Is it OK for journalists/bloggers to name and shame persistent PR professionals?

I spotted the poll on PR Week this morning (via Neville Hobson) asking the question, “Is it OK for journalists/bloggers to name and shame persistent PR professionals?” I don’t know when the poll will close, but it currently stands at 37% Yes to 63% no (I bet it’d be the other way around on a journalism website).

PR Week Survey - naming and shaming rubbish PRs

This is a contentious topic that’s been discussed before. My gut reaction is to agree with naming and shaming to cut out the bad practice that blights our industry. Whenever I’ve spoken directly to journalists about this, the common gripes include: PRs calling to “just to see if you’ve got my press release”, not returning calls, spamming with crap ill-targeted releases, sending large attachments – the list goes on.

But introducing a naming and shaming policy is fraught with complications. Who decides what bad behaviour is? How often does bad practice have to happen to become persistent? Who polices it? Does it apply the other way around, with PRs naming and shaming rude journos? How much more confrontational do we want PR and journalism to get? What about bloggers (their needs are often very different to journalists’)?

There are two main problems to overcome in the PR-journalism/blogger dynamic:

1) It’s free to send something to a journalist or blogger – there are literally no barriers to entry to being a PR consultant, apart from having a laptop and internet connection. This make bad practice simple because it’s impossible for them to read every email, so calls are the only way of guaranteeing that a message has been seen (I’m not condoning this by the way).

2) Pitching to journalists is often done by the most junior members of the agency team. I recall one of my first agency tasks, as an account exec, being given a list of 50 tech journalists and being asked to call them all up with an invite to an event I hadn’t heard of, promoting a technology I’d had a two minute briefing on. It was a skin hardening experience, a waste of time for 49 of those journalists, and not one I’d wish on anyone else.

Theoretically, the growth of social media and the ability to self publish content could alleviate the issue. And let’s remember that bloggers are a very different beast to journalists. But aside from creating more barriers to entry – either from a technology platform or industry institute membership perspective – there isn’t an easy fix. But having seen a few ugly public spats between PRs and journalists online, the naming and shaming route is not the answer.

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