Amith Prabhu: What’s with the friction between Journalists and PR professionals?

11 Nov,2013

By Amith Prabhu


This column is about one of the biggest problem PR firms and executives face – about being publicly criticized by journalists. This phenomenon is especially common in India. And with the advent of Twitter the magnitude of the trend has increased many fold. One of the motivations to create an annual event for PR professionals was to bring the community together to eventually stand up for each other. And this will happen slowly and steadily. But before that happens there is a long way to go. We need to understand where the journalist is coming from.


Most journalists I have interacted with in the past decade are fair people who are human beings first. But the one bad experience they have after every 9 good experiences is what makes them do what they do, at times.


Two anecdotes will help put what I’m trying to say in the right perspective. First is a conversation I had 10 years ago when I was interning in Parliament House with a political party. An internship those days with the political establishment was rare. After seeing me for a few days this journalist comes to me and asks me what I was doing there with all other seasoned people. I was barely 23. When I explained that I was a student who had got myself an internship for the summer in the PR department of the party she was aghast. She said why PR professionals need to get into this territory when journalists did that job anyway. She told me PR professionals in the business space was understandable but definitely not on the political space. She said journalists needed direct access to the politicians and did not need a gatekeeper. It is unfortunate that a senior journalist whose name I will withhold had such a myopic view of the PR profession and it is possible that the PR professionals were to blame for not conveying their role correctly.


The next incident is as recent as three weeks days old. A senior journalist tweeted about an unpleasant experience he had with a young professional on the phone. The young PR executive called him regarding a news release that was not relevant to his portal. In order to correct her he requested that she sends an email to apology for this lapse by copying her senior. But this did not happen either and he took on to Twitter. She could have better prepared herself by researching more. He could have sent an email to her seniors to share his displeasure instead of tweeting. They made choices they thought that were right. The moot point has there is something seriously going wrong and we need to fix it before it gets out of control.


These two incidents speak of a trend of friction between the two sides, which in my opinion can be completely avoided. This problem will increase until both sides of the same coin decide to get their act together. How many media outlets today display names, designations and contact details of all their reporters? How many PR firms have a well-benchmarked training programme for media relations?


The friction between PR executives and journalists – both reporters and editors will continue as long as the PR fraternity does not invest in immersions and training. But the question that hovers in my mind is how often we see PR pros tweeting about a typo by a journalist or some reporter not keeping an appointment they made. Time to create a joint forum with representatives from small and large media houses and small and large PR firms which meets at least once a year in the key metros. In the end we all need each other.


Amith Prabhu is the founder of The PRomise Foundation which organises Praxis. During the day he is a full-time employee at a leading PR firm in its Chicago office. Views expressed here are the author’s own and don’t represent those of his past, present, future employer or of MxMIndia. You can connect with him on Twitter @amithpr


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One response to “Amith Prabhu: What’s with the friction between Journalists and PR professionals?”

  1. RR says:

    That’s a good one Amit. The problem is both communications specialists fail to communicate to each other! Isn’t it?