's Perspectives

Not so hunky dory after all
The international public relations scene

(Posted on 31 August 2004)

The Indian public relations (PR) industry is still in a very nascent stage. It’s also growing, but slowly and steadily. The international PR scene, however, is entirely different and can be a tricky business as the practices differ hugely from country to country.

A recent study called Global Press-PR Relationship conducted by Rainier PR, which is a leading business-to-business technology PR agency based in London, revealed that the PR industry in the UK doesn't enjoy the best of
reputations. The study termed UK PR as the 'worst in the world.'

The company quizzed almost 200 technology and business journalists in the UK, France, America, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, Holland and Australia during summer 2004. It examined different areas of the PR mix, including pitching
stories and the quality of press releases, through to general perceptions of PR personnel in each country. The outcome: 36 per cent of UK journalists felt that, on an average, PR professionals in the UK had little knowledge
of either client or journalist needs! Not very heartening to hear.

The study also revealed that 70 per cent of Spain's journalists felt that the majority of press releases that they received had little or no relevance to readers. Going by the numbers, it sure doesn't look hunky dory as is usually perceived.

In general, around the world, PR has taken a battering over the past few years, with budget cuts and in-house PR (Corporate Communications) becoming more and more prevalent. So where does this leave the PR professional and, more importantly, what is the future of PR agencies? The study conducted by Rainer focused on countries like the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, the US, Holland, Italy and France and found out what journalists think of PR.
What was found was that while journalists do appreciate the value PR brings, the common grouse was against the inconsistencies in approach and ability of PR professionals. The study reported on key media relations disciplines, such as pitching and writing of press releases, as well as journalists' likes and dislikes, general relations with public relations staff, and how PR professionals can improve.

Another interesting observation revealed by the study was that PR professionals consistently make mistakes in their dealings with journalists and that those mistakes are universally made around the world. The errors PR people make is calling journalists when they are on a deadline, poorly written press releases and lack of knowledge of the publication. It was found that 18.7 per cent of journalists surveyed around the world felt standards in PR were getting even worse, rising to a high of 30 per cent in Spain. However, the response was not all negative. Some PR agencies are on the right track; it's just that the ones who are, are outnumbered by those who are not.

The RainierNet study was broken down into five categories - pitching, press releases, press trips, lunches and freebies, the PR agency-journalist relationship and the future for that relationship. Pitching is probably the most important aspect of day-to-day media relations as 62.7 per cent of all journalists surveyed said that the quality of pitch was the single most important factor in persuading them to write a story.

The key to a successful pitch to a journalist lies in calling the right person at the right time. How many are doing it is a debatable question. In the case of press releases, a well-written press release should be a basic skill for anyone working in a PR agency.

The study revealed that 70 per cent of Spanish journalists said that A majority of press releases they received were mere 'corporate wallpaper' - of little or no interest to their
readers. Twenty per cent of journalists said that a press release was most likely to persuade them to write a story and hence it was worth getting right.

Now come the ethical issues! Press trips, lunches and other freebies that are offered to journalists. Of the journalists surveyed, 17.2 per cent said that the source was the most important factor in persuading them to write a story. However, the value placed on press trips and lunches produced the biggest difference in results from country to country. UK journalists seem to be influenced by anything and everything - 87 per cent admitted to being influenced by exotic press trips, 60 per cent by being taken to lunch and 40 per cent even said that a pitch by a member of the opposite sex would influence them!

On the other hand, one look outside the UK and it was found that over half of all journalists surveyed said they would never be influenced by any factor apart from the actual merits of the story. The study also found that while most journalists would crib about the poorly written press releases, awkward and ineffective pitches and content-less
press trips, there was a remarkable amount of goodwill to PR professionals from journalists all over the world.

Scope for improvement is ample. What PR agencies can do, is target the relevant publications with a clear thought process in their mind and, of course, handle journalists with care. One common grouse that journalists have is that PR professionals play 'nanny', while journalists talk to the
Hence, proper access to clients is necessary.

Of course, the situations and problems vary from country to country but the core is that PR agencies need to pull up their socks around the world.

Also read:
Interview with Eikona associate director Siddhartha Mukherjee


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