A reporter overhears a co-worker say he faced a savvy PR person. Now this is news. Ears perk up. Most hard-nosed journalists prefer to complain about peeps in the PR world rather than give them credit. So this conversation sparks discussion.
An employee got in trouble and the reporter wanted an on-camera interview with the employer. A spokesperson said she was available but there was a catch. First some history: When trouble strikes a school or company, reporters learn what time class lets out or when there’s a shift change. At the appropriate moment, they stand just off private property, wave down parents or workers as they leave and gather quick sound bites. This is how reporters try to get real life reactions from real people, not the well-trained PR guru who knows what to say word for word while limiting damage to an employer’s image. (Real life people aren’t always good at staying on message.) Well, schools and companies have seen this scene enough to know it’s coming. Some people complain reporters are risking a traffic accident by stopping drivers. Others claim the whole process is a “distraction.”
Now back to the savvy woman of PR. She says she is available for an interview as long as the reporter doesn’t try to talk with those real people as they leave. Ms. PR asks to conduct the interview about the same time when those real folks in question are leaving. The reporter says there’s no real agreement between the two. And certainly no one signed a contract. But the reporter obviously feels he agreed to something and will be accused of breaking his word if he attempts to interview the spokeswoman and then dash to interview people leaving the employer’s building.
At least publicly, few reporters wish to agree to any interview with strings attached. Some news managers will insist it’s a no-no as they look down from high moral ground. But that’s not reality. We’ve heard about media paying for pictures, interviews and other stuff. Sometimes deals are struck behind the scenes. What is a reporter to do? What if other media grab interviews of the century with those real life employees? What if the reporter tells savvy PR woman to screw off and she grants interviews to all the other TV stations?
Do you think the PR pro in this case was truly savvy? Did she try to unfairly micromanage the reporter’s story for selfish reasons? Have you brokered similar deals with the media? If so, did they work or backfire? Tell us what you think.