Dear journalists…

I recently received three requests to do an e-commerce survey from three different PR agencies, all pitching for the same online company. When I asked the first PR practitioner who they were pitching for, she giggled, saying: “Oh this is for internal use only.”

C’mon, don’t take us for idiots, can? I stopped answering her questions on the spot and rejected the other two requests immediately.

When a PR agency calls you up to do a media audit, media survey or just “find out some things about this particular company or technology”, you can be sure they’re doing this because

1. They’re pitching for a new client

2. They’re trying to keep their current client

3. They’re wondering which client they should go for next.

After my annoying experience above, I recommend all fellow journalists to reject this sort of data mining and not answer the survey where possible.

The rationale, if you haven’t figured it out by now, is simple.

By obliging a PR firm this way, you’re giving them information they may not have put effort in going to find out for themselves. (I’m not saying they all don’t, but you should hear the inane, commonsensical questions they pose sometimes).

Then they take your knowledge, and they can either use it to say “This is what the journo says about your company”, or “This is what we know about your company.”

In any case, when you answer such surveys, you help PR firms hold on to their clients or get new business.

So what do journalists stand to gain out of this?

And PR practitioners, if you’re going to post a comment here, please keep it civil or I’ll just delete your posts. 

Update: The PR girl emailed me today reiterating the survey was for internal use. I went ahead and called the client her agency is pitching for, and told them what I thought of this matter.

Update 2: Contrary to popular belief, I have obliged on occasion in the past. But usually with PRs that I know well and have a certain level of trust in. It’s obvious we won’t give up data to those we don’t even know, which was the case above. Media relations is a loose term these days.

2 Replies to “Dear journalists…”

  1. Dear Ian,

    Here’s a civil comment:

    1. If 3 PR agencies sent across 3 requests for your inputs, especially for the same client, it can hardly be called data mining. On the contrary, you may be said to be much-in-demand information resource in your area of expertise!
    2. If calling a knowledgeable (presumably!) resource to get his inputs is not research effort, pray, what else qualifies?
    3. What’s in it for you? Let’s see…

    Perhaps a reputation as a helpful expert the industry can count on!

  2. Hi Ed

    I agree with all your points, but my point was that…

    1. The PR girl was not forthcoming with her agenda. I hardly knew her, so why should I entertain her? And her agency and herself are so new in the industry, they are data mining by calling any tech journalist that they know. Would you give information to someone you’ve never met or heard of before?

    2. It’s good to be an expert, but when you are asked stupid questions, you wonder if you are seen to be an expert or a quick way to get data you can ordinarily get from many other, easier, less contentious sources.

    3. Really, there’s nothing in it for me. I built my reputation on my stories and my relationships with my contacts, not on media audits.

    BTW, I answered a media audit today, despite my swearing off them. That’s because the PR guy was straightforward from the start and didn’t ask stupid questions.



    PS: Would be good to know who you are. PR people are supposed to be public personas right? Why do so many PR people hide behind nicknames on the Internet, and say all sorts of things without wanting to be seen saying them?

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