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Francis Ingham

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The Uneasy Relationship Between PR and Journalism is Here to Stay

Posted: 12/12/2012 10:30

Last week Steve Loynes questioned my association's choice of communications director, who joins from working as news editor at industry magazine PRWeek.

Well, you may not be surprised to find out that I disagree with Steve. But he raised some interesting points about the complex relationship between PR and journalism, which has been in play since US newspaper stringer Ivy Lee cooked up the first principles of crisis communications in the early 1900s.

I can see why some might begrudge what they view as an easy route through which greedy Fleet Street hacks can ditch their deadlines and low pay for the promise of long lunches and riches.

However, PR is a world away from the dark days of the eighties, and the 'trophy appointment' of a senior editor as a communications lead is going to have to earn his way, strategically speaking.

I stand by my view that he or she is well-placed to do so. Journalism and PR are fields with much in common. There's a similar personality trait - the dilettante who flits from issue to issue with speed and decisiveness. Both understand the inherent danger - or value - in the careful choosing of a few words, and can deal with these potential minefields in a swift and business-like manner.

Of course, PR hasn't been merely about the printed page for years - it's now a world of social media and digital expertise as well. But that doesn't really matter. The basic rules continue to infiltrate all modes of communication: get the message right.

And let's not forget that journalism is also no longer just about newspapers. Top journalists are among the most skilled at managing their personal online 'brands' on Twitter. Social media interactivity on news websites means that stories are now written with a consideration for the potential to be linked to on LinkedIn et al.

So to think that journalists can't 'do' social media is misguided.

There's another development which I think will see journalists maintain their value in the PR industry in the coming years - their first hand experiences of the importance of ethics, as we prepare for the Government to push through many of Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations.

The PRCA's recent The Future of the PR Industry conference pointed to the growing importance of ethics and corporate governance as one of the social changes that will impact on corporate PR in coming years.

Nicola Austin, a Futurologist at The Trajectory Partnership, pointed to issues like the Leveson Inquiry and the numerous taxation exposes, suggesting that 'misbehaviour that brands might have gotten away with in the good times now arouses the ire of the public and regulators'. Nicola reckons that this consumer backlash against the unethical will only worsen in the coming year.

Just look at Starbucks' issues over its avoidance of paying corporation tax and its offer to pay the Government £20m to make up for it. The offer has been thrown right back in the coffeehouse chain's face by UK Uncut, who call it a '£20m PR stunt that's coming straight out of their marketing budget'.

Regardless of the fairness of this, it just goes to show that it is no longer good enough for a company to merely respond to a crisis in a positive way. No, these days advisers have got to stop the crises from happening in the first place.

For this to happen, there is a genuine need for communications to be involved in the wider context of their business' or clients' affairs, particularly around ethics.

And who better to advise on ethical issues than national news journalists? They are very soon to gain a ringside view of how ethical regulation plays out, as the Government enforces some form of Leveson's proposals in 2013.

The truth is that the uneasy relationship between PR and journalism will remain as healthy as it has always been.

 

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