Posted At: November 29, 2012 7:45 P.M.
by Memorie Bailey
As PR practitioners, we know that media relations is key to the success of the organization we represent. Journalists affiliated with important media outlets are the people disseminating our organization’s message to the masses.
Journalists and PR professionals work in the same industry and interact with one another on a regular basis, so it is important to maintain strong relationships with them in order to gain the coverage an organization needs. However, there are differing opinions about the quality of the relationship between the two.
Brooke Carbo, copy editor and features reporter for the Anniston Star, believes maintaining a strong working relationship with PR professionals is important, but it should be just that — a working relationship. PR practitioners can provide journalists with exclusive information like pictures, statistics and vital sources, but the exchange of information should stop there. Too close of a relationship can tarnish the credibility of the journalist reporting the news about an organization.
“If a reporter is not vigilant about keeping the relationship professional, editors, readers, other sources, etc., may not take the reporter at his word when it comes to that company,” Carbo said.
Any relationship with a journalist begins with a pitch. PR professionals spend hours crafting the perfect pitch to a news outlet that creatively highlights the intended message. However, Carbo said for front-page coverage, journalists want significant, newsworthy information. From a journalist’s point of view, it is the potential impact of the pitch that will get a message covered, not how much effort was put into perfecting the pitch.
But if you’re not trying to get front-page coverage, Carbo offered two pieces of advice for the PR pro.
“First, write your pitch as close to the way it will appear in the publication as possible,” she said. “Journalists are working on a deadline, so if they’ve got a 6-inch hole to fill and two press releases on their desk, they’ll go with the one that requires the least amount of editing every time.”
Carbo also suggested to be conscious of the message’s relevance to the publication’s audience.
“Ask yourself who is the reader of the publication you’re pitching to, and try to frame your pitch in a way that highlights the impact on that reader.”
But PR practitioners may have different philosophies about maintaining relationships with journalists. Some don’t try to build relationships at all and resort to blindly calling a news outlet to pitch a story or gather information. It may be necessary to use this method at times, but creating some type of relationship will help in getting your work noticed.
Armon Drysdale, public relations consultant, said developing a regular relationship with at least one journalist at each major media outlet in your geographical area of practice is an excellent way to gain consistent coverage. He also said that younger journalists are great contacts to have, because they are willing to put their best effort into writing a story you pitch to them. If you can provide a young journalist with a reliable, newsworthy lead, he’ll be enthusiastic to reciprocate.
It is also beneficial to have relationships with seasoned journalists because of their extensive network. If you pique their interest with a message that pertains to their particular beat, they’ll be eager to produce a story from your pitch.
“Seasoned journalists at newspapers can be your kicker card, because they always have a finger on the pulse of their particular beat,” Drysdale said. “They’ll gladly help turn your pitch into a story, as they frequently have the ear of the editors.”
Drysdale also suggested to build relationships with assignment editors and videographers at television stations as well. They are constantly looking for leads to pass on to their producers. If you can pitch to them a significant, informative lead, they’ll do their best to place your story in their program or send a truck to your last-minute news conference.
Researching and following reporters’ work is always a good idea when trying to build relationships. It’s helpful to know what is currently happening within their beat. If you pitch something they can use, it reflects your interest in their work, and hopefully they will publish your story. Promoting their work can also help the relationship. If you help them, they will be more likely to help you.
Another piece of advice Drysdale had to offer was to never give a reporter false or useless material. Giving them unreliable information is a sure way of getting your pitch deleted or thrown in the trash. Always provide them with verified messages, and be available to answer any follow-up questions they may have. It is your job as a PR practitioner to be a dependable source, and a journalist should be able to rely on you to get the correct information they need.
Furthermore, keep in mind that journalists work on strict deadlines each day and are often cramped for time and space. Thus, sometimes the PR professional has to give a little more than they take in order to get their message noticed.
“One bit of good advice someone passed along to me once is to follow the rule of three: give the reporter two good tips or pieces of information that benefits them before asking for one piece of information from them,” Drysdale said.
The most important thing to remember is the relationship between a journalist and PR practitioner is mutual. A significant amount of the information journalists gather comes from PR professionals, so they need us just as much as we need them. All communication experts value relationships. Maintaining strong and functional relationships between PR practitioners and journalists will help accomplish the ultimate goal of both professionals, which is to disseminate meaningful messages to key publics.