If knowledge is power and time is money, few professions endure greater imbalance than journalism. Reporters wielding the might of the pen suffer acutely from information overload, and we all know Bill Gates never wrote a lead on deadline.
If knowledge is power and time is money, few professions endure
greater imbalance than journalism. Reporters wielding the might of the
pen suffer acutely from information overload, and we all know Bill Gates
never wrote a lead on deadline.
Through the barrage of press releases and the din of perky voices, the
reporter yearns for what will make her job easier if not more lucrative:
less useless information and more time. Providing both is probably the
best way to get in - and stay in - a reporter’s good graces. In
addition, there’s a panoply of things you can do to get on a
journalist’s radar screen.
Saving reporters time and providing them with information they can use
boils down to solid media relations basics: Do your homework, both on
the reporters you target and the subjects you pitch. Present your
message well, whether in an inverted pyramid press release or a
carefully planned verbal appeal. Above all, always respond promptly.
Media relations is less a who-you-know business than a what-you-know
business, theorizes Edward Segal, author of Getting Your 15 Minutes of
Fame and More! ’It doesn’t matter if you are a lifelong friend of Dan
Rather if you don’t have a good story,’ Segal says. Nuisance calls
threaten friendships, agrees Bodine Williams, Hill & Knowlton’s New York
On-going relationships are important, however, especially in a
Reporters are more likely to take your calls if they know your name,
Trade shows and professional association meetings may not be ideal
venues for getting to know journalists. Charles Bellfield, marcomm
director for Sega of America, notes that his staff scheduled more than
600 meetings with reporters during a recent trade show. Making lasting
impressions in a wholesale ’meet market’ isn’t likely. And busy
reporters seldom have time for such events. Even at a Society of
Professional Journalists meeting, you could end up encountering more PR
people than reporters, says John Gonzalez, an Austin correspondent for
the Houston Chronicle.
’See them in their own surroundings,’ advises Bellfield, who advocates
personal visits to newsrooms. But please call first, Gonzalez asks. ’We
don’t like it when they just walk in.’ Jade Boyd, managing editor for
M/C/C in Dallas and a former UPI reporter, says he is more likely to put
a face with a name if he has heard the voice on the phone first.
Making contact when you don’t need anything can help build
relationships, just don’t call on deadline. Williams sends thank yous
for well-written stories, invites reporters to events and introduces
them to potential sources. PR pros can also earn Brownie points by
following industry trends, keeping up with reporters’ interests and
forwarding relevant tidbits, Boyd notes.
As with any other relationship, trust is the cornerstone. Beyond the
obvious (not lying), building trust means making good on promises and
meeting reporters’ deadlines.
Don’t promise your clients what you can’t deliver, either. An
infinitesimal percentage of press releases get covered in The New York
Times. Holly Hagerman, a partner with Connect PR in San Francisco,
preaches precision targeting. ’If you are going after a journalist, a
shot-gun or a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.’ Do your homework
to identify publications that might realistically cover your story.
Provide opportunities for exclusives when you can.
Blanket e-mails also are no-nos, unless you are sending out media
advisories for bona fide press events, writes Susan Kohl of Sierra
Communications in her book Getting Attention. Nonessential messages will
be deleted as spam. An effective e-mail query is written like a good
news story - an attention-grabbing head (the subject line) and an
informative lead (the first two sentences). Include details in the first
e-mail contact instead of waiting for reporters to reply, suggests Doug
Levy, senior editor for PlanetRX.com.
PR pros shouldn’t bother calling if they aren’t prepared to answer
journalists’ follow-up questions and provide materials necessary to do
the story. TV producers need visuals and radio reporters need sound.
Make sure both are immediately available.
Being known by reporters is often more important than knowing them,
Segal points out. He recommends buying listings in directories like The
Yearbook of Experts, Authorities and Spokespersons. Boyd says he most
often called PR firms as a reporter when he needed expert sources. A
good Web site also is essential. ’The Internet has revolutionized the
way we research, and that includes how we find spokespeople,’ says
Gonzalez, who likes sites with archived press releases. ’A lot of times
the Web pages eliminate the need for human contact.’
But a common pet peeve among journalists is Web sites that don’t list
phone numbers. ’If you are not willing to put up all appropriate contact
information, it’s not worth doing in the first place,’ Segal says. ’It
will frustrate the journalist and put you in a bad light.’ Levy picks a
bone with ’online press rooms’ that require passwords, although he
understands the occasional need to provide more information to the press
than to the general public. The longer it takes the reporter to find the
information the more likely he is to drop your story and move on to the
Any good relationship is built on mutual understanding, including those
between publicists and reporters. Journalists claim too few PR pros
understand what they do all day, and news sense can be hard to teach. It
all goes back to information and time - the time it takes reporters to
weed through dozens of press releases, voice messages and e-mails every
’You’ve got to make a good impression to begin with, i.e., not wasting
their time and not pitching them stupid stories,’ Boyd concludes.
DOs AND DON’Ts
1. Come up with a feature angle and try again in a couple of weeks if a
reporter isn’t immediately interested in your story.
2. Read what a journalist has written before pitching them a story.
3. Put your press kit on your Web page.
4. Pitch what you can provide - artwork, b-roll, executive interviews,
expert analysis, etc.
1. Bombard a newsroom with faxes, individual e-mails and repeat phone
2. Send out a broadcast fax on a new product unless you are announcing a
3. ’Bury the lead’ on your Web page; make important details hard to
4. Call a radio reporter unless you can immediately provide a
spokesperson for a taped interview.