Sunday, 31 January 2010

How to improve the inconvenient PR truth campaign

Real Wire have reacted to the intense recent debate over PR spam by setting up their own campaign to give journalists a 'bill of rights' when dealing with PRs:

In terms of being an effective tool for focusing the debate and looking for a conclusion, I think the campaign is a powerful one. I do not, however, believe it gets to the root of the problem - the lack of personal training for junior PROs and the use of crude evaluation processes like AVE which force desperate PRs to mass mail journalists in the hope of getting their figures up.

Here's my three-step theory on how to help solve the situation:

1) As I said on Charles Arthur's blog recently (, the CIPR and/or PRCA need to talk to the NUJ and agree on a code of practice which can be integrated into official CIPR and PRCA training courses. This can help reach grassroots PROs and will lead directly to the agencies responsible for the 'spamming' in the first place.

2) PROs need to be stronger with their clients. AVEs, number of cuttings - this leads to a shoot from the hip, rushed approach to comms and leaves no time to build quality campaigns and relationships with the media. Change needs to come from the top, and this will filter down and mean the poor junior execs won't have to sweat about achieving x amount of 'hits' for a stagnant press release.

3) Gorkana and the other media databases need to provide more detailed information and links to journalists' own websites, to help time poor PRs by pointing them in the direction of proper research rather than a rushed 'easy win'. Note I said point them in the direction of research, not do it for them. They could even remove the mail merge feature and there should be a note before the 'send' button is pressed - ARE YOU SURE THE CONTACTS ON THIS LIST ARE RELEVANT?

There you go, three steps which in my opinion will help more than giving journalists 'rights'.


  1. Hi Jonathan

    Thanks for covering the campaign and for your "powerful" review. Firstly just as background we didn't actually react to the recent Kevin Braddock incident. I posted a blog post last September that was a very similar narrative to the final animation script. We then carried out the research that is referred to in November/early December and pulled together the creatives during December and January. The Kevin Braddock story only strengthened our resolve to see this issue constructively debated.

    I agree completely that we did not cover the root causes of the problem. However given that we have come in for more than a little criticism for the apparent arrogance of raising the issue in the first place in this "controversial" way and suggesting the standards for discussion, I'm not sure getting into solutions as well would have been wise :-)

    I/we don't think we have all the answers but FWIW I think your points above are all very valid and I definitely agree that to address this issue requires a broad church of input including industry bodies, PRs, the media and service/database providers. We started the campaign precisely because alone we are neither the problem nor the solution. We realised that starting this conversation wasn't without significant risk, but we felt strongly as a team about it. As an aside there is a quote from one of my favourite books as a teenager by Stephen Donaldson (Mordant's Need) that is relevant here "I have always believed that problems should be solved by those who see them - that when a difficulty presents itself the person who becomes aware of it should answer it instead of trying to pass it on to someone else".

    We offered on Friday to tear the campaign down and start again or better still to see the CIPR, PRCA etc take the lead because we agree that is much more likely to be constructive.

    It is because we are passionate about public relations and what it can be capable of that we embarked on this in the first place. I hope some good will come of it.....

    Thanks again

  2. Hi Adam,

    Thanks for pointing out the history of the campaign. That's something I found interesting and the fact that the Kevin Braddock debate happened during your preparation must underline why the debate is necessary.

    I'm pleased to hear about your offer to the CIPR and PRCA. As you can see I believe that you must enlist their support to reach the level of influence needed to bring about change.

    As a member of my local CIPR committee, I'll be looking to raise the issue at the next meeting.

    Like the media, PR is changing and if the industry gets involved in the debate and acts on it, I'd like to think (hope) that we could see some positive changes in our relationship with the media.

  3. I read this with great interest. The NUJ's PR Council exists partly to enable PRs and journalists to work together effectively. The Union has some 1,800 members working in PR, and part of our role is getting other members to understand how our PR members work, as well as trying to improve working practices in the industry. We have the advantage of being able to see both sides of the equation.
    As a former newspaper journalist who spent the greater part of his career as a local government PR manager, I feel strongly about the need for press releases to carry a genuine story, to be well written and properly targeted.
    I also suffered, when I entered PR, from an absence of professional training to convert my skills from newspaper journalism. The NUJ has been successfully running a course for this very purpose for several years and is currently in the final stages of designing two more for those wishing to develop these skills still further.
    I latterly experienced the performance management, box ticking mentality in my work and understand how some PRs (even managers!) feel pressured to fire off stuff that is poorly written, badly targeted and not justifiable.
    We believe it is important for PR writers to have high standards and published our own 'Working practices for press/public relations and information officers' which can be seen on our website When we were drafting it, we did show it to the CIPR, with whom we have a regular dialogue, albeit rather spasmodic (our fault, not theirs!)
    We would love to discuss this issue both with them and PRCA and you.
    Tim Jones,
    Chair, Public Relations and Information Industrial Council,
    National Union of Journalists.
    I can be contacted on 01665 712467 or

  4. Hi Jonathan

    If you haven't seen these I thought you would be interested. and

    Note in the first that all three of your themes feature in my summary of the debate. As I said, excellent points :-)


  5. Hi Adam, thanks for the link, it's great to see your summary expand as I'd hoped.

    Tim, I have now discussed this with my regional CIPR Chairman and I will contact you directly regarding this. Many thanks for getting in touch.