Catherine Bayfield
Catherine Bayfield
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The “dark art” of PR dissected 

It’s been described by some journalists as “the dark art” and by disgruntled PR’s as an industry struggling to adjust, a profession which has many health issues and doesn’t like to self diagnose. It’s good to take a peak behind the PR curtain and as a PR practitioner I’m disappointed to see so much negativity and confusion about who we are and what we do. 

 Just a couple of weeks ago my co-founder at Shout! Communications Keren Haynes appeared on the Media Show on Radio 4 to talk about the art of public relations. There was a mixed response and the programme created a Twitter storm. Leaders of the PRCA and CIPR described the discussion as “shockingly inaccurate”, “wholly unfair” and “somewhat naive”. But surely debate is good and allows communications professionals to identify what PR means to them as individuals and from their agency or company’s perspective too?  

Broadcasters love to create drama and debate – and Keren was very clear about how she viewed her role – ‘very much at the coal face’. At Shout! Communications we are implementers and strategists who know what works to ensure consistent, quality, positive broadcast coverage for our clients. Others said the show was very one dimensional and didn’t reflect the strategic side of our business. They claimed the media show had over simplified the industry,  but is this really a bad thing?   

In our media training we quote Lord Northcliffe describing what it means to be a journalist. He says it’s: “A profession whose business is to explain to others what it personally does not understand”. That’s not belittling a profession, it’s the truth. Couldn’t Lord Northcliffe’s theory also be true of the PR industry? How many times have we been blindsided by a complicated brief or a client who requires us to explain or justify a complex or controversial issue? We are all “Jack of All Trades”. The importance of knowing a little bit about a lot of things is as equally important in journalism as it is in PR. 

 At its most basic, PR is the art of managing the spread of information between our client and the public. Public Relations is all about reputation – what you do, what you say and what others say about you. 

Like my business partner I’m a poacher turned game keeper but can see so many similarities between the world of journalism and the world of PR.  These days the journalism industry wouldn’t exist without PR professionals and PR wouldn’t exist without journalists. In these stricken times, in broadcast and print newsrooms, there is a reliance on PR generated stories and content.  But discerning journalists require great skills from the PR people they work with; therefore the later need to know what makes news and the “ingredients” required for a compelling story. That sort of know how means we should adhere to the journalists’ deadlines and work round organically breaking news. What’s required is integrity, trust and confidentiality on both sides, allowing PRs and journalists to work harmoniously. 

 

So let’s stop being so negative, embrace the dark side and look forward to the next generation of PR ! 

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