Media relations

A is for approval

The A to Z of media relations
Supported by Unicepta
Unaccountable noun (?)

By this, I mean copy approval.

Do PRs have the right to see an article before it is published? The short answer is no. Journalists are not employed to make PRs happy. They are employed to accurately report the facts of a story. If they perform their task well the piece should have a neutral tone, regardless of the underlying story.

Most journalists will not share their work before publication. Some may read back quotes to ensure these are accurate or to offer the context in which these are being used. They may recheck facts, just to be sure.

But British* journalists will not usually offer sight of the whole article (or broadcast) because, here’s the thing, a PR’s offer to ‘fact check’ is usually anything but. They don’t return the article with a ‘You used ounces when you really mean grammes’ type correction.

No, they usually return it with large swathes removed because ‘it wasn’t quite right’: in other words, they didn’t like the tone, or the message being conveyed. Sometimes they will offer a ‘handy’ suggestion for a substitute sentence, which invariably gushes more than the Niagara Falls.

Early in my career, I agreed to send a copy of an interview for the candidate’s eyes only. Absolutely, he said. He was being disingenuous. The communications department sent back its approved version. It was littered with gushing tributes to his team – he’d never mentioned them – and glowing insights about the organisation for which he worked. It only needed ‘once upon a time’ to introduce his fantasy world. Oh, and I wasn’t to worry, said the PR, as the article had been ‘legalled’.

No, the article had been destroyed. A balanced piece had been turned into advertorial tripe. It didn’t run. My editor decided to use the article he had paid for – my original one. We didn’t tell them, so I imagine a few people choked on their cornflakes!

The moral of this tale: if you are granted sight of an article, be respectful. If you are offering to fact check, do just that. Do not rewrite the piece. If you want to be a journalist, give up PR and take the requisite pay cut!


*In some countries, I understand journalists always give copy approval. Brits are just mean!