A blog from our Director, Lorraine Bridges

I want journalists and PRs to get along.  Not just get along, but collaborate, share ideas, respect and celebrate each other’s professions.  I see the view from both sides; working for The Guardian, and Sunday Times, and other national publications, early on in my career. Then latterly moving into PR and communications, where I’ve worked for more than 18 years. And it’s a path increasingly well-trodden, as journalists branch off to bring their skills to agencies and in-house teams across the UK. Their contacts increasingly a prized asset. But PRs too will high five as they pass on their way into the newsroom, hungry for another challenge.  And this shouldn’t be surprising, as there is much that unites us.  An eye for a story, excellent communication skills, creative, highly flexible and resilient, hardworking, tenacious, the list goes on.

Yet recently the atmosphere between us feels febrile, and Twitter has become a battleground.  Threads and counter threads about what someone has done wrong, what they haven’t done right.  Dredging up the past and fanning the flames of grudges long-held.  There’s no point getting into a he said/she said debate.  We’ve all seen them, and people are hurt by them.  Not least the individuals who are often easily identifiable. In a time of intense human suffering, a sense of humanity has somehow been lost.  Our capacity for simple kindness seems reduced.  Have we really become too busy, too bothered, by the exchange of basic pleasantries?

There’s a lot of other stuff that unites PRs and journalists, that is far more worrying – and that is poor mental health. Over 89% of PR professionals have struggled with their mental wellbeing in the past 12 months and 59% of PRCA members feel their workload and having too much to do is their biggest cause of stress.  Covid is understandably hurting journalists too, causing anxiety and depression worldwide, as recently reported in a Reuters study. While the NUJ’s website states that stress is the biggest health and safety issue affecting workers in the media sector.  We work in a high pressure environment, and we often thrive on it. But when that becomes relentless, unforgiving and dialled up a notch, we suffer.  And right now that pressure is real, and indeed relentless. And that is also the case for our clients.  Those in retail, hospitality, leisure and travel all badly damaged. Although frankly, who hasn’t been adversely affected by this awful situation?

Much has been made of PRs sending pitches that are ill advised, badly researched, impersonal, rude and downright wrong.  I don’t doubt it. I agree that doing the basic research should be a basic requirement for any PR campaign.  But I also see the signs of PRs struggling. Fighting for daylight in the ever-raging storm of a pandemic, clients more desperate for coverage, the shadow of targets and the quest for creativity on tap. Journalists too, bending under the weight of commercial pressures.  Falling advertising revenues, endless web pages to fill, disconnected newsrooms and job insecurity. It’s monumentally crap all round.

So, in the midst of all this, I ask for a bit more calm, a lot more understanding and a lot less jumping onto social media to vent our frustrations.  Because although it’s an outlet we take comfort in and turn to for validation, it can harm and it does. At the end of the day it’s just someone trying to do their job, and sometimes they fall. But haven’t we all. This is a need for better training, more listening, an end to impossible targets and much more support for PRs starting out.  But for recrimination, no. Collaboration is what we need and if we can’t come together our professions will both be poorer for it.

Lorraine Bridge