Will GDPR sound the death knell for the old-fashioned sell-in?


By James Hollaway

This article was originally written, and first appeared, in PR Week

The PR industry has long been aware of the cries of exasperated journalists receiving hundreds of daily pitch emails. The accusation being that too often PR executives fall back on a carpet bombing approach to dissemination, followed by an Account Executive-led sell-in. Whilst it is a clunky approach it is also understandable, the theory goes that you would rather include too many journalists on your media list, thereby reducing the risk of missing the ones who might just cover the story.

Journalists themselves broadly accepted that the deluge of press releases was an occupational hazard required to receive the good releases – it was up to them to sort the wheat from the chaff.

However, the introduction of GDPR might be a game changing moment for the industry, and PRs relationships with journalists.

Journalists now have the right to request to be removed from any organisation’s database, despite any ‘legitimate business interest’ to contact them. We have already heard of cases of journalists requesting to be removed from well-known third-party media databases. If they continue to receive communications after exercising the right to be forgotten, then they can report the offending organisation to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). This could mean anything from a slapped wrist to a significant fine if there has been wilful neglect of GDPR.

So what does this mean for the PR industry and the way we operate.

Those who have good relationships with journalists and are respected for their work will continue to enjoy effective dialogue, whilst those who have adopted a less thorough approach to media relations could find themselves on the wrong side of an ‘unsubscribe’ email. This is likely to play well for agencies with a specialist interest in a sector, such as healthcare, or finance who are more likely to have strong relationships in place.

It will also be important for agencies to have a broad spectrum of clients in their specialist sector as too many commercial, brand-related releases might jeopardise key relationships. At M&F Health, we have always valued our relationships with third sector organisations such as the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society because it provides variety and gives us a different perspective. Now, these accounts might prove even more critical for us as the type of stories – such as the recent ‘Superbug’ coverage – we manage for those organisations build goodwill and deepen relationships with our key journalists.

Finally, PRs should be more judicious when deciding to send a news release out, and be emboldened to challenge the news value of potential releases to clients or colleagues. Moreover, those who have been relying on the carpet bombing approach to dissemination of a news release will need to adopt more innovative approaches to media relations with nuanced media strategies if they are to succeed.