Home » Conversations with the Editor » The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

 There’s a huge gulf between chief executive officers and their public relations people, whether on staff or at an outside agency. The vast majority of CEOs don’t understand what PR people actually do. As a business journalist, I’m now going to spill the beans.No. 1: PR people don’t like to talk to the media. When …

 

There’s a huge gulf between chief executive officers and their public relations people, whether on staff or at an outside agency. The vast majority of CEOs don’t understand what PR people actually do. As a business journalist, I’m now going to spill the beans.

No. 1: PR people don’t like to talk to the media. When we call them, we usually get the runaround. The worst one is the voice mail message that goes like this: “Hi, it’s John Q. Flack. I’m not here right now, but your call is very important to me. For immediate assistance, dial 456 to reach Michele.” Only when you dial Michele, she’s not there, either. The reporter leaves a message. No one calls back. That can go on for days.

No. 2: Top PR people hire children, the little Jasons and Jennifers, as we call them, to do most of the talking with reporters. They don’t know anything, which usually irritates the reporter. But if something goes wrong in how a reporter covers your organization and you get angry, the children can be sacrificed. The SVPs and EVPs for Corporate Communications evade all responsibility. It’s called job security.

No. 3: PR people go on so many offsite training sessions because they want to hide from both senior management and the media at the same time. It’s their only escape from the crossfire. They feel safe when they’re together.

No. 4: PR people don’t really understand your business. If they did, they wouldn’t be PR people.

No. 5: PR people waste a lot of time and money. One of their favorite pastimes is calling up reporters and asking them a bunch of questions so that they can “update our database” or “update our mailing list.” We journalists don’t want to be in those databases or on those mailing lists. We’re already so overwhelmed with junk emails that many journalists have dummy email accounts where they direct all communications from PR people. And they never check those accounts.

No. 6: When you tell your PR people to put out a press release, they’ll do it, of course. But the vast majority of press releases are awful. Editors and journalists don’t want to see them. It may actually hurt you more than help you. Here’s the lead of the worst one we at Chief Executive have received lately:

[MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Feb. 27, 2006] – ASURYS™ and RFID4U™ have recently partnered to offer CompTIA RFID certification training. There is an increasing need for education and certification around RFID technology, but most training companies have put their certification training on-hold until CompTIA’s new RFID certification exam is released this spring. ASURYS and RFID4U are offering this certification training in spite of the exam closure

Got that? I rest my case.

What are your thoughts?  Email me at bholstein@chiefexecutive.net


Reponse: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

In a twist on the ad business adage that “the client always gets the work he deserves,” as regards corporate PR people and programs, “The CEO almost always gets the PR results he deserves.” Most corporate PR people and programs are ineffective because the CEO and his/her team have not invested time or thought into how PR is going to support the company’s key strategic goals, nor has the senior team invested time into making sure PR people know what they need to know to be successful. It’s a case of the careless leading the clueless.

Best regards,

Ed Pitoniak, President & CEO


Reponse: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

I recently read you column on PR professionals and I found it insulting and inaccurate. I was a journalist for eight years before becoming a media consultant so I’ve seen both sides of the story and I find your article filled with incorrect stereotypes that are dangerous. Your column is the equivalent of me sending out an article entitled “All Reporters Are Inaccurate Jerks” – while there may be some reporters where that applies- it’s inaccurate, insulting and wrong- just like your column.

I dealt with PR professionals every day when I was a journalist and yes, there are bad PR professionals and firms out there, just like there are in ANY profession. But to write a “informative” article where you are supposedly speaking as an expert and you use damaging and inaccurate stereotypes that paint the entire industry with a broad stroke is irresponsible as a journalist.

Allow me to address your points one by one-

No. 1: PR people don’t like to talk to the media. When we call them, we usually get the runaround. The worst one is the voice mail message that goes like this: “Hi, it’s John Q. Flack. I’m not here right now, but your call is very important to me. For immediate assistance, dial 456 to reach Michele.” Only when you dial Michele, she’s not there, either. The reporter leaves a message. No one calls back. That can go on for days.

My job is to talk with the media, not avoid them. I do not want to be quoted by the media- that’s never my goal- my goal is to connect you to the CEO or company representative and let them present their answers and be quoted.

No. 2: Top PR people hire children, the little Jasons and Jennifers, as we call them, to do most of the talking with reporters. They don’t know anything, which usually irritates the reporter. But if something goes wrong in how a reporter covers your organization and you get angry, the children can be sacrificed. The SVPs and EVPs for Corporate Communications evade all responsibility. It’s called job security.

I am 36, not a child- with 15 years of journalism and media experience- I deal directly with reporters, we do not allow Jr members of our firm to do so.

