Maja Pawinska Sims 15 Jul 2022 // 10:16AM GMT
LONDON — The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) has issued a reminder to its members and the broader industry on the importance of ethics and professional standards in media relations, after reports of a UK PR agency offering payment to journalists for including clients in editorial coverage.
Freelance technology journalist Nicholas Fearn, who writes for a range of titles, posted on Twitter this week that a PR agency had sent him a message offering to “gift” him for covering clients in press articles he had been commissioned to write.
The message stated: “I wanted to put a proposal together for you. It’s a bit out there but we are working with other journalists in this manner, and it’s proving effective. So wanted to see if it were something you would be open to.
“When you do get freelance work with papers like Forbes, FT, The Independent, The Telegraph, Techradar, Engadget, Computer Weeekly and many others. Once you have secured your piece and the discussion topic you are writing about, we simply ask you to let us know first what you are writing about topic-wise and what experts you are looking for. We would then put forward some experts if we represent any experts that you are looking for in your article. If you decide they meet your requirements of what you are looking for and achieve our client coverage, we will look to gift you £100-300 per expert covered as a thank you.”
Fearn commented “Sounds like bribery to me”. There were dozens of other negative responses to the message from PR practitioners and journalists, with many calling it “shocking”.
Those who responded to the post included FleishmanHillard UK head of international affairs Michael Hartt, who said: “Speechless. Wonder if the agency's clients know they are part of this cash for coverage scheme. And whether the media outlets these journalists work at are aware, too. Undermines all those in PR who earn the earned media.”
The agency that sent the message to Fearn is Knightsbridge PR, which is not a PRCA member. Companies House lists the firm as having one director, Nicola McDonald, whose LinkedIn profile shows she is also a freelance journalist for titles including Forbes and Yahoo Finance.
Knightsbridge PR’s website states: “Old school PR is long gone, large monthly retainers with every promise of achieving top coverage. We are the new age of PR, that deliver on our promise of achieving specific coverage. We strive to keep PR hassle-free for our clients and deliver strong results.”
PRCA director general Francis Ingham said: “It is entirely unacceptable for PR professionals to offer payment to journalists for articles disguised as earned media. We’re not in the business of bribery.
“Ethics and trust in media have never mattered more; the public have a right to know when an article has been paid for. PR professionals and journalists both have a duty to uphold professional standards. It is vital the boundaries between paid and earned media are respected.”
Knightsbridge PR had not responded to a request for comment as this story was published.