Public relations professionals and reporters can be as compatible as oil and water. Mike Walsh, a board member with IABC Minnesota, tackles that challenging topic with his colleague, Sam Black, who worked as a journalist before moving to his current corporate role.
Below is the original blog post Michael shared on Linked In.
Tips from a former journalist on what reporters wish PR pros would do – and not do
After spending the first 20 years of his career as a journalist, including 16 years at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, Sam Black hung up his reporter’s notepad in 2016 to join the Corporate Communications team at U.S. Bank in Minneapolis. Now, as he finishes his first year walking in a PR person’s shoes, Sam agreed to take a moment to reflect on the two linked professions and share a glimpse into the mysterious world of reporters – specifically how PR professionals can be most successful in working with reporters and avoid the dreaded “eye-roll.”
What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between working in a newsroom and PR?
To be credible news brokers, journalists tend to approach the world with a heavy dose of skepticism about the intentions of everyone. They are wired to quickly judge the angle of every news story and newsmaker. PR professionals on the other hand, tend to be more optimistic and trusting of other professionals, seeking ways to work with others (including journalists) to accomplish shared goals.
What has surprised you most about the PR side now that you are on it?
What I didn’t recall from Mass Communications 1001 was how much actual effort goes into a media campaign. As a reporter, it often seemed like doing PR meant just making up quotes out of thin air that get spit onto a newswire where reporters are expected to gobble it up. Effective public relations takes a lot of work to gather information for a press release, secure necessary internal approvals, manage expectations of executives about coverage, bargain for some kind of promotional budget, artfully shop the news to pesky reporters and then track any coverage after the fact. It takes more organization and persistence than I realized.
What are the preferred methods for PR people to connect with reporters?
Reporters are busy people, typically with daily deadlines that eat at them constantly – and there’s no magic way to reach them. Luck and persistence mixed with politeness and professionalism are all key. Generally, the best window of opportunity to get business reporters on the phone is in the morning, early in the week.
What sort of tactics should PR people stop using right now?
If you want to elicit eye rolling from a reporter, lead your pitch with something like the fact you used to be an assistant producer at a TV station in Ames in 2001. It’s OK to lean on shared connections as you’d do in any business relationship, but saying “I used to be one of you” won’t help. Additionally, please show some restraint and avoid sending gaudy or gimmicky press releases – like ones wrapped in cat fur or with a branded Rubik’s Cube or written in ink that’s only visible under a supplied black light. Although it may be interesting and creative, it probably won’t get you extra coverage.
What were your biggest pet peeves as a reporter when dealing with PR people?
The offering of embargoed news stories for non-news like giving an exclusive about a company’s 25th anniversary or 10,000th sale. Ho-Hum.
What were the PR approaches that made your day as a reporter? What did your favorite PR people do to make your job easier?
Credibility and trust with reporters is hard earned through being honest, consistently delivering news, quickly responding to their requests for information, making connections with executives and even occasionally sharing news tips off the record. Good PR people also always are prepared to share high-resolution photos or easy-to-use video with any pitch.
What are the most common misperceptions that PR pros have of journalists today?
Reporters are nobler than most people think. They make huge sacrifices in their personal lives to be in the profession in terms of income, time commitment and stress and put their own reputation on the line every day unlike almost any other business professional. Give them a break. Stop throwing them under the bus. Defend journalism whenever you get a chance. In my experience, reporters are busting their bottoms to gather and share changes going on in our world as honestly and accurately as they can.
Michael Walsh, APR, ABC, MBC, serves as Vice President of External Communications for IABC Minnesota. He is also Vice President of Retail Banking & Wealth Management Communications for U.S. Bancorp.
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