via Flickr

Author: Jeff Domansky is Editor, The PR Coach

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