On The Terrible State Of Jordanian Public Relations

I’d like to emphasize that the following post is merely a personal rant. It is not meant to be an articulate assessment or commentary of anything particular other than the fleeting thoughts that enter my mind on a semi-daily basis. As usual, they reflect the opinion of me and me alone.

That being said:

Public relations in Jordan is in a terrible, terrible state. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.

As a writer, PR is an industry I am in constant contact with. Sometimes, the phone doesn’t even stop ringing. Everyone wants something. They all have clients and they all want to please those clients, and that’s fine; that’s their job. But oftentimes, their job is to make mine very, very difficult. Everyone has a conference they’d like you to attend. Everyone has a client that is “dying” for an interview. Eventually one develops a thick skin and learns to say “no”, but one thing about PR in this country is that they have a clever way of adapting and can pull a few underhanded tricks when you’re not looking.

There are the rare occasions where they’ll pitch me a story and I’ll think it may be worth an interview just to see if it’ll turn out as interesting as I think it could be, and on those occasions I enter a whole new realm of pain. This is where the biggest industry peeves arise. A hundred little details can emerge over some thing so simple and there is the expectation from their side that you are suddenly catering to their client, that you are in their hire, and they don’t understand that it doesn’t work that way.

My biggest peeve is when they decide to tag along to an interview. It’s like being out on a parole.

I have since developed a strict policy that no PR is allowed to tag along but there are times when they know this already and do it anyway, putting me in a position and on the spot, where it would be rude to ask them to leave the room – and they know it. I wouldn’t mind them, but the problem is they sit adjacent to you and actually interfere with the interview, asking their own questions or inserting their own comments. No matter how much they promise, you’ll always get an interruption. A few times I’ve had them advising their client to go off the record. It feels like one of those cop shows, like Law and Order, where they’re trying to interrogate a suspect and his lawyer is in the room.

They do not understand that every time I enter a room to meet someone, it takes me an average of 3 minutes to size them up and decide if the next hour will be a waste of my time.

And I’ve experienced a few insane scenarios based on that.

Very recently, for instance, I was stunned to enter an interview with four people from the same PR agency in attendance. Now the record is five (all females) but this time it was an incredibly small room so it felt like an army. There’s just no way you can have an honest discussion with anyone with that many useless people in the same room taking up air. So I kindly asked them to leave. And what’s strange is that they do get a little offended. As if what you’re asking of them is so abnormal, so out of left field. And you’re forced to wonder, are they not aware that of their own annoyance?

They promised to sit quietly but upon my insistence, two left. It was a negotiation and I was too tired to keep haggling over the presence of bodies. Of course the two remaining did not sit quietly and interrupted a total of five times, inserting their own questions and comments. I have been in a scenario where one PR agent even made suggestions of how I should write the piece. When such a situation comes about, well, suffice to say they regret it and I usually don’t hear back from them.

I have been to one interview where two PR agents, upon seeing my digital recorder, put their mobile phones on record and placed them right next to mine. The outcome was a recording that was full of cell phone signals, the kind you get on a speaker when a call is coming in. I had to scratch the piece because I couldn’t hear a thing, but that was of course earlier on when I didn’t know better.

The problem is, they force you to be rude. I understand they have a job to do, but I can’t do mine if they feel that theirs is to act as a client’s lawyer. I have refused to write certain things because of PR involvement. There is also the general insistence that they want to see anything before it gets printed, which is a joke and is something I nor any of my colleagues have ever, ever allowed. On several occasions this lead to a standoff where they (after begging for an interview) would not accept anything to run unless they saw it first. On all of those occasions a delete button was used.

In some cases, they’ll pull unexpected crap like the “boss” card. If I refuse to do something they’ll say that there was an agreement between them and my Chief, which I immediately assume is a lie because there is little that my boss knows that I am not already in the loop on. There are three people in the office so word travels pretty fast.

Moreover, the problem seems to be worsening as more and more agencies are seeking us out. When I started out, there were perhaps five phone calls a month. Now there are around five a day, if not more. And they’ll keep calling and insisting, even after 98% of everything they pitch gets thrown out on the spot.

In the whole PR industry, at any given moment, there are around two people (maximum three) who I actually think are pretty good and pretty understanding. They let you do your job and in the process, they get theirs done. But the majority, are simply brats.

That’s the only way to describe them: brats.

They are the little children of Jordanian industry.

