Supplement on Public Relations: Media Relatiions - Has anything really changed?/TV and radio channels are mushrooming, and the Internet is reaching all of us. Alison Theaker asks how these changes in the media are also affecting media relations?

More than 90 years ago, Ivy Leadbetter Lee issued his famous Declaration of Principles. Working for coal operators in Philadelphia, Lees included a copy when he sent information to the press. ’This is not a secret press bureau,’ Lee wrote. ’We aim to supply news. This is not an advertising agency. Our matter is accurate.

More than 90 years ago, Ivy Leadbetter Lee issued his famous

Declaration of Principles. Working for coal operators in Philadelphia,

Lees included a copy when he sent information to the press. ’This is not

a secret press bureau,’ Lee wrote. ’We aim to supply news. This is not

an advertising agency. Our matter is accurate.



’In brief, our plan is, frankly and openly, on behalf of the business

concerns and public institutions, to supply to the press and public of

the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects

which it is of value and interest to the public to know about.’



Grunig and Hunt called this the public information model of public

relations, and according to their research, around 50% of companies

still practise this today.



There are many books dealing with the mechanics of press relations

Jefkin’s guidelines reflect Lee’s Declaration, stressing the need to

understand the media, tell the truth and be accessible.



David Wragg says: ’The purpose of press relations is not to issue press

releases, or handle enquiries from journalists, or even to generate a

massive pile of press cuttings. The true purpose of press relations is

to enhance the reputation of an organisation and its products, and to

influence and inform the target audiences.’



Despite PR’s growing maturity and increasing concerns of strategic

planning, issues management and evaluation of its effectiveness, media

relations still forms the bulk of most PR practitioners’ work,

especially at executive level. Often, a company’s first foray into the

area of managing its communications will be the appointment of a press

officer. Freelance PR consultant Maggie Walshe says: ’Most clients still

want media relations, not public relations.’



However, as Wragg points out, good media relations can contribute to a

variety of PR objectives, including:



- Improving a company or brand’s image.



- Changing the attitudes of target audiences.



- Improving relationships with the community.



- Increasing market share.



- Influencing government policy at local, national or international

level.



- Improving communications with investors.



- Improving industrial relations.



Sometimes good media relations may result in no coverage. Gerald Ratner

would probably have preferred that his remarks about the suspect quality

of his company’s jewellery had not been so widely reported.



A glance at recent PR texts might convince the reader that media

relations is carried on in the same way that it always has been. There

are pages of advice on how to write press releases, how to target them

to regional and specialist media, and how to build up personal

relationships with the right journalists. Some publications also provide

advice on what to do when appearing on radio or television, and how to

get the salient points across. There are few mentions of new

technology.



Roger Haywood (Hart) stresses that practitioners must understand how the

media works, but says nothing about satellite and cable TV nor the

Internet . The expansion of the electronic media is happening so quickly

that any book is out of date as soon as it is written, never mind by the

time it arrives on the bookshelves.



White and Mazur emphasise the importance of PR to a company’s

health.



Quoting David Fausch, an ex-Business Week journalist, they write: ’Ask

any business journalist which companies over the years have been

consistently bad at public relations, and nine times out of ten those

companies have either disappeared, been taken over, or changed out

of



all recognition.’



However, barely a page is devoted to possible future developments and

the impact of ’information highways’. They do, however, make the point

that 20 million people conduct conversations on the Internet, so that

media relations may give way to ’links based on a larger number of

possible communication channels and more responsive forms of

communication’.



Running out of news



Chris Gulker (The Independent, September 9) discussed the change in the

media: ’Old-style media was about the record, the facts. Media space was

scarce.’



With the expansion of forms of media, from the Internet to thousands of

television channels, he feels this has produced ’a perpetual, global

slow news day. There just aren’t enough affairs of world-shattering

import to regularly fill all the media, all the time.’



The impact of new technology on the practice of media relations

varies.



Anne Creyke was features editor on the Yorkshire Post four years ago,

and is now press and PR manager for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors

and Principals (CVCP). ’When I left the Yorkshire Post, they were still

using coloured pens to mark up and lay-out the pages.’



