Wednesday, 6 May 2009

A Comment for Tala al Ramahi

As a journalist I always disliked PRs intensely. They were all too frequently dumb, annoying and often tried, in some way, to manipulate me. I do so hate being manipulated, too. But I rarely, if ever, refused to listen.

Listening is so important to journalism, I always thought.

I'd like to think that the experience and attitude I gained from working as a writer and editor informs my work today as a PR practitioner. I like working with people, journalists, whom I respect. I enjoy working with people, journalists, who respect me in turn. It's often something won, on both sides, but can only be won where someone is open to talking to people, not closed to them, to start with.

That respect, perhaps lacking in this piece if you don't mind me saying so, is something built on an understanding between us. I will endeavour to be useful, relevant and helpful wherever I can so be. I will even aspire to being insightful. I will at all times be truthful. But I work within constraints set by my status as being retained to work in my clients' best interests - as my client and I define them.

On the journalist's side, it's much simpler. It's simply to give me the chance to make a case for my client based on respecting my track record, experience and knowledge of the market and the role and restrictions of media enough to give me the time of day. I like to think that, where I am given that freedom, I can help to deliver useful results for the media I work with. If that is not the case, then of course I would expect to fail, in future, to have a similar opportunity to argue my case.

Where my clients' interests and those of the public combine, I can usually 'sell' a story quite easily. Sometimes I find myself encountering a journalist that knows better and isn't buying. Then it's my job to convince that journalist that I've actually got something of relevance, topicality and interest to that readership. This should be a pleasant process, not a mindless drone of shirt-tugging and nagging. I think we both recognise that.

I often find that I can do that with people, journalists, who are willing to listen to an alternative viewpoint. Typically, those are people that afford me enough respect not to just brush me off as an annoying flak or 'another PR' - those unwilling to fall prey to the sickness of generalisation that is the enemy of any 'seeker after truth'.

A touch of humility, you see, often makes a good journalist a rather brilliant one, IMHO. But an arrogant refusal to listen to someone on the grounds that they serve an organisation with a vested interest is blocking one side of the story.

An organisation promoting something new isn’t automatically irrelevant or worthy of your contempt, by the way. Every innovation around you today, everything that informs and empowers your life in this modern world, was created by an organisation that had to promote that innovation.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to offer you some advice from an old man. You have to keep your eyes and ears open if you want to serve the public with the truth. Closing yourself to those who are employed to help organisations communicate more effectively does not, in my humble opinion, advance that public service. More effective communication is in my interest, my client’s interest, the public’s interest and, yes, your interest.

I’m sure we would also recognise that I’d rather you took the information from me and used it as part of a broader story that presents the market in an informed, insightful and illuminating fashion. That I would rather see experience, insight and research going into stories that I work with media on. I have no issue with you taking what I provide, testing it, comparing it with competitors and using it as part of a larger story that talks to the issues and circumstances that surround and drive the market. I'd love to see great journalism that truly informs the reader. I’d personally like to see a great deal more of that than we see in much of our regional media today.

Incidentally, I am amazed at how many journalists have not the faintest idea of, or interest in, what professional PR practitioners actually do get up to with clients. I'll give you a clue - it's not actually about writing press releases and calling around media to make sure they've received them.

Perhaps a touch of humility and basic, human respect might serve you as well as it would serve the PRs you deride and hold in such obvious contempt.
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Anonymous said...

No more "breakfast show" debates then?

alexander... said...

Sadly, lots more!

Thursday 7.45am!!!


Mohamed Elzubeir said...

I think you are grossly underestimating the annoyance level and damage PR executives have caused so far.

While I can see you're saying, "Hey, but we're not all like that, don't generalize".. I think the number of PR drones far outnumber those who claim to take a more 'respectful' approach.

I rather think he was on point.

Seabee said...

Tala's rant was a huge generalisation of course and also suggested a lack of understanding of what PR is all about. 'Cut out the middleman to get to the truth' is an example of that. Good PR people can, and should, actually make a journo's life easier.

Mohammed, it may well be that the PR drones outnumber the competent, but the same applies to our 'journalists'.

The sad fact is that both professions here have far too many below-average practitioners.

Mita said...

A blog that touches all of us. I have a tenet that my father taught me - that while it is human nature to generalise and tar everyone in the same community with the same brush - judge each person on their own merits and I think the journalists and PR persons need to do that. Fortunately for us PR folks, there are a few listening journalists out there, and for them a few PR persons that do not pester!!

Anonymous said...

The Tala piece was written with a straight face? I'll be looking forward to a press release free, undercover, investigating, non-corporate/govt ass kissing UAE media very soon then.

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