We all know how keen a PR professional's instinct needs to be to spot the journalist from a distance - the eye becomes trained by continuous habit and need. Many times, 15 minutes into the scheduled beginning of the press conference or event, the lack of media attendance can cause a small panic attack in PR professionals. So naturally, while one mans the media counter, the PR professional's eye is continuously scouting for the elusive journalist. That constitutes the training by habit part.
Another reason that futher helps develop the 'spotting instinct' is because the PR professional is continuously getting thrown into new situations (like new cities for instance), and made to manage media events in places where they hardly know the media. Here, the hardy professional learns to recognize gestures & demeanor, walking styles, confidence, attire, accoutrements that help identification of the journalist. Over a period of time, this process of journalist 'tagging' becomes second nature to everyone in PR.
But lets move back to where we started. The imps! Imp, short for impersonator of the media, is a strange creature. They dont do stories, they dont do interviews and they dont work for any media. But, they can talk as if they are the media and most of their day goes in doing the rounds collecting invitations for major events in the city. Typically the imps claim to be freelancers (please read as F-R-E-E-L-O-A-D-E-R-S) or from the PIB (Press Information Bureau) and usually will not carry visiting cards. But almost everytime they will all have an official looking identity card that helps them pass off as press. Why do they do it? Well, as freeloaders, imps typically looking for conference freebees and free lunches.
You resist their entry into their event and they will try and create a hue & cry about how the fourth estate represents the voice of the people and by curbing their entry, the the freedom of speech of the nation is being threatened. So, you let go, you give in and you settle for a compromise, in the interests of an uninterrupted event. OK, you say, have your free lunch, but stop making a scene!
But, though the dangers of such allownaces may not be noticed, its almost certainly effect lessens the efficacy of the agency, adds unnecessary cost to the client, and to top it all, the genuine journalists fraternity (the good lot which gets impersonated) feels miffed at this transgression.
What to do about it? Well, my opinon is that it's similar to the software piracy problem. The software product company cannot go hard on the pirated software users, but conitnue to make louder and louder noise about the fact things are getting noticed. Once in a while an example is set, with an objective to send out the message that it wont be tolerated. Another method is to ensure a stricter code in the fraternity, a tag of 'genuine' which the PR agencies and the media should sit together and create to get rid of this menace in the long run.
And also to continue the analogy, like pirated software, the imps are never going to go away completely, but given the time and the right approach, the problem can be minimized for the entire industry.