One PR man, two guv'nors: why PR pros should treat journalists like clients

The client isn't a PR professional's only master, but how do you know what journalists and editors want if you don't get to know them?

In PR, you must serve two 'guv'nors': The client and the journalist, writes Benjamin Thiele-Long

I often find that many PRs seem to forget a very basic foundation of our profession. I hear complaints of "why doesn't so-and-so respond to my emails?" or "why didn't they pick up my content?" when the answer to the question is incredibly simple: it's not right for them.

Whether one works in an agency or in-house, there is a basic assumption that the people to keep happy are our clients.

As a result, pushing out content to show you have done an extensive media outreach often becomes the order of the day, but this results in many a capable PR who’s a whizz at looking up names on a database emailing out pitch after pitch, only to see them unanswered.

The reality, however, is that we have more than one boss.

Journalists and editors should be approached equally, in my view, as clients - people you are there to help and provide a useful service to and not simply assume that because you’ve written a good pitch or have a flashy name to offer they will want your content.

In essence, you have to approach the task as though you have two masters to impress.

It’s the ultimate question of any journalist: why would I want to publish this?

If you haven’t thought about this before you click 'send'. Not only are you not doing your job thoroughly enough, but you run a more dangerous risk of annoying the journalists and losing ties with a publication.

You wouldn’t send your client a pitch idea that is not directly relevant to what they want to be talking about, so why do it to a journalist?

But this leads me to the second point: how do you know what journalists and editors want? Well, the answer to that question is equally simple: get to know them.

In today’s digital age, sending out a press release through email or following journalists on Twitter is easy. But what this means is that by the same measure we have developed technical abilities to perform our roles, other methods of communication have fallen by the wayside.

I’m constantly amazed at how infrequently PRs pick up the phone to a journalist to talk them through a pitch, to ask them questions about how it could be approached so that it is right for the publication or even to simply ask the journalist what content might be right for them.

Even worse, the art of meeting people face-to-face, networking or inviting them out for coffee has become even less common.

This is a valuable skill and the benefits are two-fold, because not only are you learning what content is most useful for them, but you build relationships so they know who you are, they take your calls and they read your emails.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but these skills set exceptional PRs apart from passable ones. Although it takes extra work, it means getting results that both masters value.

Benjamin Thiele-Long is an account director at Infinite Global

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