Securing the attention of journalists and editors in the modern media landscape is becoming increasingly difficult as journalists are busy with tighter deadlines, lower budgets, and more news to cover than ever before. According to the US Department of Labor, PR professionals now outnumber journalists by a ratio of more than 6-to-1, after employment dropped in newsrooms by 23% between 2008 and 2017.
Now, with more PR pitches flooding media inboxes, it’s critical to operate in a way that isn’t going to get your (or your entire agency’s) email blacklisted. Still, the value of a public relations practitioner according to PRSA is advocacy, i.e. “providing a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints of our clients.”
An effective public relations program establishes legitimacy with journalists by contributing thoughtful, accurate and newsworthy information to help the media better inform public debate. Above all, we’re here for our clients to help promote their ideas and insert them into the conversations which they belong. But as PR pros, we also must understand and have a deep appreciation for the fact that our ultimate goals depend on the efforts of the hardworking media personnel we interact with on a daily basis.
Here are four tips for how effective PR professionals improve their relationships with the media:
Think before you pitch. The most common piece of feedback journalists give to PR professionals is that their pitch isn’t a fit for their reporting. Often times, PR teams legitimize pitching an announcement to a large audience for “general awareness” without doing substantial research on the people who will receive the pitch. More often than not, the announcement will not be relevant to a large percentage of that list. Even if the news is relevant, the reporter may have just written a story about it and will not likely be interested in a follow-up.
When a journalist receives a pitch that is out of their editorial scope, it’s important to recognize that this lack of interest can have more permanent effects than just an ignored email. If this “spray and pray” approach comes through on a repetitive basis, then the communications agency can develop a reputation for thoughtlessly spamming news outlets with client announcements, and run the risk of being blacklisted from their reporters. Other small fixes like typos, using a journalist’s common name, and pitching in the context of other recent pitches you’ve sent that outlet can be crucial in gaining attention and having a real conversation with the reporter.
The best way to avoid these types of problems is to simply take time to research media contacts and the types of stories they want to tell before sending news their way; it saves time for all involved.
Be authentic. The cardinal rule of PR is “legitimacy.” Looking legit in the eyes of the public starts by being authentic and telling the best true story you have the ability to tell. Especially when talking to reporters and stakeholders who are regularly contacted about a client, it’s important to use language that is both professional and sounds like something that would be said in a normal conversation.
Too often, pitches and public statements get bogged down by bureaucratic language and technical descriptions to the point that they lose their effectiveness on the audience because no one can understand the take-home point. It’s natural to want to use jargon, but it’s the job of a PR pro to usher a client’s message into the pool of public discourse and help people understand the larger story behind a given announcement.
Provide true news value. Anyone can write a press release about how great their company is, but getting a news reporter or editor to do so is a different story entirely. News outlets have editorial teams to filter content for audiences and help them distinguish between a self-serving company announcement and news that can help inform public discourse. As a journalist once told me, “we wouldn’t run a story from McDonald’s about the benefits of eating cheeseburgers.”
Considerations like these must be top of mind for any PR professional’s strategy when interacting with media. Distinguishing between the news that is valuable for a company and the news that is valuable to reporters and editors is a difficult task, but one that is critical in establishing the third-party legitimacy of being covered by a news publication.
Don’t burn bridges. Having perseverance is a critical value in PR. Many PR pros have long refined the art of “checking in” repeatedly with journalists. However, if this perseverance turns into pestering reporters to talk to a client, it can often cause the opposite of the intended effect. It’s important to keep in mind that journalists are incredibly busy people, and injecting yourself or your client into their schedules unwanted can quickly rub them the wrong way. A simple rule of thumb: if following up multiple times doesn’t get their attention, they’re just not interested.
Incorporating these tips as a part of your larger PR strategy can have lasting effects with the media contacts you’re going after. Ultimately your media relations strategy should build (not burn) bridges and create a strong rapport with media personnel. These relationships are an intangible business asset that can cultivate mutually beneficence for clients and the media.