Relationships between reporters and public relations professionals who pitch stories can be antagonistic. It’s up to PR pros to look for ways to make those relationships mutually supportive and advantageous.
Antagonism between people pushing stories and those publishing stories is longstanding, natural and even healthy. News outlets and trade journals owe more to their readers than being bulletin boards for puff pieces. PR pros can earn their keep and diminish antagonism by routinely supplying quality story ideas, factual backgrounders and credible contacts – and telling the truth.
Reporters are edgy in part because their inboxes are swelling with story pitches, often from sources they don’t know or trust, and too often pitches without much merit as news. Rifling through all those pitches steals time from reporters who are working on multiple stories, pursuing enterprise journalism and checking in with their news sources.
One way to reduce reporter-PR pro antagonism is to avoid shooting off story pitches with little news value or prospect of getting coverage. Direct that content instead to in-house publications or an organization’s website, social media or blogs. That gives the story a chance to be noticed without clogging up a reporter’s inbox.
The best way to escape antagonism altogether is to establish rapport with reporters. This requires a more deft approach to story pitching, including not pitching a story just for the sake of pitching. For example, suggesting a fresh angle or identifying a credible source on a trending story to a reporter could be a good start to being viewed as a valuable source instead of a PR pest. Make sure your suggestions aren’t self-serving, which could boomerang and tank any goodwill you might otherwise gain.
Another way to tone down antagonism is to provide useful, informative assets to reporters, such as solid fact sheets, video, photos, historical background and meaningful data points. Many reporters are not experts on all the subjects they are assigned to cover, so whatever you can supply to help reporters tell a story more accurately and compellingly will be appreciated. Again, take care to avoid self-serving assistance and be upfront about your content and your motives.
Understanding the news strategy and audience demographics of media outlets will allow you to target outreach and story pitches without wasting your time or testing the patience of reporters. Make sure you can convincingly answer the inevitable question from a reporter who asks, “Why would my readers be interested in your story.” If you don’t have a good answer, you probably have a story not worth pitching.
Make sure you can convincingly answer the inevitable question from a reporter who asks, “Why would my readers be interested in your story.” If you don’t have a good answer, you probably have a story not worth pitching.
A critical antagonism-buster is recognizing and respecting news deadlines. Yes, there is a 24/7 news cycle, but individual reporters operate on strict schedules when their editors expect copy or their availability for live on-air reports. The constant pressure to be first with a story hangs over most reporters, especially those who cover general news rather than specific beats. You can earn a friend by helping them get what they need on their deadline.
Reporters sometimes have to work hard to convince editors their stories are worth publishing or airing. You win if you can bolster the reporter’s case for his or her story by steering them in productive directions or providing quality content. Reporters often don’t have the time to chase down all the details that would enrich a story. You win by helping with the legwork, even if it doesn’t result in immediate gratification for your organization. Helpfulness is a stepping stone to becoming a valued media colleague.
News formats are evolving and will evolve even more with the adoption of artificial intelligence that can power aggregation and distribution of content. PR pros need to keep their skills up to date and anticipate the impacts of technology, media consolidation and increasing polarized news coverage. Contemporary media relations skills also should include knowing how to deal with non-mediated news sources such as user-generated social media posts.
One skill that doesn’t need evolution, just practice and discipline, is the ability to lay out the facts and supporting details of a story pitch with simplicity and clarity.
Media relations isn’t always about hitting homeruns on major story pitches. Success is more often measured by one good pitch at a time. Maybe it is squeezing in a mention for a client with a clever Twitter post. Or perhaps it is newsjacking on a trending story with an interesting comment or angle. Best of all, it is furnishing a reporter with a well-written, timely pitch, accompanied by usable art, data and links, on a topical story with real news value.
You don’t have to be a former journalist to know a good story when you see it. But it does require looking at potential story pitches with a reporter’s skeptical eye. You may have to tell a client or a boss that a particular story idea won’t fly, rather than submit a pitch that goes nowhere and reflects badly on your ability to earn coverage.
And, check your spelling. Nothing is a bigger turn-off than a press release pocked with misspellings, especially of names. If you can’t take the time to proofread your own copy, why should a reporter bother to read, let alone trust, what you sent.