Thursday, May 13, 2004

Control Freaks  

A colleague related a story to me a while ago of a conversation he had with a movie studio PR person. It was one of those "I-don't-believe-I'm-hearing-this" discussions.

This PR person had a story -- not a compelling one -- that supports an upcoming movie. He was demanding that it be on the front page of the B section of The Wall Street Journal, or he would take the story to a contact at the Los Angeles Times. My colleague pointed out that the story was missing some facts to make it more interesting and anyway, there was a better chance for it elsewhere in the Journal. But no, that wasn't good enough for the PR person. He wanted the front of the B section of The Wall Street Journal or nothing.

I have been hearing more and more tales like this and have experienced a few myself. There is a loss of balance in the PR industry and a loss of understanding of the differences between advertising and editorial. To the discredit of some news media, they have brought this on themselves. But for the most part, PR practitioners have fallen under the spell of marketers who believe in control, control and more control over the message. These are marketers trained in advertising and promotion where they can dictate what is said. They do not want to understand the nature of First Amendment media, and they don't grasp its credibility either. For them, column inches are advertising equivalents -- nothing more or less.

It saddens me that PR practitioners have fallen for this cant. PR has gone back to the future. It started with payola at the beginning of the 20th century when publicity agencies paid newspapers to run columns on the wonders of the telephone. Payola was a part of the media through the scandals of the Nixon era when newspapers and other media started an overdue cleanup.

Some of the worst practitioners of control PR are in Hollywood where publicists bar access to celebrities and stars unless they get the cover of People Magazine or a guest shot on the Today Show or another quid pro quo. This cynical horse trading has spread through too much of the industry. It is the fault of bootlicking editors and publishers who are more concerned with numbers than honesty. It's past time to put a halt to it. There are honest editors, reporters and publishers who refuse to kowtow to the dicta of marketers and advertisers. I prefer working with them, even though they kick me or my clients once in awhile. They are honest and their readers know it.


Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?