Why can't journalists and PRs just get along? Agency boss Mark Borkowski offers a view from PR land on why the relationship keeps breaking down.
Pokemon Go has entered the decline stage. This is the phase after the belles-lettres stage that sees a flurry of pretentious musing on how said fad is changing everything and the one before the stage where your parents get into it. The Washington Post quotes a psychologist, Robert Bartholomew, who posits that digital living has accelerated the spread and decline of fads. While the game has given some fantastic coverage for Nintendo, Pokemon Go’s meteoric rise and equally dramatic trailing off can also give us a worrying snapshot of the state of PR as it is currently constituted.
Where the Pokemon fad is distinct is the proliferation of clickbait flies feeding off the fad’s rotting corpse. The glut of bogus articles – from Pokemon Go romances and divorces to the implication of the game for Black Lives Matter and Brexit – is unprecedented even by silly season standards. Attempts by brands to align themselves with the zeitgeist became as tenuous as Donald Trump’s self-styled “They’ll be calling me Mr Brexit”. This ubiquity surely quickened Pokemon apathy.
In contrast to this brandwagoning, the idea of the big story – built up gradually, seeded through the crucial influencers, sustained over a long period and fed at the right moments – is not something that you generally see. Nor is it something that many clients will have the patience for.
Storytelling is still the industry watchword. But the way is it understood varies massively. To look, for example, at the entries for this year’s Cannes Lions is to see the blurred lines between the PR function and digital marketing and content creation. Many devised ingenious ways of talking about themselves to their peers, colleagues and likeminded agency folk. Your video may have received a million likes but if you are trying to reach a rushed-off-his-feet carer in Stoke, Radio 2 or page five of The Mirror are still going to be your more likely points of access.
It isn’t that PRs have given up on engaging the wider public in all their shapes and sizes. It is more that there is no longer the urge to cultivate the kind of relationships with traditional media that are needed for creating compelling news stories. As yet another damning survey of journalists' perceptions of PR goes to show, a record number of publicists does not equate to record abilities or skillsets. As one journalist commented, there is still a death of “sector specialists who have spent years getting to know journalists and thinking creatively about how to do a long-term job for their clients”.
Given the sheer number of emails received by newsdesk inboxes – the Sun gets around 1000 a day – it is remarkable that so many press releases are devoid of a news hook and read like marketing mush. The only way this PR will catch on is in an augmented reality populated by badly drawn, inarticulate gremlins.
Mark Borkowski is the founder of Borkowski.do. He tweets @MarkBorkowski