In Yorkshire, reduced staffing levels meant that press briefings were

redundant, but in London there is still an expectation for an event to

inform the media. Although CVCP press releases are available on its Web

site, few journalists visit it and still prefer to receive their

information as hard copy through the post.



’New technology has not changed the way I work,’ says Martin Wainwright,

northern editor for The Guardian. ’It’s easier to have a press release

to hand while typing on screen, and I don’t want to spend all of my time

in front of a machine. I like to get out as much as possible, otherwise

I don’t get a clear picture of a story.



But I’m sure it will change for those journalists now in their 20s.’



Freelance writer Tony Harcup contributes to national and regional

magazines and newspapers, and lectures in journalism at Trinity and All

Saints College.



’I don’t want to get unsolicited press releases by e-mail, because I pay

for the amount of time I spend online. I use the Internet to research

articles, but often companies have so many pretty pictures on their Web

site that it takes ages to download them, and I can’t afford to

wait.’



Wainwright and Harcup agree that online sources have replaced hard copy

when it comes to searching through back issues of newspapers, as it is

quicker and easier to tap into electronic versions of newspapers than

shuffling though piles of yellowing cuttings. Both can also file their

copy electronically, straight to the relevant newsdesk.



Telephone calls the tune



Both journalists would agree with Robert Minton-Taylor, ex-president of

the Institute of Journalists, who now works as a freelance PR consultant

for corporate clients including Yorkshire Water. He says: ’Most

journalists’ way of getting information is via the telephone.’



At Yorkshire Water he deals with anything from 100 to 400 press calls a

day. ’Journalists want information by fax - both print and

broadcast.



Radio wants a spokesperson on an ISDN line, right away. For TV, it’s a

question of getting someone to the location they’ve chosen, as regional

film crews are very limited. There’s no digital TV input.’



Information is required faster, and there are fewer resources for

long-term research and fewer specialists. Journalists need to be able to

get background information quickly. However, Minton-Taylor says: ’It is

the content that is important, not the delivery system.’



’Media relations has completely changed,’ says Maggie Walshe, whose

clients are in the area of information technology and digital

television. ’If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t be able to work from home. I use

the Internet and e-mail all the time. Quite a few journalists like

information by e-mail, although more goes by fax. I get company

information from Web sites and e-mail my clients. Journalists are more

hassled, and expect a more professional service from PR

practitioners.’



She is not so sure that new technology has affected readers and

viewers.



’Online publications exist, but most people still read magazines. Even

though there are so many TV channels, it is questionable how many people

are watching them.’



Take careful aim



Poor targeting continues to be the commonest complaint from

journalists.



With so many more avenues, PR practitioners must be scrupulous about

which they use. ’There’s a real danger of information overload,’ says

Wainwright.



PR graduate Terry Gilligan is now an account manager at Whitakers

PR.



His approach emphasises personal contact. ’I like to work by ringing in

advance and checking whether the story is of interest, then I can follow

up with a press release. It’s time consuming, but it’s worth it.’



In a world in which information needs to be transmitted faster to

journalists facing tighter deadlines, it would be easy to see the future

of media relations tending toward the use of new technology, with less

personal interaction. ’There is more information around and more places

to pick it up from,’ says Harcup. ’But directories get filled up, there

are more and more mailshots, so the personal approach is even more

important.’



This takes us back to Ivy Lee, whose Declaration ended: ’I am always at

your service for the purpose of enabling you to obtain more complete

information concerning any of the subjects brought forward in my

copy.’



The way that information is accessed has indeed changed, but attitudes

will take somewhat longer. k



References:



P Bartram, How to Write a Press Release, How to Books, 1995



M BLAND, A THEAKER and D WRAGG, Effective Media Relations, Kogan Page,

1995



J GRUNIG and T HUNT, Managing Public Relations, Holt Reinhart Winston,

1994



C GULKER, Network, The Independent, September 9 1997



N HART (ED), Strategic Public Relations, Macmillan, 1995



F JEFKINS, Planned Press and Public Relations (3rd ed), Blakcie,

1993



N STONE, The Management and Practice of Public Relations, Macmillan,

1995



J WHITE and L MAZUR, Strategic Communications Management,

Addison-Wesley, 1995.



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