The defensive PR practitioner


I was part of a PR panel on ABC radio recently.  (I had to take care to squeeze the headphones on over my hair, held up in a bun).

In our discussion of public relations, the focus was on those media managers who ‘block’ or deflect queries from journalists rather than responding swiftly and helpfully.

Ideally, this never happens in PR.

Unfortunately, in reality it does happen.


In my experience, it usually occurs in organisations with a political focus (ranging from local government to federal government, to lobby groups or industry associations). The PR operatives in these organisations work in a volatile environment where they’re under scrutiny and regularly criticised.

Radio studio micThus, they often come from a defensive mode of thinking.

It’s not that they avoid all media coverage – rather, they crave it.

They just want media coverage on their terms, and will tread carefully when responding to queries, often deliberating over what to say, who will say it, and when. This adds layers to the process and sometimes days of delay. Understandably, this is vexing for journalists.

In my own experience, PR pros have strong relationships with the media and are eager to respond quickly and share information about their organisation. They’re aware that when a journalist calls, the clock is ticking.

However, these practitioners operate in a less political and defensive world – perhaps in smaller businesses or non-profit sector.

Having that said, PR isn’t as “easy” in those sectors as it once was.

Today, any decision made by any organisation can be scrutinised and subsequently applauded or lambasted by an online audience.

Consider major supermarkets.

When a supermarket launches a new promotion today, there’s much more involved than having a celebrity ambassador, media outreach or publicity launches.

Today, customers ask more questions in the public realm: What products does the supermarkets stock? How are those products sourced? What are the supermarket’s environmental credentials? How do they treat employees?

These questions can go on to provide critical themes and angles for the media, with journalists regularly finding an outrage online that they can follow up for their next edition or show.

The PR professional, in this realm, is under immense pressure to ‘get it right’. And it’s just one reason why some PR operatives might go into a shell as their first instinctive reaction, rather than have a conversation with a journalist on the other end of the phone.


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