Why we should say “thank you” to PR pros

Publicists, like politicians, are an easy target for haterade gulpers and scorned skeptics; and frankly, I totally get it.

Both suffer from “death by association.” Meaning, the bad ones seem to magically rise to the top and ruin it for everyone else.

Lately, PR itself (not wanting to be outdone by their political counterparts) has been getting some…noteworthy press attention that is. For an industry whose job is defined by servicing the media with valuable, relevant, noteworthy information, this is an interesting turn of events.

[And it’s almost as ludicrous as a modern-day politician actually getting something done]

Case and point:

The New York Times ran this article on November 23rd entitled “Swatting at a swarm of public relations spam.” In it the author (David Segal aka The Haggler) airs his frustrations with public relations professionals and divulges the secret formula for journalists wanting to be removed from media databases like Vocus and Cision.

Ouch. But again, I totally get where The Haggler is coming from.

Those of us who believe we sit on the “problem solving” side of the PR equation – where we are doing everything in our technological power to minimize the unfortunate PR reputation for being a “black box” which consists of a bunch of blonde haired nincompoops who frequent parties and blast out spam emails to journalists – we also face our own issues with PR “innovators.” Some of these folks don’t quite understand the systemic issues well enough to comprehend the implications of “one-size-fits-all” or “quick fix” PR promises.

Read this article by our good friend Chuck Tanowtiz covering this topic.

This kind of stuff can really bring companies to new, lower levels of “PR modus operandi.”

BUT. Before you think I’m tumbling down the abyss of negative-nancy-dom during this week of giving thanks (and now, in an odd twist of calendar serendipity, Menorah lighting), fear not.

I am here to tell you that, despite all the recent “negative PR press” (I still find this ironic), at its core there are so many things for which to be grateful. In other words, if you are reading this, and you employ a PR pro or contract a PR firm that you like (dare I say “love”), here are a few things they do for you. For these things you should say “thank you” and be eternally grateful.

Ahh-hemm.

Happy Thanksgiving#1 – Journalists are a colossal pain in the ass.

There, I said it. And they know they are. Even for great PR people, with whom they have relationships, journalists are a tough bunch. They don’t mean to be – but by the very nature of their job they end up being this way. Breaking news, trending topics, bigger better stories that will captivate their dwindling readership numbers: all of these things are paramount to publications. So, even if you are the next best thing since sliced bread or you have circuitously reinvented the wheel, it doesn’t mean you’re getting a story.

Be grateful to the PR folks who put up with this B.S. on a daily basis, and who have spent years and even decades building these relationships. It’s a hard job. I repeat: IT IS A HARD JOB.

#2 – Building a narrative takes Pulitzer Prize worthy skill.

Oh, that’s right. A journalist from Forbes or FastCompany or The Wall Street Journal should naturally care about your new location-based mapping software for tracking migrating birds which you (the CEO, who graduated top of class at an Ivy League school) built a prototype for while on a “finding myself” trip to Costa Rica.

Incorrect. No one cares.

PR experts make people care. They make the press care, who then make your customers care. They take all those disjointed pieces of information that – on their own make you look like a privileged you know what – into a storyline that makes you look, feel, and exude rock stardom.

#3 – Taking bullets takes tremendous resolve.

There is a reason this saying exists: don’t shoot the messenger.

Inevitably, messengers get shot; and in the PR industry this couldn’t be truer. PR pros stand in the middle of what one of my mentors calls the fight between the Christians and the Turks. Journalists on one side, companies on the other. In between these factions stands a person (or group of people) who assert diplomacy regularly, even though they are technically not diplomats.

The pervading PR paradigm is that the fight is between the PR pros and the journalists; but this is inaccurate. The communicator (the PR pro) is simply acting on behalf of someone else – and often that someone else has his or her own agenda, thoughts, and ideas about what the media should care about. When these agendas don’t align, PR stands in the middle, attempting to placate both sides.

PR doesn’t have to be thankless…

We can certainly spend time focusing (as many often do) on all of the terrible atrocities committed by the PR industry: poorly written press releases, irrelevant media pitches, spam, making reality stars famous for much ado about nothing, and allowing juniors to do the work that should be reserved for senior level executives. All of these things are indefensible, and these things must change.

But at its core, the industry is one of service – and with this service comes an extraordinary amount of commitment to relationships and understanding people. It’s a rough gig.

So this week, for the record, I would like to say that we (AirPR) are truly grateful to the amazing PR professionals we’ve gotten to know over the years who have inspired us to get excited about the PR industry.

And something we can all be grateful for? The PR industry press coverage of the future will look very different…

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