"We find we have to do the checking and researching of information that traditionally was done by the print journalists … to verify that what they receive is accurate and truthful. The media is relying on what I call intermediaries to be almost topic experts. In the past, journalists had their own contacts and were able to follow up with three or four other people, now they’re relying on our service."It seems that some journalists are allowing PR to do their job for them, relying on spin doctors to check facts on their behalf. According to Buchan, the press release, while still useful for events such as stock market announcements, cannot contain the detail level required by journalists -- allowing PRs to cross the line into traditional journalists’ territory and provide tailored information. "Increasingly we provide a 'backgrounder' to provide the journo with background info on any topic of the client we represent," Buchan said. "So we’ve ticked the newsworthiness box, done the research, and provided contact details of relevant experts." From a PR strategic point of view, going the "extra mile" ensures that the topic is easily accessible to a journo who doesn’t know anything about the industry or sector he’s writing about. "It depends on time constraints -- sometimes info is run almost verbatim, depending on the checking on our side," Buchan said. If this is true, PRs have graduated from the role of intermediary, to becoming sources in their own right. But can a journalist know whether the material provided has been "checked" properly by someone who has a vested commercial interest in that information? Buchan assures that the reliability of information distributed by PRs is based upon the reputation of the company in question. "It’s a matter of trust and a matter of our credibility," he told the ACIJ. But according to the man The Australian calls the master of spin, Mike Smith, it’s not the job of the PR to be balanced or neutral -- that is the responsibility of the media. A former editor of The Age from 1989 until 1992, Smith now runs his own media relations company, Inside Public Relations, which specialises in crisis management. "My job is to put forward my client’s side of the story -- my job is not to be fair," he said. "My job is to advocate for the client, and as long as that is understood clearly by me and the journalist I can have a pretty healthy relationship and a very ethical relationship with the journalist." A key strategy identified by Tom Buchan is positioning the client according to newsworthy "megatrends" so that the story pitched to journalists is consistent with the current news agenda. The global financial crisis is one of these megatrends. "The GFC is an example for providing a context in which a story lives. We see that as a background setting if you like, of a story. At a time when media was obsessing on what that [the GFC] meant for Australia, it provided a context in which information could be presented," Buchan said. One of Buchan’s GFC-themed stories generated 150 separate articles in a five-week period. Prushka, the firm’s client, is a debt collection agency representing several private schools suing parents for unpaid school fees. A trend, Buchan told the news media, that had risen by 25% with the onset of the financial crisis. The story was pitched as an "insight into a structural manifestation of the crisis" which helped position the client as "part economic commentator and part advocate for the rights of parents and schools":
Spinning the media: PR insiders on their ‘return on investment’
The public relations industry has its own term for churnalism: return on investment journalism. Sasha Pavey explains how PR executives have worked the current economic climate to their advantage.