Why you shouldn’t employ a journalist to manage your PR

I have huge respect for journalists. We employ ex national, local, broadcast, print and digital journalists on the extended Onyx team. They are highly skilled at identifying what is and isn’t a story and in creating stories that people want to read (or listen to). They know what will engage a journalist and what will annoy them. They’re the best interviewers and write professional copy at a speed that few can match. So why are they not the right people to manage your PR?

1.      Good PR does not simply mean getting huge volumes of coverage. If that were true, Prince Andrew would be a very happy man. Writing a press release and sending it out is not therefore PR. Writing articles and placing them is not PR. They are just two aspects of PR. They are just part of the tactical delivery, after a lot of planning and other work has taken place. Journalists are trained in this part of the delivery, they can be great at media engagement, but the job of a journalist does not give them experience, or train them, in any other aspect of PR.

2.      A journalist’s job is to look for the story, a PR’s is to improve the reputation of the brand. The story the journalist writes may be fascinating but do nothing for the client. When new journalists first write for Onyx they sometimes even forget to mention the client (and certainly don’t include the reputation enhancing messaging). I’ve laughed with ex-journalists many times when they realise. But it can be more serious. I had to work alongside a journalist (only) run agency once that celebrated getting a story published in the national media. When I pointed out that the story was very damaging for their client, they thought I was just jealous. Their client saw the issue faster than they did and they lost a major sponsor because of it.

3.      You cannot build the reputation of a brand, without working out what you want that reputation to be and with what audience. You then have to work out the route to getting there. A journalist is not trained to do this strategy work and it is perhaps the most complex and skilled part of our job. You also need to identify tactics, such as who will help you achieve your plans. We plug our clients into networks and partnerships that change people’s perception of them in their marketplace. It often has a huge impact on their business and reputation (far more than press coverage).

4.      Many clients don’t have a story to tell that is strong enough to engage the media, or their story doesn’t deliver the reputation enhancement they need. A PR knows how to create assets that solve that problem. A journalist in a newsroom typically has hundreds of others to choose from, so they move on. It is not something they have to worry about. The first time they encounter the problem is when they’re running their first PR campaign. In my experience they will send the press release out anyway, but then get no traction, or they highlight the one thing that is interesting about you, but that might clash with the reputation you’d like to build. I’ve seen this problem many times in the media. Look for the PR campaigns that are memorable for all the wrong reasons, or where you remember the story but not the brand. The wrong publicity can destroy a business.

5.      An important part of a PR’s job is to understand your business and how their work can add value to it. That takes time and a close working relationship. It’s why retainers work so well. Your PR agency then acts like they’re part of your extended team. As you invest in them, they become invested in the long-term success of your business, guardians of your reputation and, over time, PR becomes fantastic value. A good PR is a business consultant. They understand the politics and sensitivities in a company; where are you in the marketplace; who your competitors are; what is happening that could impact on you or gives you an opportunity.  Journalists do not need to manage clients or consider the impact on the business of their work, but their skills as researchers often gives invaluable insight. 

6.      Effective PR shines a spotlight on your business. Around half the businesses we’re approached by aren’t ready for that. With all our clients we get our ex-investigative journalist to report on what they find and we then advise on the risks associated with PR and how to manage those risks before we start. It is a good example of why you need both PRs and journalists on the team, but the person leading the team has to be an experienced PR.

Of course, journalists can and do learn to be great PRs (some of the best), but, as with all new skills, you need to first learn them, not assume you have them, by virtue of being a journalist.