Media, PR People Really Don’t Understand Each Other As Well As They Think

Over the past dozen or so years, newspaper job cuts have become like a sad version of Hanukkah. You know they’re going to probably happen in December, even if you don’t know exactly when.

The latest comes from Crain’s Business Reporter Bill Shea, who reports that Detroit’s two legacy newspapers have once again this season offered buyouts to employees 55 or older with 15 years of company experience, likely being followed by yet even more layoffs.

Even though the pages of its papers and pixels on its websites have been filled with PR analysis and columns critical of companies that handle job cuts or times of change in poor fashion, Gannett, the company that owns virtually all of the subsidiary that manages business operations for the Detroit news organizations, proves that it doesn’t really care to understand PR. Shea reports his inquiries to Gannett headquarters weren’t even answered but a local executive said only “We don’t comment on internal matters relating to either newsroom.”

Once again, it’s obvious that media companies don’t place a priority on PR and have perhaps the least interest of any industry in communicating with their customers, despite all of the platforms and opportunies for knowledge.

At the same time, PR companies prove they don’t understand the media business. Shea reports Gannett will produce 40 percent less content this year than it did last year. So much for the “doing more with less” falsehood that has served as a rallying cry for media cutbacks over the past generation. It’s time for PR types to get that memo and then read it, word for word, to their clients.

Frequently, we hear tales of woe from journalists who complain about their flooded inboxes. Hundreds and hundreds of bad pitches a day, every day. We hear many of them are from big PR firms, mostly on the East Coast, that think a consumer product with no local connection, is worthy of a full-blown feature story in a local newspaper. We explain to journalists that these firms have enormous overheads and charge clients obscene fees to send out as many pitches to as big a media list as they can. Targeting? Relationships? Pffft.

Instead, real PR pros, those who don’t just throw it all on the wall to see what sticks, need to focus on the 60 percent of content that’s still being done and treat journalists as their customers, alongside the customers who pay the bills.

At the same time, media companies need to do whatever it takes to keep the customers they have. That means communicating to them. Neither happens consistently enough.

Some will try to tell you that news and PR have a “symbiotic” relationship. Don’t believe it. News of the latest cuts, to jobs and content, prove that we still have a lot to learn about each other.