Ms Foley described how more and more fashion brands are trying to exert control over media coverage and concluded by saying: “We adhere to very strict standards of journalism. Those standards do not and cannot include allowing brands to dictate the terms of our reporting.”
I couldn’t agree more and now seemed like the right moment to sound a note of solidarity with Women’s Wear Daily on this important issue.
Of course, the function of public relations executives has always been to try to influence and shape media coverage to the benefit of their clients. We understand this and the role they play. But the tactics which some PR executives are now employing to try and control coverage have become borderline obstructionist and may well be undermining their own goals.
We regularly receive story pitches from PRs who ask us to conduct “email interviews” which often result in copy that has been worked and reworked by PR departments to the point where it lacks meaning. Others try to dictate what topics we should and should not discuss during our interviews, effectively curtailing us from asking the questions we need to ask in order to do our jobs. Under these kinds of blunt restrictions, how can we provide the analysis and insight our readers expect?
And then there are the brands that telephone, asking us to edit pieces we have published on BoF, not because they contain inaccurate reporting (which we will always correct), but because they want to contain or reshape the news. The line is usually something like: because we have a good relationship with you, we thought we would ask you to make this change, or not publish this news or not share this article in your Daily Digest.
All of this made me wonder: how did we end up in this situation in the first place?
It seems to me that if brands are repeatedly demanding this kind of control, then some media outlets must clearly be giving it to them. But as media professionals, if we don’t draw the line and stand our ground, then the PR machine will continue to try to exert control over our reporting and we will all begin to lose our original voices and sound like press release parrots, undermining the trust we have built with our readers.
The truth of the matter is that the brands that are most pleased with our articles are invariably the ones who let us do our jobs, providing us with the information and access we need to write insightful pieces and the freedom and respect to publish them as we see fit. Ultimately, we are storytellers and are committed to telling the important stories that impact our industry in a clear, fair and balanced way, free from brands who try and control our coverage.