In the eyes of many people the media is still characterized in Kipling’s memorable phrase as exercising ‘power without responsibility: the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.’ And the same jaded people cannot view the letters PR without thinking of the word ‘spin’. While this may most noticeably be applied to newspapers, such attitudes are present in a more dilute form in the world of trade publishing where the problem is somewhat complicated by the presence of a large number of magazines who will print any old rubbish they are given, so long as someone’s paying for it, and whether it’s of any use or interest to their readers or not.
Journalists and PR people have always had an ambivalent relationship. They are mutually dependent but distrustful. To oversimplify, many journalists view PRs as an unnecessary third party between them and the people to whom they really want to talk. PRs may also be out to spin a story on behalf of their clients, so what the journalist reports may not be entirely accurate or only tell part of the story. PRs, on the other hand, can resent the suspicion with which they are regarded by journalists and can be disappointed when what finally appears in print is not quite what they (or their client) expects.
These are the day-to-day forces that tug at the interdependent relationship between the two sides The Institute of Public Relations has estimated that over 80 per cent of what appears on the business pages of the newspapers is generated or influenced by the activities of PR people. The figure is proportionately higher in trade journals. The IPR also reports that nearly three-quarters of all PR activity is devoted to the marketing of products and services. Here it is the role of the public relations person to ensure that his or her client and their products and services are presented in the best possible light. Journalists spend hours ploughing through a snowstorm of press information they know has been sent to dozens or hundreds of other magazines and then have to field the inevitable follow-up calls from PRs asking whether they will be using the information. This does not endear the public relations profession to the media.