A Remedy for Media Relations Couples Counseling

Mike McDougall
Mike McDougall

“I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I’m having. You get what I want. You get what I’m trying to do. And I can trust you to follow through on what you promised. You’re not like all the others who only think about what’s in it for them. This is going to be a great relationship.” If you had overheard this conversation in that restaurant a couple months ago, chances are you would have smirked and thought that new love was about to blossom.

You’d be half-right—it was love not in the romantic sense, but in the forming of a meaningful partnership with one of the top editors covering the healthcare industry.

We were putting the relationship component back into media relations. And it felt amazing.

For the two decades that I’ve been a part of the PR profession, I’ve watched and played a part in accelerating how quickly we can transmit information. How rapidly we can receive and react to changes across the city and around the world. How easily we can communicate with countless people in a very short period.


It’s a way of life that’s astonishing, exhilarating and powerful. Yet it’s becoming dangerous. Many of us are confusing true human-to-human relationships with digital transactions—a check the box, “let’s get this done and move on” mentality.

The result is an erosion of the give-and-take approach between PR professionals and their most valued journalists.

However, we’re facing the same syndrome from our other halves in this dysfunctional relationship.

I see more and more journalists bypass interviews with experts who can offer great insight and commentary in favor of copying-and-pasting from provided materials.

They’re under pressure to produce more content, feed content to more channels and hit the repeat button—something that’s easy to do with a stream of fact sheets, bylined stories, quotes, infographics, photos, suggested social media posts and video packages.

One of my senior interns was incredulous a few days ago when a respected media outlet’s feature story was almost a complete pick-up of her pitch and news release. Get used to it, but please don’t embrace it.

We can do better. We need to do better. We need to find a way to build true relationships once again.


“How did we let the value of relationships slip off the map?” asked a seasoned PR pros when I brought up the subject. He surmised it was the fault of senior managers who assume that middle managers are up to the task of instilling the principle into new recruits, and middle managers who are too frantic with their own list of deliverables to care. He called it the “PR crouch.” Ouch.

That may play a role, but there’s more at the root of the issue.

For the managers and mentors among us, we need to encourage our teams to become even more focused on what—and who—truly matters. Trying to do it all becomes a fruitless exercise with diminishing returns.

Can it be as easy as picking up the phone versus sending an email? Hopping on the train or plane for an in-person lunch instead of sending an endless stream of texts? It’s not the complete solution, but it’s a start.

Sometimes, just showing up makes all the difference. During my in-house days, I visited Sydney for a one-day meeting, and found myself making a day trip to Amsterdam—all in the name of demonstrating that being at the table in person was more important than convenience. Extreme? Maybe, but the outcomes of both trips were rapid and powerful.

Do yourself a favor. Watch Her, the powerful Spike Jonze movie that won an Oscar this year for Best Original Screenplay.

Clear the deck and watch Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, date and then fall in love with an operating system of the future.

Then ask yourself if you’re doing the same with your media partners, hiding behind the bits and bytes of glowing screens and ultra-fast connections.

We’re not going to slow the changing nature of communication, but we can guide its path. As the pace quickens, relationships matter even more. Life tastes better in person. Savor it.


Mike McDougall is president of McDougall Communications. He can be reached at mike@mcdougallpr.com. Follow him on Twitter, @McDougallPR.

This article originally appeared in the June 16, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.