PR is still a relatively new industry in the country and it’s quickly growing. It feels like a new agency emerges every single day. Nearly every company has a PR agency working for them, and pretty much all of them are incredibly annoying. These days, they’re importing more Lebanese and even Egyptian (female) employees, which makes things a bit easier because they have a way of doing their job well. Sometimes. It is the difference between a Syrian and a Jordanian when it comes to selling things – the Syrian tends to be a better salesperson who won’t let you leave till he’s made a sale, while the Jordanian will tell you to bugger off if you think his neighbor has a better price.

So I wonder sometimes if this is an industry that can survive in a Jordanian context – in a Jordanian environment. Let’s face it, we’re not a people who are well known for their PR skills. Even in government, some of the biggest gaffes have come from bad PR skills, otherwise known as the diplomatic front. In some cases, ties have been broken between Jordan and a friendly nation simply because someone said something they shouldn’t have. On the domestic front, the government continues to suffer from gaffes that have given local press a great deal of ammunition. This past summer’s handling of the Jordan Festival was an example of that.

The reason I draw this allusion is because there are incredible similarities between the way both government and private sector agencies handle public relations. Both have the tendency to get too involved in any public debate. Both have the tendency to be around when they’re not needed (and absent when they are). Both have no clear vision or understanding of their actual role. And both have a tendency to make some serious and costly mistakes.

So dear PR agencies, please back up. Your job is a delicate one and there is a delicate manner in which to do it. Rubbing people the wrong way will get the exact opposite result you were aiming for. And as a whole, I think Jordan has a long way to go when it comes to developing a solid public relations industry, be it in the government context or in the private sector. The art of delivering a message and acting as an invisible go-between is still far from being a refined role.

And I apologize if this sounds like whining, but like I said at the beginning, it’s merely a rant out of frustration.


  • They really sound like a total pain.
    i am so annoyed by them, just by reading your post, that i am trying to find out the best way out of this painful situation for you.

    sadly i cant think of any 😀

    however, why is it that you dont agree to show them final version before printing?

    i mean.. i always ask for this myself, and i always get it when i ask for it, i dont understand why do you refuse to show it to them? i mean i want to make sure i wasnt misquotes, mis presented, etc before anything is written about me. you would want the same thing when anything is written about you, and we are only bloggers (i mean when we are interviewed as bloggers), why do you find it so unacceptable to an un-negotiationable way that they want to make sure nothing was mis-understood or misquoted etc?

    how about a policy of: you can see it but you cant change it: accept it as it is or we will delete it, sort of policy?

  • how about a policy of: you can see it but you cant change it: accept it as it is or we will delete it, sort of policy?

    Unfortunately this doesn’t work in Jordan. Changes are always made or insisted upon. And by the way, those changes are not necessarily tied to what a person said (a quote) but rather the writer’s writing!

    There are very rare cases where I will agree to send snippets of an article to the person because it will contain information, specifically numbers, that I’d like to verify. Everything else is a direct quote that is digitally recorded (and they know that).

  • Can you do your work without them?! Do you need working with PR? How bad would it be if you developed bad reputation between PR agencies?!
    If I were you, I would use “Screw You” type of policy! Leave the room, and leave it NOW!!

  • SubhanAllah. I didn’t realize that PR was becoming such a big thing here, although I must say that Arabs are kind of born for it. Before that sounds too awful, I will clarify. Arabs tend to use a lot ‘niceties,’ for lack of a better word, to butter up people when they speak to them. And they know how to get their way in a conversation and get the outcome they want. And most seem to really like to talk. All of those things on their own are fine and dandy, but if you add them all together, that is a business.

    I have a degree in PR, but I gave it up after graduation because it seemed too much like lying for a living. Alhamdulillah. I learned that first hand at an internship at a HUGE US government agency. Anyhow, you should tell the handlers that if they want the interview, then it is one on one with you and the client. If they show up, you walk out. If they want the publicity bad enough, they will back off.

    Ok. Nobody call me on Arab bashing today. I just highlighted a new line of work for you! Aren’t I helpful? 😉

  • You are suffering the indignities of PR handlers (brats, experienced professionals or whatever) who have been burned in the past by unprofessional journalists who don’t read the background materials they asked for, play fast with statistics and actually make up “quotes” about topics that may never have been touched upon in the interview. I think the PR industry can only be as good as the journalism profession. Or perhaps more fairly, they need to develop in tandem – pull and push each other along.
    That said, even “seasoned” and famous journalists from the most respected international media outlets have been known to manipulate the material from interviews –cherry picking a phrase out of context, using only comments that support one side while neglecting to share the balancing comments in the same sentence or interview, etc.
    Therefore, I think that PR staff and journalists will always have a mutually suspicious and somewhat uncomfortable relationship, even as they need each other.
    Lastly, I believe PR staff should spend more of their time preparing their boss/principal/spokesperson with updated, factual and interesting information about their company/work and less of it tryig to rewrite articles after they are written – which is NOT their perogative. Many leaders in Jordan and worldwide don’t work on their own presentation skills – and that makes everyone more nervous.
    The obsession with fact-checking and reading articles comes from bad past experiences. Now I repeat myself and must end!

