Relationships between journalists and PR practitioners are complex. Thomas Koch, of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Magdalena Obermaier and Claudia Riesmeyer, both of Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, conducted a survey to which 835 journalists and 601 public relations practitioners in Germany responded, looking at how public relations exerts power over journalists.
The research studies six bases of power that public relations practitioners may use to influence journalists:
- coercive (pressure on journalists)
- legitimate (trying to convince superiors)
- reward (purchasing advertising space)
- referent (adapting to work routines)
- expert (maintaining good contact)
- and informational power (using arguments or offering exclusive information).
The survey results reveal that neither journalists nor PR practitioners see their professions as antagonistic. Both sides acknowledge the important role of the other. PR professionals saw themselves as exerting influence by providing information and keeping good relationships, journalists stated that PR practitioners influence their work by putting pressure or by buying advertising space.
A large amount of the variance in PR influence was explained by two bases of power: purchasing advertising space (reward power) and maintaining good contacts (expert power), strategies very different from each other. The relationship-based approach is time-consuming and requires effort, but is also remains effective, the researchers conclude.
The article “Powered by public relations?” was published in Journalism and is available online (abstract free). See also the researchers’ earlier study on the topic.
Picture: untitled by Joanna Kosinska, licence CC0 1.0