I don’t generally have much time for the type of blog post that says PR people are idiots because they don’t understand bloggers.
Bloggers, PRs, journalists and editors all do their thing for different reasons and different levels and forms of reward. Sometimes they have to deal with each other and a degree of understanding certainly helps for a successful outcome.
I’ve done all of those things – on occasion all in the one week. You’re right, this makes me something of a (new) media trollop, offering my favours to whoever takes my fancy at any particular moment. But that stops me from getting bored and enables me to feed my children. It also means I have seen the view from all sides of the fence, to stretch a metaphor.
But I don’t believe there’s a problem with this provided it’s clear to all parties what the arrangement is. If I’m doing PR the client is paying me and I say so, if I’m blogging I make it clear what the deal is, as a journalist my copy is balanced and follows NUJ codes of conduct, and when editing decisions are made for the benefit of the reader but paid for by the proprietor. Oh and sometimes I do copy writing for which the client pays by the yard.
Today, though, I got an email from a PR person that troubled me. It said it was looking for someone to write a feature article of 700 to 1000 words about a proposed renewable energy development and then ‘place’ that article in the relevant regional and national press.
I was a bit puzzled so asked for clarification. The PR agency was offering to pay me to write an article about the benefits (as far as they saw them) of their planned development and for me to somehow, using my contacts, get that article into the press. Hmmm. They said they’d get me local people who were keen on the project to interview.
The PR person said: “We could just send out press releases but they might not get used. So we thought this would be a better approach.”
When I said that I didn’t think I could place an article such as this because newspapers liked balance, she said: “It depends what you mean by balance.”
I declined the PR lady’s opportunity and wished her luck and hoped to think no more about it.
However, I couldn’t quite forget about it. I am troubled firstly that a PR agency would actually think this was an effective route to gaining publicity and secondly that a freelance journalist would take the money.
I know times are hard, but if you take PR money to write something that you pretend is journalism, surely that is cheating. You either do one thing or the other – you can’t do both at the same time.