  • marwan: here’s a secret. PR companies are incredibly powerful in this industry because they belong to media agencies. those media agencies are also responsible for advertising agencies. it’s one company with three or four tentacles. and media in this country, be it tv, newspaper, radio or magazine, all run on advertising money. piss one person off, you piss of the rest.

    N.M: “admire” is a bit of a stretch. there are individuals who’s way of working I appreciate. they inform and ask but respect your own policies and process.

  • I totally agree with your way.
    Prepare and be interviewed.
    It is just censorship in a way or another, trying to rewrite or edit articles or whatsoever.
    I think that anyone attempts to put someone in a bigger shoe of his/hers is just gambling on audience ignorance, and you know where does that leave them on the human beings scale 🙂

  • Honestly i love your piece and i must say that i have learnt much out of what has been said/written!! What i admire about the article is the pure honesty depicted through out the whole thing. However, the article is a guideline for PR agents in order to kinda introduce them to the essence of a solid & successful PR agency- it’s true that clients tend to push but it’s the PR agency’s responsibility to try and make the client aware of what makes a story and what does not. PR agents pitch for features/interviews and consequently what the media comes back with must be respected and not taken for granted. I am positively sure that when a journalist sees a story in the pitch then it will be processed into whatever the client/PR agency desires. I see it this way: a three triangle relationship with more media spice – i hate the interview thingy as well and oh i certainly believe in some kind of privacy and media respect 🙂 – i believe in change and i am sure it will come about in the nearby future (hopefully!)

    P.S: I love your blog!!!

  • At the risk of sounding snooty, PR people are well known to not being the sharpest knives in the drawer (otherwise they would have made a career in marketing or media). Also PR people all around are known to be pesky, actually, it’s probably listed somewhere in their job description. Plus their main job is about winning an account and keeping the client happy. The writer isn’t paying their salary, but the client is. So making the client happy (even if it’s achieved through the writer) will always be their main priority, it sucks but you could always say no, right? don’t want to sound preachy, but haggling always gets you somewhere. They want an interview, promise a 250-word piece. They want a cover, promise one page. They want a news item, offer a brief mention. Remember that they need you! Though investing in a part timer that would attend all of their crappy conferences isn’t a bad idea. Eventually, they’ll realize you’re a dead end and they’ll sod off. The best and most interesting stories come from where there aren’t any PR people (firms hire PR firms for a good reason, which is to make up for the lack of actual substance).

    The PR people in Jordan are a bit snooty, because they’re under the impression that: A) They are better paid than writers. B) with the lack of actual stories in Jordan, you need the fillers that PR people hand you (because the publication owners are greedy and want to cram in as many ads as possible, without paying much attention to actual content), they know this and they take advantage of you. Finally, the biggest problem is that most likely the firm owner is pals with the publication owner…

    Having said all this, seriously dude, it’s the same all over the world, it’s just being done in varying degrees. The few exceptions to this are probably The Economist and the Harvard Business Review, because the two magazines do not need to generate revenues from ads (as both of them print books and annual publications and have their own research centers which sell reports for an arm and a leg).

    There’s no actual journalism, at best it’s reporting. There’s no actual writing, at best it’s paraphrasing.

  • When it comes to your experience I really feel for you. I have nothing more to add to that.

    However, as for PR in jordan, I totally agree with you and wonder, why is it impossible for us to learn how to promote ourselves or at least be nice to people!

    The art of making ourselves so intolerable is something we excel in!

  • What a shame. Makes you long for interviews with folks like El 3atal, no? People who are excited to get their message out and familiar enough with your work to realize that your view is balanced and honest. Oh, wait, maybe that’s what they’re afraid of? The honesty?

  • @ PH: “PR people are well known to not being the sharpest knives in the drawer (otherwise they would have made a career in marketing or media).”

    Thank you. Absolutely correct. PR seems to be marketing minus the selling and analysis skill, or media minus the looks and proactivity.

    @ Um Omar: … and without the skills I wrote above, you’re absolutely right, all that’s left to define PR is excessive talking and lying to select audiences.

Your Two Piasters: