Frankie Flack: How business reporters make PR people crazy

by
PR vs. JOUR

Editor’s note: Talking Biz 2 is starting a new feature, a column by a top-level public relations person in New York who deals with business journalists every day. We have granted him anonymity — we have agreed on the pseudonym Frankie Flack — so he can be open and honest about his relationships with business journalists.

Frankie’s column will run every other Monday. A really cool caricature of Frankie is coming soon from our graphics department.

Here is Frankie’s first missive:

Every day business journalists and public relations executives exchanges countless phone calls, emails, text messages and sometimes even the hand written letter.  Our jobs require near constant interaction, making friendly relationships helpful to get business done.

What people too often forget though is that at the end of the day our objectives are fundamentally opposed.  PR’s job is to protect its organization, while business journalists must uncover news about companies, good or bad.

As a result, we have become very good at irritating each other.  Sometimes it is intentional, sometimes it is just bad practice.  Remember, hacks and flacks are not terms of endearment.

Therefore, when I think about common business journalist actions that drive me crazy I try and break them out into two categories: 1) necessary parts of their job; and 2) basic, avoidable annoyances.

Let me start with a sampling of the second category:

Act like we are constantly at war.  As I mentioned above, our jobs can be confrontational.  That said, every phone call or email from PR does not need to be treated with general disdain.  We can be helpful and until proven otherwise, deserve some basic respect.  There is nothing more irritating than reporters who simply refuse to work with PR people on principal.  My advice, keep an open mind with new PR relationships.

Be unprepared for an interview.  While setting up an interview seems like an easy task, it often requires a lot of work for PR.  Approvals are sought, messaging is drafted, executives are trained, all adding up to a lot of time.  So when the interview begins and the journalist sounds like someone randomly pulled from the street it creates a lot of headaches.  My advice, it is better to cancel an interview than show up unprepared.

Take my idea, but not my client.  A few times when I was representing smaller clients, I would pitch a story idea to a national business journalist who like the idea and decided to move ahead with the story.  To my astonishment a week later there was the story with several quotes from our bigger competitors.  To my client they had essentially just paid for good press on their competition.  My advice, if you like the story idea work with the PR person and don’t always rely just on the “bigs” for commentary.

I will end with two from the first category:

Go around me.  Many PR people would be incensed to speak with a journalist, deny a story idea, interview request, etc., and later find out that same journalist called an executive directly.  This is primarily because it almost always leads to a very uncomfortable conversation from executives questioning why PR can’t do their job.  However, good PR people know that journalists chasing a story will not stop because you said no.  It is better to prepare executives for a phone call than fight with a journalist for doing their job.

Mislead me.  Everyone knows that PR spins journalists, but what PR people can’t forget is that journalists will spin PR at times, too.  Sometimes journalists, especially in business media, will pitch an interview with a CEO on a topic that sounds great on the surface, but perhaps the line of questioning will touch on some pretty sensitive subject.  It is my job as the PR person to read between the lines of any request and prepare my executives appropriately.  No one should expect that either side is going to reveal all their cards, all the time.