No. 3: PR people go on so many offsite training sessions because they want to hide from both senior management and the media at the same time. It’s their only escape from the crossfire. They feel safe when they’re together.

I can honestly say I have never attended a PRSA event or meeting and don’t waste my time with meetings of little or no impact- where would you get the idea that this conjecture on your part is at all true?

No. 4: PR people don’t really understand your business. If they did, they wouldn’t be PR people.

When I get a new client I spend the first month doing research on their company and sector so I can present it accurately to the media. Do I know each client’s business as well as they do? No, that’s impossible and it’s also not my goal- if a reporter wants specifics about the company that I cannot answer for him/her, I then connect them with the CEO or company spokesperson to answer them- as I said, it’s not my goal to be quoted- it’s my goal to get the CEO or company spokesperson quoted.

No. 5: PR people waste a lot of time and money. One of their favorite pastimes is calling up reporters and asking them a bunch of questions so that they can “update our database” or “update our mailing list.” We journalists don’t want to be in those databases or on those mailing lists. We’re already so overwhelmed with junk emails that many journalists have dummy email accounts where they direct all communications from PR people. And they never check those accounts.

I never call a reporter and tell them “I am updating my database” and did you ever think that if you actually used accurate contact info instead of a dummy account then PR people wouldn’t have to call you to update their database?

No. 6: When you tell your PR people to put out a press release, they’ll do it, of course. But the vast majority of press releases are awful. Editors and journalists don’t want to see them. It may actually hurt you more than help you. Here’s the lead of the worst one we at Chief Executive have received lately:

This is the one point I agree with- most press releases are written poorly and should have more thought given to them. But 99.9% of the time the client themselves has to review and approve a press release and they often make bad edits that result in a diluted or garbled press release. This doesn’t explain the wealth of bad press releases out there but it may give you some insight.

[MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Feb. 27, 2006] – ASURYS™ and RFID4U™ have recently partnered to offer CompTIA RFID certification training. There is an increasing need for education and certification around RFID technology, but most training companies have put their certification training on-hold until CompTIA’s new RFID certification exam is released this spring. ASURYS and RFID4U are offering this certification training in spite of the exam closure.

If you would like to further discuss I encourage you to give me a call- but who knows if you will even get this email, it may go to your dummy email account.

Sincerely,

James McCusker, Vice President, Integrated Corporate Relations


Reponse: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

An odd indictment. You throwing all P.R. folks under the bus, or just annoyed that many of us are looking for “free advertising through editorial content”?

Rob Leighton, Thompson Brands


Reponse: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

I always read your brief emails first thing. I’m amazed at how well you see what’s going on. The one that first impressed me was about what’s happening to USA business when so much is being made overseas.  I was surprised that THE EDITOR of CEO could really take such a world view.

I’m here in the trenches trying to get a company going, and we’re having to get our consumer electronic product made overseas (and designed also), even though we wanted to keep it all here. And now I read about PR. My first professional job (18 years old) was working in PR as the only help to a very talented PR lady, and I learned how to do it right. Since then, over the last 45 years, I’ve still done PR. And I do it myself – cause I haven’t yet found a “PR” person who can help me – I’m always having to “train” them. I learned that to get a good story, we must go to the horses mouth, and for me that’s often my mouth. 

Keep up the good comments; I really find them enlightening.

Regards,

George Forester, CEO, EkaTetra


Reponse: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

I think you are dead wrong……

Excellent Public Relations people keep up with the times, know how to write a press release, a fact sheet, and how to speak with the press. I don’t know from whom you are basing your points, but you have obviously never encountered people in the profession who make the grade and do the job for their employers and their accounts.

I have been in public relations for close to 37 years and I have kept up with the times (meaning technology and equipment and the proper way to write that which I am sending to the press).

I wish I could have worked for you to show you how Public Relations is crafted.

Phyllis B. Brotman,  President and CEO,  Image Dynamics, Inc.


Reponse: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

You’ve probably got agency flaks running around their client offices, trying to figure out how to prevent clients from reading your latest missive.

While I don’t think you can paint all PR people with this broad brush, the point about the Jasons and Jennifers certainly rang true. A wise Wall Street Journal reporter shared that complaint with me 20 years ago. Senior communications people should have enough pride and knowledge about their organization to be out front with the media, in good times and bad. Delegating media relations to newbies is just bad business.

Call me any time, and if I don’t pick up the call chances are its because I’m personally handling a request from another reporter.

David Moon, Director, Marketing & Communications, DiamondCluster International


Reponse: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

Thanks for making me smile. It’s a dreary day here in Houston and your article made me laugh. Its rare to get ballsy perspectives in print.:-)

Farida Hasanali, Xpediant Solutions


Reponse: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

Seems you’ve lost interest in taking shots at Spitzer, and now have another easy target in your sights.

