A recent Forbes article caught my attention with the screaming headline, "Reporters Hate PR People, And They Should." Aside from the sensational headline, what really bothered me was that journalist-turned-PR pro, Ed Zitron, asserted that, "most in the PR game don’t quite understand how to make the connections necessary to be successful." I was astounded that the reporter, "found his approach – and personality – indeed unique." While Zitron's personality may indeed be unique, I take exception with the assertion that the same can be said for his approach.
Now don't get me wrong, just as there are what PR pros would consider to be bad reporters, not everyone in PR does our profession proud. I agree that the days of mass email pitches are long gone and that we need to get better at building relationships with reporters to fully understand their interests and beats. Having been a member of the largest IABC chapter in the world, and the one with the highest percentage of accredited members, I can say that the vast majority of professionals I know take that exact approach. As do the specialists who currently work for me.
I occasionally get invitations to speak to communications students and always take advantage of the opportunity to shape young minds. On top of all the regular advice - brush up on your writing, be curious, and never stop reading - I always impart the need to build relationships. In my first job as Community Relations Coordinator with Rogers Cable I was responsible for organizing the annual Pumpkin Patrol. Each Halloween night, volunteers in company trucks patrol the streets of their service areas as extra eyes for the police and other first responders. Without having built relationships across the company I would not have been successful in the execution of the event. By understanding the needs of the mail room to get materials out to six sites, the technicians whose trucks we would be using, the supporters of the event who were looking for profile and others I would not have been successful.
This same approach served me well for pitching the story. Full disclosure, I did report for the local Rogers channel prior to accepting this position and had a good idea of what reporters were looking for. By being strategic I was able to pitch local medias and leverage my relationship with the Vancouver Police Department's media spokesperson to take part in one of their daily briefings. This ensured I was reaching the reporters who would be interested the story I was pitching.
This approach of relationship building with journalists has served me well throughout my career. Whether I am pitching a new inflatable life jacket or offering an exclusive on a new medical procedure. I always make a concerted effort to reach out to journalists that want to write about this story. In the same respect, when a journalist approaches me looking for an expert, I make a best effort to find someone competent to speak with them. When I don't have source, I often can refer them to someone who does. This has put me in the position of being the first person called when reporters are looking for comment and given me the opportunity to probe and ask them exactly what type of stories they are looking to write.
While I might not agree with the tone and content of the article, I fully agree with Zitron's advice, “Close your eyes and put yourself in the shoes of a typical reporter in today’s newsroom: underpaid, overworked, always under the gun to ‘produce content’ like some kind of animal whose sole purpose is to breed.”
If you get the chance, invite one of the underpaid, overworked, always under the gun to produce reporters for coffee. It will be an eye opening experience.
Creative Commons image by Shavar Ross.