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Dear public relations gurus, your KPIs are not our business

Ruby Orimba

Recent high-profile events in the country, such as the visit of King Charles III, drew attention to the critical interface between public relations practices and journalism. This juncture, however, unveiled recurring issues regarding the treatment of journalists, raising concerns about the conduct of public relations practitioners when handling journalists.

Covering such events requires meticulous preparation, including stringent pre-screening and accreditation of journalists. Nonetheless, numerous reporters who covered these events voiced grievances regarding their treatment.

Allegations of racism and disrespectful treatment emerged, with journalists feeling marginalised and inadequately accommodated, like petulant children who are embarrassing their parents in front of important guests.

In response to these concerns, discussions within media circles surfaced the accusation by the communication team handling the King Charles visit that Kenyan journalists had become excessively entitled.

This stance made basic considerations for journalists, such as access and respectful treatment, look like unwarranted demands, indicating a rift in understanding the professional needs and expectations of media personnel when invited to cover events.

Moreover, incidents at Sol Fest, where journalists invited to cover the event were left without access, exemplified a lack of professional courtesy. The abrupt unavailability of the PR team who switched off their phones, leaving journalists in the cold underscored a broader disregard for their role and basic professional engagement. It’s like they were doing journalists a favour by inviting them to events.

Victor Otengo, TUKO.co.ke’s head of entertainment, explains that, “Digital media gauges the quality of articles based on the views and engagement stories gathered on social media and our website. When sending out journalists, we anticipate exclusive stories that draw significant attention, rather than declining pitches of replicated content found across multiple media platforms.

As a PR expert managing a personality or project, it is a fundamental courtesy to ensure that the journalists working with you secure exclusive interviews and protected media space to execute their tasks without the concern of potential theft. After inundating our inboxes with press releases for an upcoming event over weeks, attending the press conference or event has become an unpleasant experience, often requiring a tedious wait until a seemingly fictional media list is shared at the security entrance or until the PR team finally sends a complimentary ticket for entry. This behaviour indicates a disregard for our time and efforts.”

One suggested resolution to these issues was that media outlets should finance their own expenses, including tickets, meals, and transportation when covering such events.

However, this proposition conflicts with the common practice of seeking media partnerships and collaboration from media outlets, prompting a much-needed reassessment of mutual expectations and responsibilities.

Beyond these logistical concerns, the communication breakdown between PR practitioners and journalists is notable. This deficiency extends to the quality of press releases, which often lack the necessary adaptation to different media outlets and neglect the crucial use of SEO-oriented content.

The disconnect in communication protocols, including late or poorly drafted pitches, undermines the collaborative potential between public relations professionals and journalists.

The reciprocal relationship between the two parties necessitates a refined understanding of each other’s operational dynamics. And addressing these concerns requires a mutual respect for deadlines, the importance of exclusivity in story pitches, and the timely provision of well-prepared materials, avoiding last-minute pressures that compromise journalistic integrity.

Furthermore, the misuse of embargoed press releases and the inappropriate interference in editorial decisions, such as headline selection, present additional areas requiring rectification in the engagement between public relations and journalism.

“Communications professionals must grasp that journalists do not work for them, and whatever Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) they pledge to their clients are beyond our concern. Therefore, they do not hold the authority to make demands. As a journalist, I am the one who determines the narrative, not a PR practitioner. I follow instructions and guidance from my editors, and their decisions take precedence,” affirmed Leon Lidigu, a Science journalist from Nation Media.

A call for more professional conduct is necessary. The collaborative synergy between PR practitioners and journalists demands a better understanding of mutual expectations, ethical engagement, and a respectful acknowledgment of each other’s roles in the media landscape. This includes adherence to professional standards, effective communication, and a commitment to ethical practices that foster a productive and mutually beneficial working relationship.

Ruby Orimba is the public relations manager at TUKO.co.ke

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