I’m a reporter, and I have a definite opinion about Media Relations People (MRPs), a.k.a. PR types, Comms types, or if you are old school, publicists or flacks. But before you jump to the conclusion that it’s of the cats-vs.-dogs variety (see also: Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog, courtesy Warner Bros.), let me tell you, it’s not quite so dichotomized. I once knew an MRP who proudly declared herself a “hack-turned-flack” and she wore her flack vest with the zeal of the newly converted. She became my prototype “bad” MRP. More about her in a moment.
When it comes to reporter-MRP interface, it’s still relatively simple. There are good MRPs and bad MRPs. Good ones are sources. Bad ones are guards – palace guards. Sheep dogs, sometimes with an attitude.
Let me tell you about the bad ones first. As a beat reporter, I had a rotating set of MRPs who I contacted. One of them was in the Sam Sheepdog vein, jealously guarding her charges. If a reporter ever went off message, she got out her big knotty club and used it as hard as she could. I only called her when I couldn’t avoid it. You see, she was the hack-turned-flack who worked for a trade group. However, you often find these individuals in big institutions with a lot of sheep to guard and very little incentive to play with the press.
But the good MRPs are different and, in my opinion, much more common. They use carrots, not sticks. Their employers hired them for need of a savvy person who can do exactly what the palace guards do not: work with the press and hopefully obtain a positive quote or even a mention, and some needed public exposure.
These are the people who will guide you to the right interviewees and tell you things off the record, sometimes while sitting at a bar. They want to assist you because they want to help shape the story. You can trust them to do their jobs. Make no mistake, their loyalties are to their employers, but a smart reporter is not going to let them write the story.
The point is, the good MRPs leave room for some game. Sometimes that game is played at a bar or in a social setting.
So, if you’re an MRP or a reporter and you’re looking for a such a venue, I encourage you to check out the National Press Club’s Reporter-Source Happy Hour. I attended the one in April and met some great contacts. One was a public relations higher-up who represented scientists and was looking to meet reporters who might be good connections for stories about their work. There was a communications professional who ran her own firm, whom I already knew, but it was good to catch up with her. I even used the happy hour as an opportunity to invite one of my own MRP connections to come and have a drink with us, and at the same time reinforce our working relationship.
If you follow me on Twitter @DanMacyDC, I’ll let you know when the next Reporter-Source Happy Hour is coming up. I look forward to connecting!