7 ways PR pros can navigate the evolving news landscape

Media relations brings new challenges as media outlets tighten budgets and reduce staffing. Consider these insights, gleaned from recent interviews with reporters.

7 media relations tips

Journalism is in flux, but certain media relations tactics never go out of style.

Over the summer, our external communications team met with reporters from varied backgrounds to get a sense of what they’re looking for and how we can work better together to meet those needs.

We saw a diversity of experiences in terms of how reporters pursue their craft, what interests them and, just as important, what doesn’t interest them (and their editors).

Here are seven takeaways:

1. Don’t “press release” everything. Newsrooms are relying less on traditional press releases. According to a Muck Rack survey of U.S.-based journalists, 53% of respondents said they don’t rely on press releases at all, and only 3% said they heavily rely on news releases sent through a news wire. The press release can be expensive and doesn’t always resonate with your intended audience. Instead, consider personalized email outreach, background meetings and embargoed announcements.

2. Make sure it’s news. Reporters get peeved when they receive a pitch from some overzealous PR person about a concept that isn’t remotely newsworthy to them or their audience. You want your phone call or email to mean something, and poorly thought-out pitches won’t help at all. An editor once explained that “news” is, by definition, an unanticipated development. If something is widely expected or doesn’t register as a surprise, it’s not news.

3. Do more with less. Virtually every reporter mentioned that budgets are tight and resources are scarce; proceed accordingly. Pitches and concepts that may have been successful five years ago won’t do as well given current newsroom constraints. Key question: How can communicators be particularly useful or helpful?

4. Know your audience. Simple questions such as, “For whom are you writing?” “What’s your editorial mandate?” “What topics do or do not interest you?” and “Whom do you consider your key competitors?” can help shape how one interacts with that reporter.

5. Don’t play, “Us, too!” Sometimes PR practitioners reach out to a reporter after a story has been published to say their client or company is doing something similar. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with pointing this out as an FYI; after all, you never know when a reporter may revisit the subject. When it’s written as a fresh story pitch, though, it’s unproductive. Instead, pitch a new angle for a follow-up.

6. Don’t spurn diversity. Having a diverse team of storytellers should be a no-brainer. Reporters emphasized this as well, as it vastly improves the experience for their audiences.

7. Be accessible. If your client, company or cause is making a major announcement or asking journalists to cover something, be ready to field calls from media outlets—having appropriate spokespeople available or preparing answers to likely questions. By contrast, ghosting journalists when they call can kill your reputation.

Sean B. Pasternak is a former business reporter now involved in global communications. A version of this article first ran on LinkedIn.

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