Survey: PR people ‘wasting journalists’ time’

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Professional “communicators” of all kinds are wasting their time trying to pitch stories to the European press, concluded APCO consultants in a survey carried out in co-operation with Journalists at Your Service (J YS), a help centre for Brussels-based reporters.

“Most PR people are wasting both journalists’ time and their own much of the time,” concluded APCO while presenting the survey on Thursday last week (8 May).

Asked whether PR people understand their needs, only 32% of journalists responded positively, while the vast majority (49%) said they disagree (19% even said they strongly disagree). The survey sample was quite small however, with only 121 out of the 1,614 contacted journalists reporting on EU affairs actually responding. 86% said they were based in Brussels.

Brussels is considered to be Europe’s most important media hub and boasts the largest press corps in the world, with over a thousand journalists covering EU issues in the Belgian capital.

Explaining his choice, one respondent, whose identity was not disclosed, said “offering access to experts or figures which are otherwise tricky to pin down is by far the most effective way of attracting journalists”.

“Journalists are willing to consider good stories and background – especially if it’s timely and exclusive,” APCO explained, conceding that “most journalists do their best under difficult circumstances”.

Commenting on the survey’s results, Brandon Mitchener, a director at APCO’s Brussels office, insisted that PR people should be understood in the broader sense of the term. “PR people can include NGO and association spokespeople, unions, think tanks, companies and even MEPs and the Commission and political groups – all of which were singled out for providing sometimes bad and sometimes good stories.”

“The real lesson of the survey,” Mitchener added, “is that the professional ‘communicators’ for all sorts of organisations need to do a better job, starting with better understanding journalists’ needs”. “This goes for the Commission and NGOs as well as for consultants, most of whom probably do a better job of communicating than others because it’s their job!”

Not all the journalists in the survey seemed to share this view. Asked to list the top three communicators on European affairs, they produced the following ranking:

  1. European Commission
  2. European Parliament
  3. Council of Ministers
  4. National diplomats
  5. European Court of Justice
  6. Friends of the Earth
  7. (Other) NGOs

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