Fact Sheets Index

Public Relations II: Public Relations and the Media

Jim Payne

One of two introductory fact sheets on Public Relations

Essentially, in their media relations role, public relations consultants act as a conduit between people who have a mass-media story to tell and those who will publish their story.

Why not leave it to the journalists to make the connection themselves? The reality is that as newsrooms become steadily leaner in staff numbers and less inclined to sift through all of the mass of information clogging their inlets, the news industry has come to rely on good public relations material to make its job easier.

PR makes the connection, frankly, by interpreting its clients' stories in a way that fits them for the hybrid and demanding tastes of the mass media. A story that might not otherwise catch the attention of busy journalists thus presents on its merits in their terms. It comes to them in a way that appeals to their news judgment.

I use 'hybrid' for want of a better term to highlight the fact that media people have a particular way of judging and presenting information that often seems far removed from the way the rest of us do it. Their test for running a sentence in the printed page or over the air is basically, will these words grab and hold the attention of the broadest possible range of people for the required time?

PR professionals know that for a campaign for editorial coverage to succeed, it must be soundly based on the truth and must have substance and depth. It is this "clean hands" ethic that makes the PR consultant most valuable to clients: they test the story and the messages for truth and substance before presenting them to their journalist contacts.

And if they slip up in doing so, or if the client goes ahead regardless of the consultant's advice, there is a great risk of the campaign turning against the client and damaging them and their industry. Because journalists were never fools and have an unerring eye for something that does not add up.

It is its close relationship with the news media that distinguishes the public relations industry from advertising, marketing and entertainment. To us there is no problem of definition, but understandably to new clients and to members of the public these boundaries are somewhat shadowy.

This is not helped by the fact the PR people are often engaged to represent advertisers and their clients, marketing companies and their clients, and entertainers! But that is because we are the professionals in mass exchange of ideas through editorial output.

And we are not talking here only about corporate clients with big promotional budgets. The same is true of community and non-profit organisations or even individuals that need help in making their voice heard.

This relationship between a client needing public exposure, the public relations adviser who knows how best to get it, and the journalist or editor with little or no time to find the story themselves, is not very different from the legal system where lawyers contribute to the administration of justice by providing a service that in helping the client also helps the courts.

Jim Payne <email> jrpayne@ozemail.com.au