Stop Pillorying PR: Let’s Call Out Crappy Reporting for a Change
If you are a communications professional, you are sure to have heard that PR staff and the media need each other. It’s a symbiotic relationship that won’t work unless each side respects the other and understands where the other party is coming from.
That may have been true at one time, but the relationship is a very uneven one when it comes to accountability. For years, various publications and sites have thoroughly enjoyed pillorying PR people for shoddy, poorly researched pitches. (God knows, so-called “pitch shops” give them enough material to work with, but that’s a topic for another piece.) Some well known examples include Gawker’s “PR Dummies” and the descriptively titled Bad Pitch blog.
So where is the equivalent site for poorly researched, poorly written media stories? There isn’t one—and that’s how you can tell this symbiotic relationship isn’t an equal one.
Every competent communicator has been the victim of a poorly done story on a client. Notice I’m not saying a negative story, which is always a possibility and if the facts are accurate you just deal with it. I’m talking about a poorly done story—quotes mangled, single sourced, pieces in which the reporter and editor just didn’t do their homework.
When this happens, the PR person usually just suffers in silence. They don’t feel they can publicly complain, for fear of burning a bridge they will need later with the publication in question. So they mutter into their beer(s), kvetch to family and maybe moan about what a tough job PR is. Basically do everything except call the reporter out.
What if PR people could even the playing field? In this day and age of SEO above all else, why should the sloppy, incorrect story be the only one prospects and partners can find online? When all other avenues have been exhausted, why don’t PR people start to populate a CrappyReporting.com site?
You may be thinking right now, “Hey this sounds great, but no one will actually do it.” Well I did it two summers ago, when a customer was poleaxed by the USA Today and Byron Acohido.
Acohido is a talented technology reporter, and won a Pulitzer back in the late 1990s. But in August 2010, he wrote a single sourced story in which an executive announced a new service offering, and took shots at a direct competitor (my client). In reality, the supposed new service had been offered since 2001 and the executive quoted had recently worked for the competitor. Neither fact was shared with readers of the story.
Armed with these points, I thought I could get some kind of edit to the online version of the story. However, that was not the case, and after being ignored I suggested to my client that we get these facts out the only way we could—through a detailed post on my personal blog. To their credit, my client agreed.
After the post was published, I did finally receive a response from Acohido’s editor, saying they “stood by their reporting.” At that point, so did I. You can see that email and the full story here.
A few suggested rules of the road before going public with your frustrations:
- Try every other avenue first to connect with the media source and get some kind of correction.
- Never get personal—stick to facts left out of story, or to inaccuracies therein.
- Make sure your reaction is in strategy for the client—is the media source worth responding to? Where online should the response be published?
Does this sound too risky? What happens the next time a client of mine “needs” Acohido or someone else at USA Today? For my agency this was not high risk, because media outreach isn’t a big part of what we do anymore.
Today, it’s all about content marketing, helping clients produce high quality content that is then marketed directly to prospects through social media channels. I work for B2B and B2G clients, and they want demonstrable results from their communications efforts. We tie our content to demonstrable outcomes like organic SEO improvement, prospect identification, lead generation, deal capture and improvements in lead scoring.
Often, more “traditional” PR benefits like secured stories, increased awareness and connections with niche influencers also accrue with a content marketing strategy. But those are added benefits, not the outcomes our projects are measured on.
My agency has gone this route partly due to the decimation of established media due to the rise of the Internet and social media. In my 2010 blog post, I hypothesized that this is what led to the Acohido story. Staffs have been cut to the bone, the reporters that are left are covering far more beats and have to publish more and more frequently.
Quality is going down the drain, even from sources like USA Today. It’s even worse in the technology trades, many of which have gone digital only to further cut costs. In such a vacuum, why shouldn’t smart companies step in and publish their own content? This concept is far more mainstream now than it was two years ago, with major brands like IBM and Juniper employing former journalists and investing large sums in their own publishing and networking communities online.
Of course, clients will always enjoy a positive story in a media outlet they perceive as influential. But that is becoming more and more peripheral to how communications is practiced today. And because of that, PR people won’t have to suffer in silence much longer when crappy reporting strikes.
Like Jerry Maguire said after his memo got him fired—“Who’s with me?”
Published: June 17, 2012 By: