Public Relations and the Media: Tips to Better Work With Journalists

September 30th, 2013

A few small fixes could mean an end to a tense PR-jounalist relationshipI can still name the best PR professionals I encountered as an editor and writer at a monthly print magazine and web publication in Beijing. I was swamped by press releases and coverage requests, but when I had an assignment, I often went to the people on my list who I knew as helpful, supportive, and reliable.

Though the journalist -PR relationship can be tense at times, journalists need PR reps just as much as, if not more than, PR reps need journalists. I compared my experiences as a journalist with those of some journalists I know to get some tips for PR professionals to get and stay on a journalist’s go-to list. Some of these suggestions may seem obvious, but they’re real situations journalists encounter with frequency.

Be responsive

If you receive an email or phone call from a journalist asking for anything, respond promptly and keep responding. This may seem obvious, but I learned not to be surprised when PR reps dropped off the face of the planet because it happened so often.

The frustrating reality of changes in modern journalism is that with industry-wide cutbacks and instantaneous online content, journalists are working at a faster pace than ever. This unfortunately means that many journalists may not show you the same courtesy of being responsive. Be the bigger party and remain friendly and patient.

Provide all the information the editor asks for the first time she asks for it

Don’t make her chase after you for snippets of important information five or six times; give her everything she’ll need as soon as she requests information. Don’t make her wait, and don’t give her half the story. Remember to include all pertinent information –who, what, where, when, why. And check and re-check that the information in the press release, in your informational packet, and on your website is correct.

Follow directions

My publication had specific requirements for submitting accompanying photos: more than 1MB in size. The requirement was explicitly stated – and bolded – every time we requested a photo. Maybe 20 percent of PR and marketing representatives got it right the first time. About 60 percent or so got it on the second or third try, and the remaining 20 percent didn’t get it right until the fourth or even fifth try.

Unsurprisingly, we least enjoyed dealing with the latter 20 percent because their unwillingness to follow directions caused us to miss deadlines, and in the long run that probably cost them some publicity opportunities.

Web coverage is still coverage

One of the most common questions PR reps ask: “Is this for web or print?” It’s a fair question, but many print and web publications deal with PR reps who want their stories only in print or not at all, which wastes writers’ time and limits the PR rep’s options.

Print space is finite, web space isn’t, and many publications really want to run web stories. Be open, be flexible, and be happy to have piqued the editor’s interest. Being helpful, pleasant, and gracious can only help you get another story down the line.

Understand the journalist’s audience

Don’t pitch a journalist at a family magazine an idea for a story on your singles cruise – it just isn’t relevant. Likewise, don’t pitch an education editor your story about healthcare. Do your research ahead of time and figure out the publication’s target demographic and the journalists’ beat. If it doesn’t fit, find a different publication or journalist.

Look at back issues

Has the publication you’re targeting just published a story very similar to yours?  Check. If they have, chances are they won’t run a similar story for quite some time. Instead, turn to rival publications who haven’t published a similar story; they’re more likely to accept your pitch.

However, don’t pitch to two rival publications at the same time. If they both accept and run the story, they’ll figure out you pitched them both, and neither will be very willing to accept another of your pitches. If, however, you pitch a publication and get no response or they decline, go to the other publications.

Respect the production cycle

Know ahead of time if the publication works on a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule. If you’re contacting a publication about a time-specific event or story, do so well before the event’s date. You increase your chances of getting the event covered if you give advance notice.

Many publications work way ahead of real time. Most monthly publications write October copy in July or August. PR reps contacting those publications in September about something in October are likely to be out of luck.

Take what you can get – and share it

You’re only getting a blurb instead of a two-page spread. Yep, that’s disappointing, but don’t be so difficult about it that an editor completely writes you off for anything in the future. Thank the editor for including you, and then share a link to your coverage and mention the author. This not only gives your coverage a higher profile, it supports the journalist and the publication. Being gracious and helping out means you’re in a better position to get more coverage later.

What strategies do you use when you work with journalists? How can journalists better work with PR professionals?

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