17 July 2008

Bunny boiling

Over at Getting Ink, Sally has raised some interesting questions about doing PR from a journalist's perspective. Many freelance hacks dabble in PR - when commissions are thin or you just want some regular income, it's easy enough to get writing shifts at a PR agency or take on business clients looking for PR and wanting to hire those with a solid journalistic background. A lot of journalists also shift over permanently to PR at some point in their career. After all, who better to understand what journalists want in a story than a journalist, right? Right.

Yet, it's a precarious position to be in, as Sally has discovered. I was actually quite shocked that some lazy hacks were demanding the PR bunny set up interviews with their client's rivals. Any journalist too lazy to do that really ought to be forced to spend the rest of their career covering church fĂȘtes and court reports. (And hoping to be nominated for a Churner Prize if they honestly think asking a PR to write 800 words for their own byline is acceptable behaviour.) (But apparently these things are all normal practice, according to PRs, so maybe I shouldn't be too shocked at what colleagues get up to.) I was also quite gobsmacked that one journo could say to another (highly experienced) journo "that's not a story".

It's for all these reasons that PR is an area I tend to shy away from. I will draft the occasional press release for a client, as long as the business is not operating in an area I normally cover as a journalist, to avoid conflict of interest. Otherwise, I'd rather earn additional income from copy-editing or copywriting. It's a somehow cleaner relationship. Certainly one that makes me feel less grubby.*

*I'm not suggesting that Sally is grubby. Far from it. Because I know she's not. I'm just less comfortable about taking on PR work.


Anne said...

I do copywriting for PR companies, but don't think I could face doing media relations.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I am grubby. But that's down to a combination of toddler, labrador and a day on the beach!

As a rule, I have pretty strict rules about commercial and editorial work - I would never do commercial work for a company I cover as a journalist, and vice versa.

This PR job initially started as copywriting, but sort of evolved - and since it involves magazines I'm never going to write for, and a sector I'm never going to be called upon to write about, I think it's ethically pretty sound.

That said, it's been a fascinating insight into how the hack/flack interaction looks from the other side. The things you identify as being shady (and which I might previously have thought of as shady) are common practice - most PR types don't think twice about writing copy for placement in a paper, or setting up calls for a journalist and doing background research.

I'd certainly recommend anyone who gets the opportunity to take on this kind of work without a conflict of interest leaps at the chance - it's been fantastically interesting*

* and also paid for a new CR-V diesel engine...

Unknown said...

Sally, looks like your and my ethics are pretty similar, then, when it comes to doing PR. Not sure I'd be willing to take it as far as you, however fascinating. But then, I don't need a new engine. Although there's a good chance that one day I might need to earn that sort of dosh for something, so I'll never say never...