I'm often asked to speak to conferences of public relations professionals or to meet with the employees of this agency or that agency and I'm always happy to do so.
Many in my line of work think of PR folks as pests, as “flacks”, as a nuisance that gets in the way of real reporters trying to get their stories.
I take a different view and because of that, I think I have a competitive edge over my press gallery colleagues who don't even look at press releases before throwing them in the garbage and who never grab a coffee with a PR person. Public relations people — whether they work for a corporation, an agency, a governnment department or a political party — are vital to my professional success. They know stuff I don't and I never want to give any of them a reason not to tell me what they know.
They not only know stuff about the clients they represent but they know a lot of stuff about their competitors and about the industry they're in. If I'm looking to sniff out a rumour, let's say, about an airline company, the PR folks at that airline company are unlikely to tell me much. Fair enough, because that's their job. But I'll be the PR folks at that airline's competitor, the train company, the bus company, the travel agency, and the government airline regulator may have heard something about that rumour. So it's in my interest, as a reporter, to make sure I maintain a decent professional relationship with the PR folks in what I've sometimes referred to as my “ecosystem of sources” — a term I used to describe my sources, PR folks, readers/viewers with a keen interest in the topics I'm writing about, and other journalists on my beat.
Now, I'm a professional, too, and that means it's my job to take in all this information and recognize what trends or facts would be of interest to the folks I represent: Readers of my newspaper or viewers of my television newscast. My job is highly competitive. If a press release crosses my desk and I toss it only to see my competitor do something on it for the six o'clock news, then I'd better be prepared to say why I got 'scooped' by my competition.
Professionals in the PR business, I think, recognize this: The good ones know they're dealing with professional journalists who really only need to be told something once. The good ones know that relationships they establish with a journalist should outlast whatever client they're representating or whatever project their office is involved in.
Which brings me to Joe Thornley of the public relations firm Thornley Fallis. He — and his firm — are among the “good ones”. Now, I don't know if their clients feel the same way 🙂 but my experience with him and his employees has been exemplary. Joe's got a post up at his blog right now about ethics and public relations. It — and the pieces he's linked to — are interesting reads if you're in his profession but I think some of the points he makes are also important to keep in mind if you're on my side of the fence in the business.
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