The rules of engagement

We recently read an article in The Journalist – the magazine of the National Union of Journalists – that illustrates perfectly how misunderstanding the rules of engagement between journalists and PRs (and their clients) can result in massive problems on both sides.

At Eido we encourage our clients to engage directly with the press, but only if they are comfortable doing so, and with one simple but vital proviso: If you don’t want it printed – don’t say it!

PRs are often criticised by journalists for demanding unreasonable editorial control over interviews given by their clients. And quite often this criticism is justified. We do not condone the practice of demanding “first sight” of any copy written. It is not the PRs place to tell the journalist what they can or can’t write: It is, however, up to us to ensure our clients come across in the best possible way. The first step in achieving that is by making sure our clients understand the rules of engagement.

A journalist writes solely for the publication they’ve been commissioned by – not on our behalf, nor that of our clients. They are independent and guard that independence jealously. Their responsibility is to report what was said fairly, accurately and without bias. This is what they are trained to do, and their professional reputations (and livelihoods!) rest squarely on their ability to do so. Nothing rubs journalists up the wrong way quite like someone questioning their integrity and professional skills by demanding first sight of their work. How would you like it if somebody with little or no experience in your field of expertise insisted on “checking” and “improving” your work? Pretty irritated, I expect.

By simply approaching media contact in the right way, these problems need not arise: Interviews should always be approached as if they were on live TV, with no second chances to correct mistakes. In the light of the above knowledge – that as soon as words leave your lips they are outside of your control – it’s clear that the importance of choosing those words carefully and deliberately can never be overestimated. It occasionally comes as a shock to some when they realise with horror that their ill-thought out or inappropriate comments are destined for the newsstands and that there is very little they – or us – can do about it.

We always tell clients not to expect to see anything before it’s published. That’s not to say we don’t appreciate it when a journalist keeps us in the loop with regard to an interviewee’s contribution. We do, and it certainly helps to keep the relationships between business and media running smoothly. But we don’t expect it and we never demand it. We would like to see greater awareness in PR of the journalist’s perspective, and in so doing, help stamp-out this practice of demanding “first sight”, which does our profession no credit.

Click here to view the original article in The Journalist

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