Frustrated columnist? It’s a 2-way street . . .


Columns griping about PR, like the one that ran in the Washington Post last week, are nothing new.

I understand why this columnist is frustrated. And I admire the thorough way he researched the piece – if this were done more often, then the scenario he experienced would be less common.

But he let his guard down with one phrase that highlights the entire disconnect between journalists who feel like he does and the PR pros they are trying to motivate (shame?) via pieces like this:

“. . . looking for instances of companies that declined to comment or were rude enough to never respond to a reporter’s questions.”  (emphasis mine).

Wait – it’s rude not to respond to emails? How many emails from PR people did this columnist never respond the week he wrote this piece? Likely dozens, maybe hundreds. And that’s entirely okay. We get that journalists can’t possibly respond to all the incoming emails they get.

By the same token, a little realism on the part of these journalists might help alleviate some frustration. PR teams at brands like those on his “rude” list – Tesla, Google, Lyft, and so on – don’t have a blanket responsibility to respond to all questions sent their way.

Their job – and yours – is to evaluate the risks and opportunities posed by each inquiry and balance those against the other risks and opportunities their organization faces.

Personally, I prefer acknowledging each media inquiry. But I accept that we don’t know the set of facts these PR teams are dealing with – there may even be a good reason not to respond. If they choose not to participate in a story, that’s likely neither personal, nor hostile to the freedom of the press, nor rude. It’s simply a calculated business decision.

Just like a journalist who declines a media pitch. Or asks to interview your CEO for an hour and then leaves them out of the resulting story. Or asks for your help in finding an expert and then fails to name your organization in a piece, even though you asked politely.

As a consummate PR professional, you don’t dash off an angry email, nor a blog post lamenting rude media. You file that particular journalist’s behavior away and use it to calculate future decisions about working with them. As journalists continue to do about working with you.

The columnist quotes a few people who talk about building relationships between the media and businesses. Relationships are a two-way street. We in PR are racing to adapt to the changing media landscape.

Journalists need to do the same.

This article was originally published on Jul 13, 2018.