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Media Relations: Best Practices for PR Professionals Networking with Reporters

Published on October 9th, 2020, at 7:56 p.m.
by Julianna Kendall.

Public relations professors spend countless classes trying to teach young PR professionals how to interact with reporters. They teach how to pitch, how to speak to reporters in interviews, and how to train spokespeople. However, they don’t lend much insight into showing students how to build and retain relationships with reporters. Below, two reporters provide some do’s and don’ts on how to practice good communication skills with reporters in 2020. Levi Edwards, a digital reporter for the Las Vegas Raiders, and Sheila Smoot, a radio news director/anchor for 98.7 Kiss FM, have the inside scoop.

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

1. Don’t hide behind a phone.
In a society full of technology, the first thought for people today is to connect and get to know people online. PR specialists preach to search for reporters on Twitter and see if your company’s interests line up with theirs. However, Edwards advised that PR professionals should get to know a reporter in advance of pitching, and, if they really want to make an impact, go old school.

“If you are really trying to get to know the reporter, actually make an effort to meet them. … Whether you want to send them an email, set up something later, or talk to them on the phone … make an effort to reach out to them and get to know them,” Edwards noted.

2. Know the equipment that reporters will be using.
According to Smoot, “COVID has changed the way information has been disseminated.” In the past, public relations professionals submitted press releases, and reporters organized interviews when they wanted quotes and more information. Since the start of COVID-19, reporters have not been able to meet in the studio because it has been unsafe and the studios are being cleaned several times a day. In place of in-person meetings, Smoot has been asking PR contacts for soundbites in MP3 to put directly into her radio show. She’s had a few issues with people saving soundbites in a more time-consuming format for radio producers, MP4s.

This slight change doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people, but to people inside the radio booth, it means they will lose time. Producers will have to spend extra time converting an MP4 file to an MP3 at the same time that they could have spent figuring out how to portray the story best on air. Knowing how to use different forms of technology and to do the little things will help PR professionals stay on a reporter’s good side and make them known as someone who is easy to work with and can take direction.

Smoot explained, “I think PR people are great; I think you’ve got to have [the information they release]. I think it’s necessary, but I thank God I looked at everything. I hate print, I hate long form writing, but I know how to do it. With social media changing my world, because I didn’t grow up in the social media piece when I was in college, I learned it. Same thing with PR professionals: Learn the platforms you’re dealing with. Learn about what radio people need, what TV people need, versus print versus bloggers.”

3. Don’t take things to heart.
Not everything coming from a reporter’s mouth or written report will benefit companies. There will be scandals and events that are portrayed in the news not exactly in a way that is beneficial for PR professionals’ clients. However, know reporters and trust that what they are putting out is ethical, Edwards advised. He knows that a reporter who has a good relationship with someone in PR will always try to paint the story truthfully with their interest in mind.

“We are just the messenger and we are always going to make sure that we unbiasedly put out the message as best as we can,” Edwards explained. “So of course, PR’s goal is to always make sure that things are as best portrayed for their company or for their people as possible, and we totally understand that. However, we have our civic duty to make sure that we always are giving information as factual as possible. So of course, we are going to try to do what is best for the company and what’s best for you to make sure that you are doing your job as well. But I also need to do what’s best for me and my job as well, to make sure that I continue to keep the same level of respect in my profession.”

4. Cover all of your bases.
During COVID, everyone has been so focused on TV that they’re leaving out radio, even though radio reaches 92% of Americans compared to TV’s 87% reach. Smoot works for a radio station that covers hundreds of miles outside of the Birmingham, Alabama, area, so she has a lot of listeners. However, when COVID broke out, she was having trouble getting hospitals to send her information. They didn’t understand the power of radio and the practice of covering every medium to get their message out.

Smoot’s advice is to “do your research. COVID has made PR professionals have to realize whose medium is going to get their message out. … Where are you going to get the most bang for your buck? Who are you going to get to listen to you all the time? … Don’t leave out any medium.”

Ultimately, there are different practices for public relations professions geographically, and no two reporters are the same. However, the basics of making relationships with reporters stay the same through generations. PR professionals need to take time to take reporters out to coffee or spend time on the phone listening to their interests. Take some Adobe classes and get to know the equipment reporters will be using. Learn what channels reach target audiences best, and don’t leave anyone out.

PR professionals must not take anything too seriously. News moves fast, so reporters have to move even faster. They might not always get to a story or they might have a little different take on what moves a company is making. However, with a solid foundation, PR professionals and reporters can create news that is really special.

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