A just released poll by Gorkana Group casts a murky perception of public relations professionals by the financial reporters with whom they interact. The study, detailed in the online Bull Dog Reporter’s “Daily Dog” suggests reporters have more trust and faith in their direct sources within companies than they do in the professional communicators who represent those companies.
“The study also provides perspective from financial journalists on what corporate communications and public relations professionals need to do to build better relationships with them. The most frequently cited areas included: first, the need to tell the truth (90%); second, to have a better understanding of journalists’ beats, publications and audiences (88%), and; third, to develop greater knowledge of the subjects, companies and industries they (PR professionals) represent (84%).”
Some personal thoughts on PR professionals from my perspective on two fronts, 25+ years in the news media and 18+ years as owner/operator of a professional media training company. The Gorkana Survey‘s results are clearly unilateral in that they represent only the reportorial side along with the most highly thought-of financial news organizations (e.g., WSJ, Bloomberg, NY Times, etc.).
In my role as a reporter, anchor and manager in news operations, I’ve been on the receiving end of calls from PR people “selling” stories to me. Most were sincere, although some, especially if they lacked experience, simply missed the mark of the audiences we reached vs. their target audiences. Or, they needed a better understanding of how our newsroom and reporters worked, or our knowledge of an issue and how to background us, especially in the days before we had the Internet and Google, Bing and Yahoo.
Rarely, if ever, did I feel like I was being manipulated or lied to. Indeed, my sense is that the bigger the agency or company a public relations person represented, the savvier the individual. They were accessible, honest about their intentions, and candid. Over time, I developed a strong bond of trust with many of them, creating an atmosphere in which we could communicate both on and off the record. They appreciated stories that were fair!
During my nearly two decades of media consulting and training, my initial touch point with a company is almost always with their communicator(s). Certainly, they want to put their company and/or executive’s best foot forward via the media. But they’ve always been thorough in briefing me on their issues, positive and negative. They understood that their transparency with me would translate into effective preparation that would bring acceptable results.
They also understood from the outset that I do not teach spin or evasion. But I do counsel the right to answer questions responsively, on your own terms, from your perspective.
It would be interesting to see the results of a similar survey, just from the PR perspective. Many of the communicators I’ve dealt with are very well-studied on the reporters who cover their company and industry. They know who is fair, and who always is looking for the “gotcha” angles to a story. Their thoughts and feelings on the financial reporting fraternity deserve a hearing, as well.