April 22, 2014 ()
PR Advice From a Journalist
In journalism school my professors often talked about dealing with public relations professionals with contempt, framing the relationship as one where both parties have completely opposing goals. The journalist’s job was to report the truth, they told us, while the PR representative’s job was to distort facts, withhold information, and ensure that only the right, brand-friendly message made it into the news.
Today, however, I would argue that the dynamic has changed significantly, with both sides finding a new level of understanding for the other. In school they prepared us for battle, but since leaving the ivory tower most of my interactions with PR professionals have been nothing short of pleasant, and the relationships we’ve built have been mutually beneficial. Every once in a while, however, I still come across those who are maintaining the habits once bemoaned by my professors. So, without further delay, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for PR professionals.
Do build relationships. Make small talk and present a personality that is more than just the face of the organization you represent. Invite journalists for coffee or lunch, and if they’re too busy (as many are) than don’t be pushy, the gesture is more than enough.
Don’t spend that entire coffee break or lunch date talking about the company you are representing or the stories you want published. There will be time for that later. Instead, make an effort to understand what sort of material that journalist and their editors look for so you can better tailor story pitches in the future.
Do send personalized emails. Journalists and editors tend to skip over the generic emails that were obviously sent to hundreds of others, and only open the ones addressed to them personally, especially those sent by PR professionals who have previously made an attempt to build a relationship.
Don’t send every press release to every journalist in your address book. It still astounds me how often I get emails from PR professionals pitching stories for sections I don’t write for, or on topics I’ve never covered. Instead, carefully consider why you are sending this story to this particular journalist/editor, prove to them that you know their audience, and tell them why they would want to read/hear/watch that particular story. I personally guarantee a higher success rate will result from sending 10 personalized emails instead of 100 generic ones.
Do help us do our jobs, and we will help you do yours. If there’s a chance the person we want to interview is unavailable, let us know so that we have an opportunity to find alternative sources, and we’ll be sure to work with you again in the future.
Don’t make us jump through hoops to get information or arrange interviews. After all, I’m writing a story about the company you represent, and 99 per cent of the time the publicity will be beneficial to the organization. Most PR professionals understand this concept, but others still wait until just before deadline to tell us they are unable to meet our requests. I can’t think of a quicker way to land yourself and your organization on our black lists.