News Associates presents JournoFest 2019: PR – Journalists’ friend or foe?

Successful journalists create positive PR relationships, according to JournoFest’s ‘PR – Journalists’ friend or foe?’ panel, writes Kate Nicholson.

The panel was made up of journalists-turned-PR representatives – Boris Johnson’s former spokesman Guto Harri, external communications director for the London Assembly Funmi Olutoye and Premiership Rugby’s communications director Paul Morgan – who explained the etiquette of this essential but sometimes delicate relationship.

PR – Journalists’ friend or foe?: (L-R) Guto Harri, Funmi Olutoye and Paul Morgan

Harri began the discussion saying journalists must be aware PRs have a different version of the truth.

He said: “The journalist is the person who checks – is this right?

“Do I trust this person?

“Do the facts support this narrative?”

News Associates alumnus Olutoye agreed: “There is an opportunity to get one up on another journalist if you have a good relationship with a PR.

“But it’s a relationship at arm’s length.”

From a PR perspective, Morgan emphasised a journalist must be accurate and competent before they can be trusted.

“If they’re not good, they’re going to be a foe,” he said.

This led the panel to discuss what exactly makes a good journalist in a PR’s eyes.

Harri said being open to changes in a story’s narrative is crucial.

Hired to restore the reputation of Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper group following the 2011 phone hacking scandal, he explained: “It can be an utterly futile engagement to talk to a journalist who has just decided that you are part of an ‘evil empire’.”

Olutoye added journalists should only make a judgement on a story after listening with a PR.

The panel then explored how journalists can initiate that relationship of credibility.

Morgan, who was a sports journalist for more than 20 years, advised attending as many events as possible.

“If you’re starting out in journalism and you’re at home four nights a week, you’re not doing the right thing – be somewhere, talk to people,” he said.

The panellists also emphasised the similarities between the industries.

Harri said: “You can’t be good at PR without being a journalist first.”

But Olutoye summarised: “We have each other on speed dial. But at the same time, we keep one eye open.”