PR from a journalist’s perspective
Our Account Director Joanne Ahern has over 15 years experience as a journalist with national and local media outlets. Here, she blogs about going ‘over to the dark side’, i.e. the wonderful world of public relations, and shares some helpful tips as to how PR professionals and journalists can live in harmony…
Journalists and public relations people – the original frenemies. It’s a love / hate relationship – PR people are accused of being annoying, journalists of being rude – both need each other to do their jobs well. Is this animosity real? Where does it come from? And how can it be mitigated?
Having worked in newsrooms for many years, I ‘went over to the dark side’, as some of my former colleagues would say, and went into public relations last year.
As a journalist, I had the pleasure of working with some fantastic PR professionals over the years, who understood what I needed to do my job and either delivered, or told me in good time that what I wanted was not possible. Similarly, as a PR practitioner, I now work with some brilliant journalists who understand and respect the role PR plays in journalism. However, over the years, I did come across the odd PR person that gave the profession a bad name, and, as a PR person, the occasional rude journalist.
I often wonder if it’s a lack of appreciation of the demands of an average day on each that results in a sometimes tetchy relationship? While PR and journalism share a similar skillset – writing, editing, online and social media play a huge part in both – there are also some very great differences between the two. I know, as an experienced journalist, I simply did not realise the range of work a PR person covers in the course of their day. From the other side, I am well aware of a journalist’s ever growing workload.
Prior to joining DHR Communications, I worked for 15 years as a reporter and news editor in a variety of local and national newsrooms. Over that time, I literally (and I do mean literally) read millions of press releases – the good, the bad and the downright ugly; l received thousands of pitches from public relations professionals and took even more calls from PRs.
As a PR practitioner, I’ve made many pitches, bemoaned those journalists who didn’t respond whatsoever, and received hundreds of calls from journalists looking for information. With experience on both sides of the fence, here follows my considered guide for good media relations.
Top tips from a print news editor to public relations professionals:
- Time your call wisely: Please don’t ring me half an hour before I go into the news conference, I’m frantically trying to pull together the latest on the 25-odd items on my news list so I can authoritatively discuss the facts, merits and demerits of each – and identify a good splash and page lead for each news page. If you don’t know when the news conference is, ask.
- Press releases: If you’re ringing to ask if I got your email, please phone on the day you sent it – not a week later. I get hundreds of emails a day.
- Facts: Please make sure press release content is accurate and that people’s names and titles are correct.
- Pitches: Please get to the point – fast. I don’t need a regurgitation of a press release, just tell me, briefly, what your story is about and why you think I should run it. Also, if I tell you I’m interested in a non time sensitive feature and you don’t hear back from me, chase me on it – I’ve probably forgotten.
- Know your media: Please only pitch something to me that is of interest to my audience. If my demographic is the under-45s, no matter how much you tell me it’s a great story, I am unlikely to run something on an event aimed at the over-55s.
- Guarantees: Please don’t ask me if your story will appear in the paper. It it’s appropriate for my audience, it will be considered. Ultimately, a story’s not ‘in’ until the paper has gone to print.
- Advertisers: Please don’t try to put pressure on me to run something by telling me your client is an advertiser. If the story is appropriate for my audience, it will be considered.
Top tips from a PR professional to journalists:
- Manner: Please be civil – we both have jobs to do. Professional and courteous phone calls and face to face interactions are always appreciated. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.
- Time 1: Please know that I will do my best to get the information / set up the interviews you need as soon as I can, but please give me adequate time to do so.
- Time 2: Please be on time for press briefings / conferences / launches. It takes a lot of planning and co-ordination to pull these events together. (Confession: I don’t think I was ever on time for anything.)
- Pitches: I know you have a lot of pitches landing in your inbox every day, but please take my call / reply to my email – even if it’s just to say you’re not interested. If I’ve pitched something to you, it’s because I genuinely think it’s for you. If it’s not, just let me know.
- If you’re not interested in my pitch but you think a colleague might be, please feel free to send it on – or to suggest that colleague to me.
- Interviews: Please follow through on interviews, or at least let me know in good time if you have been diverted elsewhere. It’s common courtesy and means my client isn’t hanging around waiting for a call that isn’t going to happen.
And finally, to both journalists and PRs – if someone goes the extra mile for you, say thanks – it’s nice to be appreciated.