The Black Sheep of PR: A PR Nightmare of a Survey

 A PR nightmare of a survey

Published April 23, 2011

IF you were among the 500,000 people worldwide recently that a certain PR firm had chosen to annoy, you would have stood a 1-in-500,000 chance of winning an iPad 2.

All you would have to do is answer 15 questions in a survey called ‘What Journalists Want From PR’.

I suppose that after figuring which end of the phone to speak into, the hardest task is figuring out what journalists could possibly want from PR professionals.

But you would have thought that what journalists do not want would have been obvious: an e-mail like this.

The questionable nature of offering a freebie this shiny and coveted to a journalist aside, the survey gets a little bit ahead of itself by asking a barrage of questions about social media such as ‘Do you follow and friend corporate communications or public relations professionals on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook?’.

‘What, they think the answer might be ‘yes’?’ a horrified colleague had asked.

That the question even had to be asked means we can assume that these are the PR people who are not already friends with the journalist in question, who have no legitimate reason to want to be their ‘friend’ on a site where people do overly friendly things like ‘poke’ each other.

To be sure, such a question needs another kind of survey instead – one of your Facebook friend requests and every journalist who has not accepted yours.

It is baffling that anyone would think that someone else would welcome being followed around on Twitter and harassed in 140 characters or less. ‘hi when is the story cmg out? tks!’

In any case, the survey gets ahead of itself because it does not ask the most fundamental questions that PR people ask on nose-to-the-grindstone days. While the survey might fail to ask them, I will provide the answers:

  • No, you may not read the story before it comes out in print.
  • No, The Business Times and The Straits Times are not the same paper even though we have the same parent. Would you like us to run a story on your sister instead of you and ask you what the difference is?
  • No, you may not have the questions beforehand. It’s an interview, not an exam, and your CEO is a big boy.

Growing numbers

These questions are bound to be asked over and over, and in much greater frequency. In a cover story for the Columbia Journalism Review last October, Dean Starkman said with a tinge of foreboding: ‘We are living in a time of PR ascendance.’

He cited figures showing that the ratio of PR people to news reporters has grown drastically in America. In 1980, that ratio was 0.45 PR folks to 0.36 journalists per 100,000 population. Today, that ratio is 0.90 PR people to just 0.25 journalists per 100,000 population.

Mr Starkman estimated that since 2000, the news business over there has lost 15,000 journalists, all of whom were presumably too busy to come into work after rejecting friend requests from PR people on Facebook became a full-time job in its own right.

‘While journalism has withered, PR has bloomed like a rash,’ he noted morosely.

To be fair, there are many PR people on the island who are a dream to work with, are intimidatingly competent and make navigating unfamiliar territory a less onerous experience.

But this survey unwittingly reveals that some only signed up because they thought they would be a PR person the way Samantha from Sex and The City is a PR person – with exclusive parties every week, lots of air-kissing and utterances of ‘Dahling’.

They hadn’t bargained for having to jump up and down in a suit, yelling, ‘Off the record!’ to drown out their client’s answer to anything not in the press release or suffering the indignity of pitching news about people sitting in the dark for an hour every year in a bid to save the planet.

Some of them must not have foreseen the tedious reality of writing press release after press release on matters they neither understand nor care about – which would explain one of the questions in the survey: ‘What elements should a press release contain so as to make it most helpful for your writing/reporting?’.

In responding, you are invited to check any number of available choices which include, ‘Clear and concise facts about the ‘who, what, where, when, why’ of the release’.

English, please

No, please, forget the ‘why’. It’s heaps more fun to make that stuff up. And please, if you must include a ‘why’, such as why a certain executive is stepping down from the board, being ‘clear and concise’ is overrated. You should, in the words of a certain MNC’s press release, say that he did it because of ‘diverging views on the future strategic focus of the company’.

Then, we get to call you up to ask that you translate it into English. We might eventually fall into such a rich and rewarding conversation with you that we add you as a friend on Facebook and spend the rest of our days blissfully exchanging Farmville requests.


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