PR TECHNIQUE: DEALING WITH THE PRESS - Make the media sit up and listen. Editors and reporters give Aimee Grove the inside scoop about how communications professionals can become favored sources

Attend a conference media panel or any PRSA 'meet and greet' and the first thing you'll hear is that media relations success depends on establishing long-term relationships with members of the press. But nobody ever outlines just how to achieve that elusive goal.

Attend a conference media panel or any PRSA 'meet and greet' and the first thing you'll hear is that media relations success depends on establishing long-term relationships with members of the press. But nobody ever outlines just how to achieve that elusive goal.

Attend a conference media panel or any PRSA 'meet and greet' and the first thing you'll hear is that media relations success depends on establishing long-term relationships with members of the press. But nobody ever outlines just how to achieve that elusive goal.

Rather than focus on all PR mistakes and flawed pitches - the topic of too many articles in business publications last year - we asked editors and reporters to tell us about the communications professionals they liked working with and why.

Schmoozing over an expensive meal isn't a good way to win a journalist's favor and build a lasting relationship.

As a USA Today reporter puts it, 'I don't have time for lunch and don't want to get to know anyone unless they can put me face to face with the CEO of one of the top three companies on my beat.'

Positioning yourself as an expert who is ready and willing to serve the needs of media outlets and reporters is a much quicker, and more cost-effective, route into a scribe's Rolodex. In practice, this means doing many things - from providing other industry sources to supplying top-quality photography in a pinch. Being a good resource means first serving up all the goods on your own company or client.

'The most important thing is that a PR person knows their story and company inside and out,' says Doug Levy, former tech reporter for USA Today and current San-Francisco-based VP at Fleishman-Hillard. 'The fastest way to kill a story is to not be prepared.'

'PR people also need to be well-informed about current affairs,' Levy continues. 'It's important to know what's going on around the world and to immerse yourself in the news when talking to reporters.'

PR execs who share information and insights wider than the immediate parameters of their client score even greater points. Bruce Ander-son, editor of Via Magazine, a travel and lifestyle monthly with a circulation of more than three million, cites a PR exec from a Hawaiian resort as one of his favorite con-tacts. 'This guy gave me two good story ideas that had no specific advantage to his employer,' says Anderson. 'He even gave me the names of two good Hawaii-based writers.'

The Wall Street Journal's San Francisco deputy bureau chief Don Clark agrees that sharing information is the best way to earn a reporter's respect. 'You build credibility that way. The people I have developed relationships with don't just talk about their clients.'

Sometimes being a re-source simply means serving up scoops. 'How can you become a good source? Give good dope,' jokes New York Post Silicon Valley columnist Chris Nolan. Jon Swartz, tech business reporter for USA Today, adds, 'The easiest way for PR people to endear themselves to us is to give a tip that has absolutely nothing to do with their own company.'

Candor - both about the company or client you're pitching and about your intentions in contacting the reporter - works wonders with skeptical reporters.

'If your first contact is full of lies,' says Nolan, 'when you call back to tell me something later, how can I ever trust that you're not lying now?'

Swartz says some of his best stories have come out of painfully honest conver-sations with PR representatives. 'I've had people reveal things about company troubles and things that weren't all that rosy,' he says. Such disclosure has often piqued his interest in proceeding with a profile when he might have otherwise passed. 'It's also okay to call and say, 'I have to pitch you this ... but here's something else you're probably more interested in.''

Journalists applaud PR people who know and cater to the needs of their publication or media outlet. 'Think about the needs of the recipient and understand the spe-cific template reporters face daily,' points out Peter Hillan, a SVP with FitzGerald Com-munications who served as executive business editor of the San Jose Mercury News for more than eight years.

The Wall Street Journal's Clark says he prizes PR execs who understand and accommodate the paper's specific story holes. 'Let's face it ... there is a formula, and the best PR people are those who understand the types of stories we write and the holes we need to fill every day.'

The fastest route to a journalist's black list is appearing pushy, aggressive and narrow-minded. Keep the hard sell to a minimum. 'About 85% (of PR people) will oversell and exaggerate,' says Swartz. 'They act like they have tunnel vision and only want to pitch you this one story. The other 15% will ask what other stories you are working on and suggest good sources for those.'

The consensus is that there is little magic - and lots of hard work - involved in establishing and maintaining solid media relationships.

As Hillan points out: 'So much of it is just common sense and human decency. And you don't build any relationship overnight.'



DOs AND DON'Ts

DO

1 Be knowledgeable about your company or client

2 Be honest and point reporters in the direction of further information when you're not at liberty to reveal everything

3 Show familiarity with a reporter's work and the publication

4 Be quick and responsive from the beginning of the story process to the end

5 Cultivate relationships at every level with all types of publications - you never know where reporters will end up



DON'T

1 Lie

2 Cold-call reporters unless the news is 100% hot and breaking

3 Oversell or have tunnel vision about pitching a single story or client 4 Forget about the world beyond your industry or immediate client's interests

5 Be caught with your pants down - anticipate as many questions as possible and be prepared with the answers.



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