A publicist arguing restructures and job cuts at media empires Fairfax and News Limited was “great news” for spinners has opened up fresh wounds in the ongoing cold war between journalists and their public relations cousins.
In what has been widely-panned as a case of awful timing, Tina Alldis, head of publicity at agency Mango PR, wrote yesterday for media and marketing site Mumbrella saying the restructures would result in “improved PR campaigns” with “stories running across multiple platforms”.
This, she wrote, was “great news for our clients”:
“Less journos will also mean that publications will be looking for content they can syndicate across the networks,” she wrote. “Knowing this we must ensure our stories either carry national interest or can easily be adapted for each metro and regional market as needed.”
The piece caused a storm on social media, as journos railed against the perception that Alldis was celebrating retrenchments. Fairfax journalists were particularly irate, with Sydney Morning Herald sketch writer Jacqueline Maley labeling Alldis’ effort “hideous” and Daily Life editor Sarah Oakes calling it “appalling”.
“PR dimwit Tina Alldis celebrates 100s of journos losing their jobs. She forgot the spin,” tweeted Melbourne Age journo Greg Baum. “Any other week and that gobbledygook would be amusing. But today, it’s just shit. PR Tina Alldis. #drivel,” said SMH media editor Tim Dick. “Tina Alldis might have trouble getting surviving journos to pick up the phone after this grave-dancing effort,” added Tory Maguire, editor of News Limited’s The Punch, reflecting the view of many journos who said they would boycott Mango.
In a classic case of crisis management, Alldis later apologised for the piece saying she regretted any offence caused. Mango PR managing director Simone Drewry also issued a statement, calling the remarks “insensitive”.
“We have friends and peers who are impacted by the recent changes at News Ltd and Fairfax and we do not want to profit from the distress caused to them and their families,” Drewry said. “I hope that we can move on from this and build bridges with anyone who we have upset.”
Mumbrella editor Tim Burrows says the piece has quickly become one of the site’s most commented pieces, which he reckons is in part due to the ongoing debate over the journalist/PR relationship. He also feels some sympathy for Alldis.
“They were probably slightly naieve comments and I don’t think it’s a hanging offence,” he told Crikey. “I think it’s very unlucky for her that she has become someone [journalists] can feel righteously angry with.”
But the damage may have already been done for Mango, with communications experts telling Crikey the op-ed was not a great piece of PR.
“As a general rule it is probably not good PR for agencies to talk publicly about journalists, themselves or anything much at all. If PR people are any good they are like good referees: no-one notices them,” said public relations veteran Noel Turnbull, adding the swift apology may have helped save the day.
Paul Manser from Mulberry Communications says the changes at News and Fairfax may ultimately be a bad thing for his industry, as flacks are forced to fight harder to get their message across.
“Any PR professional who thinks a shrinking media industry is a good thing isn’t in touch with the broader public interest and is helping perpetuate the negative stereotypes of our industry,” he said.
Simone Drewry did not respond to Crikey‘s questions by deadline. Tina Alldis did not return calls, however she did respond to our emails with an apology: “The tone was wrong and we made a bad judgement call. I really am sorry for any offence we’ve caused.”