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This article was published on November 9, 2015

Public relations desperately wants to convince you the media isn’t important

Public relations desperately wants to convince you the media isn’t important
Ed Zitron
Story by

Ed Zitron

Ed Zitron is the CEO of EZPR, a Media Relations company based in San Francisco, Boston and Portland. He's written a book called This Is How Ed Zitron is the CEO of EZPR, a Media Relations company based in San Francisco, Boston and Portland. He's written a book called This Is How You Pitch and was named one of Business Insider's Top 10 PR people in tech, as well as one of Adweek's 30 under 30.

In my first PR job, I remember being yelled at a great deal. Perhaps not full-blown, top-of-your-voice obscenities, but I was in trouble for results promised by a boss that loved to make promises that he didn’t have to stick to.

That’s what a lot of PR became for a lot of agencies. From the big $100m+ a year powerhouses to the tiny shops. All it requires is an email address and an email account to “pitch” in PR.

Now, there are the nefarious types (of which I’d say, if I was feeling ultra generous, 50 percent of agencies are) who are just sending the same email to a hundred reporters and hoping it sticks. Then saying to the client, “well you know, things take time” and yelling at young people.

The little Ed Zitron that once sat there being yelled at is at a lot of these agencies, literally or figuratively, male or female. The collateral damage of the nasty man or woman who made the promise that someone else had to keep.

This is most of PR. This is not me saying this because it is what I do for money. It is what it actually is. If you look at a PR agency, no matter how much you gussy up a campaign, if the media outlets aren’t writing about it, the thing doesn’t matter. That’s media relations.

In English, “media relations” means, “PR person talks to reporter with thing and hope reporter speaks to/uses/understands things and writes about it or puts it on the television.” It is not rocket science.

You take on a client, ideally knowing reporters and thinking that said reporters might like said product, and then take it to said reporters and say, “it’s good for these reasons, if you like it, why not have a go.”

Despite this being the easiest thing in the world ever, thousands of PR people write gigantic word-spunks laden with words that would have got you very high marks in high-school English papers about the ‘art’ and ‘science’ behind it.

Don’t worry though. PR’s got a plan.

Dear God, Make It Stop

As reporters become more and more intolerant of bad PR people, bad PR people are slowly deciding that perhaps they need to (instead of learning about reporters, outlets, getting better at their jobs, etc.) attack the very idea of the media actually mattering at all.

Ironically posted on Bulldog Reporter, a website that literally sells a database of people to pitch in the media, David Oates APR, wrote a deliciously hot take called “Media Relations Is Dying—Here’s Why PR Folks Should Celebrate.

Not to start so immediately with an ad hominem attack, but he also has an Accreditation In Public Relations, a $385 (for the examination) degree sold by the for-profit Public Relations Society of America. The same company who will for $19.95 sell you a pin saying you have one and has a sample test that is less difficult than Freshman-level high school tests.

His celebration, which is not the first blundering attempt to say, “we’ve got to get past the media” while also indirectly insulting those who speak to them (and the media themselves), is downright insane. It’s built from dream-logic – that if you build it, they will come.

More to the point—the public can go directly to the source for the information they value and while on the go. Want to find out about the political issues of the day? Simply follow the Twitter feeds of your elected representatives or candidates on your iPhone. Got a favorite college football team? No problem! Just click on the latest video clips from that university’s YouTube channel. Need a stock quote? Download the company’s Android app.

The best part of this quote is that it combines the dream of the PR person – that their content is simply the best and their role can change the thinking of the public – and suggests that people want all information in a dry and unanalyzed fashion and totally trust the direct source. Because as we all know, especially in the case of elected representatives, people never lie.

“Good PR people will relish in sharing control of the brand with their public and be open to candid, nearly instantaneous feedback that this new environment affords. We’ll seek to share the shaping of corporate messaging with the audience and encourage them to share point of views with friends and family,” claims Oates.

I’m not quite sure what he believes will happen, but PR people are apparently, through their companies, going to be the source of news.

The Media is dead, please believe it, signed those who can’t talk to them

Other PR people straight up say that clients thinking the media are important and that they need media relations are just wrong/stupid, as “…the demand for pure-play media relations is, of course, client-driven.

Apparently, according to PR, media “continues to incrementally lose ground to digital and social strategies.” Apparently Public Relations is getting killed “because some people immediately assume that PR is about media coverage.”

The Holmes Report proudly reports that the CEO of Ogilvy & Mayer – who someone once told me were so bad at media relations it made them want to throw things – has proclaimed the death of media relations.

What does this mean? It means that there are a lot of PR people out there that want to hide the cat turds in the litter box of PR. The ones that can’t put together a cogent email saying “here’s a thing, like it? No? Alright.” Or read enough of the sites they pitch to so they can say, “okay this outlet/reporter will like this thing,” or create a relationship with a reporter to understand them.

The most sickening part? They don’t touch the three or four top PR firms in the world making billions writing some of the worst form pitches in the world. They don’t seek to make the industry better. They just want to PRsplain why sucking at pitching is not our fault but your misunderstanding of the media.

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