Stop Complaining about Your PR Firm. Here’s How the Media Works

Publicist - 3
Publicist – 3 (Photo credit: Isabelle + Stéphane Gallay)


Startups need to stop blaming publicists and journalists for their lack of press and learn how the media works. Here’s a peek behind the curtain.


“Journalists are biased.” “Our PR firm just doesn’t ‘get’ our message.” “We need at least one media hit a week.” Oh, and my personal favorite: “Can we review and edit quotes before the piece is published?”

As a journalist who writes about pretty much everything for pretty much everyone (most recently The Wall Street JournalFast Company, and Smithsonian Magazine), all of the above are things I hear on a pretty regular basis.

They’re also indicative of a rather significant misunderstanding of how the media works. That’s largely because both people who work in the media and the PR industry as a whole sort of like to keep it that way, in spite of the fact that they also like to complain about how no one else gets it. Members of the media have had just about everything stripped of us in the last decade—salary, job security, respect—but the one thing we have left is the cloak of mystery surrounding what we do, and so we tend to cling to it. Hey, I may get paid shit, but when I sit next to people on planes and they ask me what I do, that question always leads to several more because at least what I do is interesting and that counts for something, right? Right?

Publicists have an even clearer cut reason for keeping their knowledge of the media to themselves: It’s the product they’re selling. If you know how things work, the thinking goes, what do you need them for? You can just craft your own media strategy and hire a few interns to execute it for you. Unfortunately, that logic keeps publicists from educating their clients, which only makes their job—and mine—harder.