This past week, PRWeek and Marketwire sponsored a webcast on “The New Rules of Media Relations.” As media shrinks and shifts, it becomes more difficult on both sides. Reporters are under more pressure and have fewer resources, while PR pros have to keep track of a growing blogosphere and a revolving (mostly revolving out) door at mass media outlets. These challenges exacerbate already existing tensions between the two sides.
Yet, during the webcast, the three journalists on the panel praised the PR industry for their previous experiences with communications folks. One suggested that PR could help stressed out journalists even more now. On the other end, the mostly PR-filled listening audience asked questions like, “How can I get you to open an e-mail?” and “What should you do if you've sent in a great pitch on something you know the reporter covers, but you hear nothing back?” Clearly there's still a deep disconnect between the two factions.
PR pros are rightly frustrated at being met with silence when they think they have a great pitch. More junior staff might not know how to tell the boss, “I'm getting nowhere,” and will mistakenly persist to the point of annoying the journalist and risking permanently damaging a future relationship.
What needs to happen on both sides is a little bit of empathy for the other's job. If you don't hear back on a pitch, it probably wasn't the right pitch at the right time. Maybe the reporter's editor just issued a missive, saying “No more X-type of stories,” and yours falls into that bracket. Maybe they're slammed with breaking news and your item just didn't make the cut. Reporters, even ones you know well, won't always respond. Don't take it personally. They're just busy. On the other hand, if a journalist continues to treat you badly, move on. When they see their competitor getting a bunch of scoops, they'll take notice.
And reporters should make clear to PR pros how they can help them – and how they cannot. Be clear on whether or not they accept embargos, when are the best times to reach them (and not), and if their beat has changed.
Realizing there's a person on either end of the pitch – a person (PR or journo) whose job has likely quadrupled in pace and scope in the past few years and who has felt far more pressure in the past year – will create a more humane and efficient work environment for all of us.