Has Corporate PR Been Reduced To Gatekeeping?

Sometimes, journalists can write about PR better than many PR types.

Case in point, this analysis from The Washington Post’s Steven Pearlstein. If you work in news or PR, or just have curiosity about what we do, please read it before continuing.

Thank you.

This piece reflects a trend we see far too often. Corporate PR departments feel like their job is to shield their brands, not build them. They feel like their top priority is to protect executives, not put them in position to communicate. They don’t care about forming media relationships that lead to trust, just their efforts to control news coverage as much as possible.

Often, these are the same companies that hire the world’s priciest agencies to pitch the fluffy stuff, while denying or dodging the opportunity to participate in substance. They expect journalists to turn on a dime to write about the latest “exciting unique solution,” while serving as the voice of “no” when the journalists come calling.

But media relations still matters. Answered emails, accessible cell phones and returned voicemails pay off. Actual conversations with journalists about what they have in mind still lead to better stories for all. The art of backgrounding can help a reporter, too busy for a consistent beat, to better understand a particular industry. A CEO’s command of a subject, as part of even a brief interview, can lead to respect from a journalist, which shows up in coverage. A company’s message can be worded in such a way that it shows up quotes or soundbites and helps build reputation. Professional media training sessions help executives feel comfortable, confident and prepare to participate on behalf of the company.

Pearlstein’s piece, as accurate as it is concerning, missed one factor that too often gets in the way – the lawyers. The fear of saying the wrong thing, rather than the focus on saying the right thing, often pervades modern corporate thinking and that can be dictated by the corporate attorneys who rule some cultures.

In recent years, PR hiring has boomed while newsrooms have been depleted. But if all corporate communicators become mere gatekeepers, that part of the profession is likely to be a casualty of the next recession. To put it in a simple, copy and paste statement, that wouldn’t be good for PR, news or business in general.