There’s always been a certain amount of tension between reporters and public relations professionals, even though there’s a symbiotic relationship between the two.
Reporters need credible sources and a constant stream of story ideas, while PR people need the news media to help them share important information and spread the word about their clients or employers.
PR people want coverage as favorable as possible, while good reporters want a balanced story that presents all sides and perspectives. PR people want to help shape and influence the story, while reporters bristle when they feel they are being pushed or manipulated.
While there are more PR options available than ever thanks to social media, the news media still are very important because of their reach and perceived credibility.
Anyone who is going to be successful in PR needs to be able to work successfully with reporters, so when I came across an article titled “Why do reporters hate PR pros so much?” I was intrigued.
The headline says “reporters,” which implies all reporters feel this way. And not only do reporters hate PR pros, but they hate them “so much.” That seems like a stretch to me.
It’s been quite a while since I was a reporter, but I can honestly say that I never hated PR people who contact me to share a story idea, even those who were on the annoying side. (In fairness I should mention that I wasn’t a reporter for all that long, so my attitude may have changed had I been on the receiving end of pitches year after year.)
Using several Tweets from disgruntled reporters attacking PR people to support her contention, the writer of this article asks, “Why would anyone hate to hear from someone that is trying to help them professionally?”
And therein lies an important clue as to the cynicism some reporters have toward the PR profession.
As a reporter, I never once thought that someone was trying to help me professionally by pitching a story to me. Nor was my motivation to help a reporter advance professionally by suggesting a particular topic to him or her when I flipped over to the PR side.
My motivation was self-serving: I was seeking publicity for another party, usually one with which I had a financial interest.
If I did my homework, I knew I was approaching a reporter who covered a particular industry and subject matter to ensure that my pitch was relevant. Ideally, this resulted in a win-win situation for all concerned: A good story for the reporter and a happy client, which in turn made me happy.
The notion that reporters should want to hear from us because we want to help them professionally is about as believable as “I’m with the government and am here to help you.”
The writer goes on to conjecture that “There is something fundamentally wrong with the way PR pros relate to the media.”
That’s undoubtedly true in some cases, but there also are quite a few PR professionals who work very successfully with the media because they understand how reporters think and operate. They take the time to learn what the reporter covers, the preferred methods of contact, when the reporter is on deadline and the types of stories that interest him or her before reaching out.
One of the writer’s suggestions to remedy a PR industry that is “clearly broken,” as she put it, is to send e-mails to reporters that are not pitches but rather “how are you?” inquiries. Considering how much e-mail most reporters get, I suspect that last suggestion is more likely to irritate them, unless you know the reporter very well.
I’m not convinced that the PR industry is broken, nor am I persuaded that we can draw sweeping conclusions from a few negative tweets.
My advice to anyone who wants to be successful in working with the news media is to:
- Put yourself in the shoes of the reporter you want to reach, and ask yourself how you would like to be approached with a story idea.
- Get to the point, don’t waste their time and offer them something that is genuinely news or feature worthy within the niche(s) they cover.
- Understand the details of what you’re pitching, and be prepared to give a succinct explanation as to why it’s worth their time.
- Take into consideration the timing of your pitch. Old news or a subject that’s been covered from every conceivable angle is not likely to generate much enthusiasm.
- Avoid taking rejection personally. Look for other opportunities and at all costs avoid being a pest.
Just as having good content is critical to content-marketing success, having a good story idea that is well targeted and properly presented is critical to success in the public relations business.