Reporters at the UK’s largest independent news agency have been asked to “weigh up whether running a story is worth the potential fall-out to the PR side of the business”.
SWNS has more than 150 staff at nine regional offices around the country supplying stories across the national press.
The memo to all staff is with reference to 72 Point, a PR agency which is part of the SWNS group.
It says: “Our two businesses generally rub along very nicely together, but there is an increasing area of conflict with stories involving major companies and brands.
“As 72 Point continues to spread its wings, it deals with – or is trying to – every major name on the high street or internet, either directly or through an agency.
“So it can cause them major pain when SWNS writes a ‘knocking’ story about a shop chain or insurance company etc.
“They are finding certain targets are very hostile to them because of their connection with SWNS.”
The email noted that one brand reacted “angrily” to a marketing email from 72 Point, because it said SWNS “pushes negative stories to the national press about us”.
The memo states: “SWNS must continue to operate as a news wire and should not be cowed from writing stories which cast companies or brands in a negative light.
“Most PRs understand this when it is explained, and we can turn this to our advantage by giving brands a heads-up about a cracking tale which is already ‘out there’ and which we cannot ignore. 72 Point can gain real kudos from this.
“What really annoys PRs is when we use quotes from syndicated stories and do not give them further right of reply before it goes to the nationals.
“A lot of the time, the stories which cause problems are actually worth very little to SWNS but can cost 72 Point a lucrative client.
“So, going forward, we need all reporting staff to be mindful of stories they are writing about companies and brands.
“Often we cannot ignore them, but alerting 72 Point beforehand could be very beneficial. We need to weigh up whether running a story is worth the potential fall-out to the PR side of the business.”
The memo urged SWNS to “look out for” for stories involving 72 Point clients and to alert the main SWNS Bristol newsdesk as well as 72 management when they come up.
It states: “It could enable them to get a foot in the door by alerting a potential client”.
Press Gazette asked SWNS managing director Martin Winter for further explanation about the email.
He said: “We are not saying we shouldn’t run stories, we are just saying everyone should have a fair right of reply and making sure one part of the business is not harming another part.”
Asked whether reporters might see their job as to report the news without fear or favour, he said: “It might be different if you are a paper of record or the BBC. But we have a certain about of space on our newswire and we have to pick and choose what we put out there.
“We can end up putting a story out there that’s not going to be a huge benefit for us from a news point of view, but the fallout to the other half of the business could cost us a lot of money.”
He added: “There are stories we can’t ignore. Those will be the big ones. This is about saying, let’s make sure we give the brand or company a fair crack of the whip when it comes to writing it.”