When Should PR Pros ‘Tell Journalists How to Do Their Jobs?’

Well here’s a highly fraught debate: to what degree should PR pros manage the message in content created by the journalists they pitch? When does “making helpful suggestions” turn into “telling journalists how to do their jobs?”

This week journalist Jim Romenesko (who everyone in media should follow on Twitter and Facebook) brings us a couple of cases in which he and some of his colleagues believe that PR pros went too far.

In the first instance, a reader who is also a newspaper editor received an unusually bold pitch from a man who claims to transcend the traditional role of the flack:

“I would like to propose engaging in a relationship where once in a while I supply you with fully developed stories (completed articles) that you can publish under your byline, with or without editing, at no fee.”

That’s right, this guy will write full articles (for a real physical paper, no less) and the writer will get credit for them. No real work necessary. Oh, and also:

“I placed a few expert quotes by some of my clients into the piece, so I am not looking for compensation or acknowledgement.”

Ah yes — there we go.

In the second instance, the PR pro didn’t just pitch a story to a reporter — she explicitly laid out the editorial angle she wanted the reporter to take when writing the story under the heading “how to tell this story.”

Look, this is a touchy subject. It can be very different for bloggers, who often have to write as many as a dozen posts each day, than it is for investigative journalists who report the facts on breaking news and conduct in-the-field research. If the first guy had pitched his story to, say, a blog that publishes a lot of content on the very subject of his experts’ expertise, then it might be appropriate (though the whole “lack of attribution” thing is troublesome). But for a daily local paper? Come on, man.

We find the second case less annoying, but the implied condescension is a bit much. It reads “I know you don’t have time to do your job properly, so why not let me do it for you in the interests of both yourself and my client?”

PRNewser has a horse in this race, too. We accept guest posts (which we always attribute to their authors) because we love the chance to showcase the opinions and experiences of other experts in our field who offer our readers information that we can’t always provide ourselves. Two recent examples include this piece on event planning and promotion and this piece on how PR pros can more effectively pitch journalists (from the perspective of a hack-turned-flack). We love these pieces because they build on the expertise of professionals whose specialties differ from our own.

We will say this: the definition of the word “journalist” may be very fluid right now, but PR pros should recognize that most traditional journalists (and even most bloggers) will not respond well to pitches like those above. We also know that some professionals run perfectly respectable services that provide fully written stories to various media outlets, because we get those emails. We understand that they are addressing a certain need and we think they should continue to pursue that model if it works for them.

That said, if you make pitches like those above then you’d better be sure that you’re sending them to the right publications unless you want journalists to circulate your “jaw-dropping” suggestions and post cynical comments about the sad state of the media. Doing that could land you on a whole bunch of blacklists in no time flat.