Q&A: How to build relationships with senior reporters

PR careers live and die by the relationships PR pros have with reporters and journalists. An editor with experience at LinkedIn, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal shares insider tips.

How can PR pros develop their media contacts into lasting friendships?

To get the bottom of this problem, we talked with Devin Banerjee, the senior editor of financial services at LinkedIn and former Bloomberg reporter who spent seven years covering private equity deals. Want to know what PR people just do not understand about pitching or the right way to ask for a correction? Read on.

Marc Raybin: Was there ever a time you were considering writing up a pitch but then decided against it because the public relations person pitching the story changed your mind?

Devin Banerjee: When pitching a reporter, being fully transparent upfront is always the best policy. I’ve received pitches that were newsworthy and interesting, but only in subsequent communications did the PR rep say it was being shared among a wider group of outlets or an executive would not be able to speak about it. Such factors often force me to pass on the idea, so full transparency as early as possible is a must—and saves time for everyone involved.

MR: Generally speaking, and based on your experiences, what do most public relations folks simply not get about pitching and working with reporters?

DB: The most ineffective pitches offer zero context about the news. A new senior hire? Great, but what does it say about the company’s larger strategic plans? A deal? Fantastic, but what does it imply about the strategic directions of the buyer and seller? A string of successes? Intriguing, but why was the firm able to pull it off when others couldn’t?

The legwork is of course the reporter’s [job] to do, but I often find PR folks forget that the main difference between a press release and a news story is context. It benefits everyone involved when the first conversation about a piece of news includes a discussion of the context that would make it worthy of readers’ limited time and attention.

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MR: You have published a story and the public relations representative of one of your sources reaches out requesting something be rewritten—what is the best way for the public relations person to do that?

DB: The best way to request a change to a published story is to lay out clearly that something is factually incorrect and to provide the correct piece of information that should replace it. At the other end of the spectrum, a PR rep will say the story contains inaccuracies when in reality she or he disagrees with the overall direction of the piece, with the headline, with a section that’s thought to be misleading, or with any combination of the above. In those cases, the best way to suggest changing a published article is to lay out, using as many facts not included in the piece as possible, why it’s in the best interest of an independent reader that the story be updated.

We are eager to immediately correct a story that contains an inaccuracy and then discuss the direction the piece took, but muddled messaging suggesting “your article is inaccurate” will only delay the process.

MR: Let’s try word association. When I write “public relations,” what food comes to mind?

DB: Risotto. My first lunch with Peter Rose—a seasoned, straightforward, no-nonsense PR professional whom I’ve always respected and who set the bar too high for all of my other PR interactions—was at Monkey Bar in midtown Manhattan. I had risotto.

Marc Raybin is the president of Cardinal Communications Strategies. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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