One of the most important skills of a public relations professional is media relations. If you don’t know how to interact with the media, you are toast, finished. At the beginning of most entry-level jobs in public relations what you will be doing mainly is “pitching and placing” or calling various media outlets and pitching them your news story so as to hopefully get coverage in their publication. In order to be successful you need to know how to approach the journalist and how to tailor a good pitch to that specific journalist.
For my media relations course we were given an assignment to prepare us exactly for that type of situation. We had to call various journalists and ask them about such things as their work habits, what makes a good story, what they like and dislike about their job and what they like and dislike about working with PR practitioners.
These are important question because being a PR professional is a “people person’s” kind of job. You are developing working relationships with journalists, but they are not friendships. It is very important to remember that, however close you may think you are with a journalist. At the end of the day, it is their duty and job to report the news, regardless of whether or not it portrays your company or client in a negative light. The key to developing these relationships is to know how journalists work and what they need.
After interviewing various Boston-area journalists, my group members and I found these factors to hold true across the board:
- Know what is newsworthy. Don’t even think about calling a journalist before you are sure you have something that is worth covering. A good story will have at least one, if not several of these factors: prominence, interest, proximity, timeliness and consequence.
- Know who you are talking to. You cannot make the same pitch to every journalist. What publication do they write for? Are they a hard or soft news reporter? Are they a columnist? What kind of things do they normally cover? Where are they from? Does the news item resonate with this journalist in particular?
- Know their deadlines. Don’t call a journalist when they are close to their deadlines or you are sure to get chewed out on the phone. The only exception to this is if you have breaking news, even then, be prepared for some attitude.
- When you follow-up make sure you don’t end up sounding like a broken record of “Did you get my email?” Hunter PR, a consumer product public relations firm in New York City, made a satirical youtube video addressing this called “Stuff PR People Say.”
If you can make a journalist’s job as easy and streamlined as possible, and most importantly not waste their time, you will be well on your way to being a media relations pro and successful PR practitioner.