The PR Fuel Mailbag: Dealing with Clients, Analysts, and Journalists

Once again it’s time to dip into the PR Fuel mailbag and answer some reader questions. This time around we look at how to climb the public relations ladder, corrections, unethical journalists, and more.

Question: I earned an English degree in college and after graduation I took a job with a public relations firm as an administrative assistant. Last year I was promoted and now I write press releases and other material. I enjoy my job, but I would rather work with clients and the media. (In other words, I’d rather be an actual public relations consultant.) My company seems open to the idea, but they say they don’t have the time to train me. Any suggestions?

Answer: Many colleges offer programs for people already in the workforce who are looking to expand their knowledge base, add new skills, or brush up on the basics. Since these programs are aimed at working adults, classes are often held after business hours, and the emphasis is typically on learning, not grades.

See if your local college offers a program dealing specifically with public relations. These classes are often taught by regular faculty or local professionals who have established themselves in the community. More important, inquire as to whether your company will pay for you to attend classes. There are tax advantages for companies and individuals where education costs are concerns, but be sure to check with an accountant first if you’re worried about whether fees for the classes are deductible.

A professional certificate in public relations, or an equivalent, is a nice way to beef up your resume, and it will help you move up the corporate ladder. If your company will foot the bill, more power to you.

Question: My client recently complained to me about an article which they said contained some inaccuracies regarding their business. I contacted the journalist, who was helpful and said he would correct any inaccuracies. The client, however, never told me what was inaccurate and dropped the subject when I pushed for the information. Now the journalist is angry with me because he thinks I was trying to give him a hard time for no reason. What should I do?

Answer: Clients are your top priority, but clients also come and go. A relationship with a journalist could last for years, spanning various clients or companies that you work for. Apologize to the journalist, and in confidential tones tell him that your client flaked on you when it came to providing specifics about the inaccuracies. The journalist will understand.

In the future, if you have a client complain about media coverage, be sure to get specific information about what was inaccurately reported. Tell the client that in order for you to rectify the problem, you need to be able to give the media outlet the correct information. Making blanket complaints and then ordering the PR person to follow up on them serves no purpose. It can even make the situation worse.

Question: A journalist asked me if I could get him free tickets to the baseball playoffs. We took him and some other journalists to a game last year as a sort of “get to know you” type of event. My company has tickets, but we’re not giving them out to anyone but major customers. I also found the request very odd because I didn’t think journalists were allowed to ask for this type of favor. How do I let the journalist know in a nice way that I can’t honor his request? And should I do something about this?

Answer: Call the ethics police on this journalist. What he’s doing goes against the ethics guidelines at virtually every media outlet, and I’m sure if his editors found out, he would be fired immediately. With that said, either be honest and tell the journalist that all of the tickets have been allocated to the salespeople, or to tell the journalist that your boss needs a signed letter from his editor saying that the journalist is allowed to accept the tickets. I guarantee you that if the latter approach is taken, the journalist will drop the subject.

If you want to “do something” about it, you can call the journalist’s editor. Be careful, however, as it could become a “he said, she said” situation. If you think the journalist simply had an ethical lapse and meant no harm — playoff tickets are expensive and hard to come by — just forget the incident ever occurred, at least until you need a favor from said journalist.

While I’m on the subject, a few years ago a major company took me to the U.S. Tennis Open and treated me like a V.I.P. The purpose of the little trip was for the corporate communications people to get some face time with journalists. I asked my editor if it was OK to accept the invitation and I agreed that any gifts I was given would be turned over to the newspaper. The company that invited me to the event also made me sign a waiver acknowledging that I was accepting tickets, food, drink, transportation, gifts, etc. with no strings attached.

Question: Our company was recently featured by a trade magazine and the piece was mostly positive. Our one complaint was that an analyst from a research firm made some negative comments about our business plan. Is there any way we could have avoided this problem?

Answer: It’s most likely that there was no way to avoid the problem. Journalists often look to third-party analysts to add insight for articles, and what they say tends to carry a lot of weight, specifically when the majority of information in the article is coming directly from the company.

In most cases, you’re going to have to be reactive where analysts are concerned. You can reach out to them and give them information that counters their argument, hoping that the next time they open their mouths they’re on your side.

I had this problem a number of years ago: An analyst at a major research firm absolutely trashed my company for no reason. I complained that she was just making blanket statements about our industry while making specific comments about our company. She replied by offering to come meet us and do a research report — for a fee, of course.

Question: We just signed a major deal with a Fortune 500 and we would love to issue a press release announcing it, but the Fortune 500 company won’t let us. We think the media attention would be great for us, but we don’t want to upset our new customer. What do we do?

Answer: Unfortunately, you’re stuck. If you put out a press release or talk about the deal with the media, you risk losing the business or souring the relationship. In the future, your salespeople should communicate with you about pending deals to see if you want a public relations clause inserted. These are pretty basic clauses in most contracts, and they outline how the relationship can be publicly disclosed, talked about, promoted, etc. Most of the time, the most restrictive part of a public relations clause will be about whether or not you can detail terms of your deal, financial or otherwise, with another company.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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