As a former journalist, who now handles PR for clients, I know what it looks like from both sides. I sympathize with the gripes I hear from public relations folks. But I empathize with the journalists who moan about flack fails.
Though they might not admit it, most journalists actually like solid, professional PR people. The others pretty much drive scribes crazy. Here are seven of secrets that these solid PR pros know:
1. Get to know the media folks you’ll need before you need them.
If you wait until you need to reach a journalist before initiating any contact with that person, it’s already too late. Relationships are everything. Your call will be returned and your email answered much more quickly if it’s not a cold pitch.
2. Respect media deadlines
Publication deadlines are only part of the picture. Be a sleuth (but not a stalker). Notice the rhythm of the day for the media people you need to reach most often. Scan for the timing of their posts and updates on social media sites for clues. Or send a short message and ask when they want to be contacted. Do they want only emails, not calls? Write down these preferences and honor them as best you can.
3. Provide information promptly without interrogating.
PR people used to ask me, regularly, “How are you going to ‘use’ the information?” Or, “What’s your angle?” The solid PR pros don’t do this. They get back, with the information requested, as soon as possible. That helpfulness garners goodwill. Cross-examining media about their intensions never does.
4. Don’t push, beg, or threaten.
I wish I could say this doesn’t happen, but it does. Pros just don’t go there.
5. Stay with the media you need to reach
This doesn’t take an advanced degree, but it does require persistence. Set up a Google Alert or a Topsy Alert for the names of journalists you need to track most closely. Know their beat, their topics, and what they’ve covered recently. This is what archives are for, if you need to get caught up in a hurry. If you pitch without doing this, it’s obvious to them and embarrassing for you.
6. Make sure the “news” you’re pitching is truly newsworthy.
And be prepare to state why, compellingly. If it is newsworthy, pitch freely. Journalists will want to know about it. But if it’s not, use another channel to spread the message. Bugging media with a pitch that’s promotional or not news to them (see N. 5) likely means a chilly reception the next time you call, regardless of that idea’s worth.
7. Know you will win some and lose some
Unless you are doing PR for a presidential candidate or for Facebook, you’re going to have to vie for shrinking space, fewer staff members handling the news, and major stories that always risk pushing aside smaller-tier pieces. Don’t take it personally. Pros don’t. But they do learn from their mistakes.
Becky Gaylord worked as a reporter for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C.; Sydney, Australia; and Cleveland, Ohio for major publications including The New York Times, Salon.com, Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, and was associate editor of the Plain Dealer‘s Editorial Page before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. The company helps clients improve their external relations and communication and increase their influence and impact.