A little chat about media bartering

This article first appeared on Marklives.

A big part of PR centres on media relations, and working in partnership with journalists to develop and secure media content on a client’s behalf. The trick is knowing what makes good media content, and providing media and bloggers with information that is compelling, interesting and valuable. We all know cases of PRs spamming media with branded nonsense, and everyone loves to jump on board to ‘name and shame’ some inexperienced PR intern who did a rubbish cut-and-paste job on their pitch to media. But what about when it is the journalists who go rogue?

In recent times I’ve been party to a couple of cases of questionable, behaviour from media contacts we have been working with — not keeping to their side of a deal, plagiarism and pure non-delivery.

There seems to be a common belief that the PRs are the ‘baddies’, hounding poor journalists and drowning them irrelevant crap. And, fair enough, this is often true. But both media and PRs need to have a mutual respect and understanding for this symbiotic relationship — essentially a business agreement — to work.

A PR’s very job exists around the concept of taking their clients’ (often dull and overly branded) information and repurposing so that it is meaningful and newsworthy. It is our responsibility to understand that sending out a press release, about how wonderful a brand thinks it is, is not enough. Hounding people to cover rubbish ‘news’ is not on. And being too lazy to get a journalist’s name right or understand what they write about is just downright rude.

But, likewise, the media has a responsibility to play fair. Below are some real recent examples where I feel that our media friends have not been playing according to the rules of the game:

1. Keep to your side of the deal

The simple truth is both parties have to give in order for both parties to gain. If a brand or a PR consultant has developed a programme or worked up a story, which the media outlet has agreed to cover, it is only fair to deliver upon that promise.

We recently ran a week-long press trip where we took some media guests on a (no exaggeration) money-can’t-buy experience. The trip included staying in places that the public have no access to, a helicopter flip over the Kruger Park, and so on. An expensive exercise for a non-profit initiative that is raising funds to support anti-rhino poaching efforts.

Beforehand we made all media guests aware of the itinerary, agreed in advance that this was of interest to their readers and that they would run a substantial amount of media coverage in return to publicise how the public may get involved and support. After enjoying the trip and all it had to offer, one media guest and their editor have gone, literally, AWOL. No media coverage, nada, and avoiding responding to all emails and follow up communications.

If the content wasn’t of interest or relevant to the readers, shouldn’t the trip have been turned down in advance? And if something came along afterwards that meant they couldn’t run the story (we know that nothing can ever be guaranteed), couldn’t they have given us the heads up and chatted to us about it?

(Side note: fair enough if the experience is rubbish — we understand totally if a journalist comes to an event or experience and has a bad experience, and decides not to write about it.)

2. Don’t plagiarise

At the time of writing, we‘ve had not one, but two, examples where media outlets have copied our press release or content verbatim, without a brand reference or credit.

One example resulted in a full-page feature in a regional newspaper — literally word for word, including extensive details and information that the brand had pulled together comparing prices and stats for travel. Not a peep about the brand’s blog where they had lifted all the content from.

3. Understanding the meaning of a RSVP

We get it. Media types get overwhelmed by millions of invites every day to all sorts of fabulous and glittering occasions. It’s easiest just to confirm attendance to all and then decide on the day which looks the most exciting.

But have a think about what goes behind the invite. If it’s a brand event, the brand probably has spent a big chunk of its budget upon making it as nice as they possibly can. It has spent money upon catering for everyone who said they could come. Last-minute cancellations mean that, not only has the host spent money upon catering for the no-shows, it’s probably too late to fill the space with anyone else.

It happens incredibly often — we’ve even had last-minute cancellations on non-refundable airfare.

Am I being unreasonable? What are your thoughts? And, yes, I know we PRs can be just as unbearable. Next month’s column is about rubbish things we do to irritate journalists. You’re welcome to add your stories. Hit me up on Twitter at @EmmainSA.

Emma KingEmma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). She is allergic to bad grammar and ampersands, but likes working her way through piles of novels and travelling the globe. She contributes the monthly “Dissident Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to MarkLives.com.