They’re the words that every PR dreads - “of course, we’ll need to have full approval of what the journalist writes”.
Well, we heard them yet again the other day (thankfully from a client’s customer, rather than a client), which inevitably led to the usual attempt on our part to dissuade the company rep from making us ask this of the journalist… which just as inevitably led us to say “OK, we’ll see what we can do”. Why? Because it’s often a case of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’. If you say ‘absolutely not’, you risk either souring client relations or losing that customer that you’re desperate to have speak to a journalist.
But if you say ‘yes’, you then risk compromising your relationship with the journalist, most of whom regard such requests as, at best, an inconvenience, at worst, a serious infringement of their professional integrity/independence - none of which reflects well on the unfortunate PR who has to make the request.
Why does the attitude persist among certain organisations that they have a right to pass final judgement on a journalist’s editorial copy before publication? I’m sure that all of the people who make this kind of request happily subscribe to the concept of a free press - but as soon as it’s their spokesperson in the ‘firing line’, they start issuing the kind of demands that would make your average oppressive regime blush.
Here are a few possible reasons as to why we’re still being asked to request final copy approval:
1) It’s the marketing department. The request gets made because of rampant paranoia within certain marcoms departments - they remember what happened the last time they let the CEO out on his own, and they’re sure as hell not going to let it happen again. Easier to pull up the drawbridge rather than have to deal with the hassle of providing proper media training (which is usually the reason why spokespeople go ‘off message’ in the first place).
2) It’s the culture. The request gets made because, let’s face it, we’re all Hollywood celebs these days, and why on earth would we allow one single word to escape out into the world without first inspecting it, dissecting it, and then removing anything that could possibly be construed as being an opinion. Who do these journalist guys think they are anyway?? OK, that might be a little over the top, but you get the idea - some companies increasingly think that it’s their divine right to have the final say over everything.
3) It’s the media. The request gets made because “that’s the way the media works, isn’t it?” It’s a depressing fact of the PR life that you still regularly come into contact with people who think that getting into the FT is as simple as ringing them up and asking them to ‘place’ the company’s story on page 4, thank you very much… There’s also the growing trend among certain journalists to happily accept potted/vetted email comment from companies without actually speaking to anybody - but that’s a whole other blog…
4) It’s the PRs. The request gets made because, well, far too often, we just play along with it. Sometimes it’s easier to say ‘yes’ than ‘no’, particularly if the client’s giving you a hard time or if you really need a user to speak to a journalist. Should we be putting our foot down more firmly? Almost certainly - but unfortunately, this issue all comes back to how seriously PR itself is perceived as an industry that provides both a professional and ethical service. We continue to get asked because too many of us have said ‘OK’ in the past.
For my part, I’d just like to say to the control freaks in these organisations: get some perspective - you ain’t made it to the Oscars yet…