Michelle Boag recently wrote about a current trend in New Zealand that’s seeing hacks transform magically into flacks. She calls it a ‘blurring of boundaries’. I’ll say! And then some.
A fair few denizens of the Fourth Estate see public relations as a one-dimensional soft option for when the going gets tough on their own side of the fence. Broadsheet going down the gurgler? Perspective suddenly a bit dated? Contacts starting to drop off the tree of life? Editor tired of the old booze and/or drugs habit? I know! I’ll hop off to la-la land and ‘do PR’. After all, how difficult can it be?
PR just isn’t a fence-hop away. Professional communication is not some form of journalistic mirror image.
See, that’s where it all starts going south. Because PR just isn’t a fence-hop away. Professional communication is not some form of journalistic mirror image. And media-based communication is just part of the picture.
Without getting too heavy about it all, public relations (done properly) isn’t solely about ‘publicity’. It’s about developing important relationships. Nurturing reputations. Creating awareness and mutual understanding. And changing or reinforcing perceptions and behaviour. Slowly. Carefully. Painstakingly. One step at a time.
A proper public relations programme is one that’s ongoing, unfolding gradually and frequently adapting as it goes. Not some knee-jerk, headline-based reaction to yesterday’s negative media coverage. A proper PR programme is one that may well have prevented that coverage in the first place.
Very few journos – exposed as they are to the daily, rapacious and frequently inept demands of a never-ending stream of publicity-seekers dressed up as public relations professionals – fully understand this. Those who do, and still decide to cross the fence, frequently adapt to their new trade with devastating effectiveness.
Those who don’t may well go on to be successful in various aspects of media relations – the part of PR that will see them chatting to their mates over the fence in the adjacent paddock. The paddock they themselves inhabited until relatively recently. But don’t expect them to be fully-rounded PR types capable of putting together an effective corporate communication programme.
Or you might simply be lumbered with the dead-beats. The grizzled and abrasive characters unable to adapt meaningfully to the wider demands of the profession they’ve traditionally loved to loathe. The types so wrapped up in the demands of their own egos that they’ll bulldoze right over the relationships you’ve employed them to nurture.
So – caveat emptor. As the medieval kings of middle Europe discovered to their cost, alchemy is an over-rated science. It’s just not possible to pull gold from lead.