Why Robert Peston’s attack on the PR profession is absurd

The BBC’s Robert Peston isn’t the first journalist to bite the hand that feeds his trade. But it’s the height of absurdity to read this article by him in The Guardian criticising PR folks for having ‘too much power’, given the huge and scandalous abuses that we know about in his own trade (Coulson/Brooks, et al).

He’s clearly provoked Francis Ingham, director general of the UK’s Public Relations Consultancies Association, who came back with a strongly worded rebuttal on The Huffington Post UK. The comments below this piece mostly side with Peston, but show little understanding of the PR profession. It struck me that people can hate PR people if they want to, but before they do that they should first ditch the stereotypes that inform that PoV and properly understand what we do, how much real power we have and to what extent all media outlets rely on us. It may come as a surprise that we are not all Alastair Campbell or Max Clifford types.

They may not care to admit it openly, but journalists certainly do rely on PR folks to help them fact check their stories, line up interviews and provide commentary. Indeed, thousands of ‘calls for content’ are put out to PR people by news outlets every hour of every day. Yes, we always have an agenda (that of our client), but everyone in journalism knows this from the get go. It’s why trainee reporters have the Latin term “Cui bono?” (who benefits?) drilled into them as a guiding principle when talking to their story contacts.

And it’s not as if journalists themselves never have an agenda. Sometimes it’s the line their employer wishes to tread. This is one reason why “never let the facts get in the way of a good story” exists as a well-known saying – and why newspapers like The Daily Mail are so successful. I’ll end with this thought: on the theme of ‘excessive influence’, surely Mr Peston won’t object to his next book or TV programme publicist having that in spades?

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