Although a number of your points ring true, a very similar expose can be written about your profession.

Thirty years as a flack – on both the corporate and agency sides – have provided me with ample raw material, which I’d be happy to display in “The Six Things CEOs Don’t Understand About The Press.”

You’re fairly adept a dishing it out. Do you have the backbone to publish the flip side?

Give me a word count and a deadline.

Gordon G. Andrew, Highlander Consulting


Reponse From Editor: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

Okay, sock it to me. We’ll post it unless you digress into a Marxist rant or something nutso.

Bill Holstein, Editor in Chief, Chief Executive Magazine


Reponse: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

There’s a huge gulf between chief executive officers and the people who report on them, whether they work for print publications, television, radio or the internet. The vast majority of CEOs don’t understand what journalists actually do. As a public relations professional who works with them, I’m now going to spill the beans.

No. 1: Journalists don’t like to talk to the people who have an opinion that’s contrary to their own. When they call, they are less interested in facts, and more interested in having you supply a pithy quote or sound bite that supports their own viewpoint. Journalists are no longer Edward R. Murrow types who seek the truth at all costs. They now view themselves as multi-media celebrities who are more interested in being the first reporter to break a story than they are in reporting a story accurately.

No. 2: Top news sources hire and promote people more on the basis of politics and personality, and less on curiosity, persistence and journalistic talent. News has become entertainment. This is why most reporters chase the same superficial stories and simply rehash or embellish wire service reports. Some even resort to using poorly written press releases, verbatim, to kill space or air time. After all, media is a business too.  It’s called job security.

No. 3: Journalists hang out in bars after they punch the clock because they want to hide from the world. It’s their only escape from their unhappy and underpaid lives, and from the realization that they may one day need to hold a legitimate job in public relations. They feel safe when they’re drinking together.

No. 4: Journalists don’t really understand your business, or any business. If they did, they wouldn’t be calling public relations professionals, expecting them to provide information contrary or beyond what their company permits them to.

No. 5: Journalists waste a lot of time and money. One of their favorite pastimes is pretending they are the next Woodward or Bernstein by calling up senior executives and asking them probing questions designed to uncover the dirty secrets that their companies are hiding. Journalists can also waste time and money promoting companies – Enron, for example – that are hiding dirty secrets.

No. 6: When you send a journalist a press release, they’ll overlook it, ignore it, lose it and then claim you never sent it. They’ll get it and screw up the facts, or will tell you they refuse to work from a press release and demand an interview that yields the same information and quotes found in the press release.

But the majority of journalists are no more like this than are the PR professionals described in the latest Chief Executive diatribe.  I’m hopeful that Mr. Holstein is enjoying an early April Fool’s Day joke at the PR profession’s expense. If so, a great number of flacks certainly took the bait.

Got that? I rest my case.

 

Gordon G. Andrew, Highlander Consulting


 Reponse: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

I can’t tell you how many prospective clients we speak to that say pretty much what you’ve said in your overview.  It is the result of too many people entering the field with too little experience.  Even worse is the lack of desire on the part of most publicists and PR people to spend the time it takes to become knowledgeable about their client’s business and about the needs of the various press and media outlets.

 

To be successful more PR people have to think less about “selling a story,” and more about bringing their clients together with the appropriate press to create a mutually beneficial relationship.  Only then does the press get a story they’re actually interested in, and does the client get their story heard in the proper light.  Less forcing, more fitting.

 

Jeff Cannon, TheCannonGroup


Reponse: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

Your sleazo, cheap-shot indictment of the public relations profession is insulting, inaccurate and downright ignorant.

 

I am not a PR practitioner, but I have known many smart hard-working professionals who add tremendous value to their companies, their companies’ shareholders and to society.

 

PR is nothing like what you have described. It’s a tough job. Just ask any PR person who has ever had to deal with you.

Bruce Rogers, CEO, Virtual, Inc.


Reponse: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

Bill, why do so many CEOs look down their nose at PR people, yet have no shame when whining to us like jealous teenage girls if one of their peer CEOs gets better/more media coverage then they do?

 

Anyway, one could argue that if even a small majority of journalists did their jobs correctly, thoroughly, and ethically, there would not be a PR industry in the first place. Considering that the PR industry is now worth a couple billion (and rapidly growing, unlike the news media business), what does that say?  Not much for your chosen “profession” of journalism, unfortunately. 

 

Regards, Dave Hochman 


Reponse: The six things CEOs don’t understand about PR people

I saw your piece

About bill holstein