journalist & pr relationship

Let’s talk about the taboo subject of journalists & PRs

I’m learning a lot in this industry, and I’m learning it fast.

Something I’ve picked up on while dotting in and out of the PR industry over the past year and a half is that there seems to be this thing between PRs and journalists. They find one and other really hard to work with… Apparently.

I’ve been reading an article by Peter Himler in Forbes that outlines the situation perfectly:

The historical love-hate relationship between journalists and PR professionals has taken a distinct turn toward the latter in recent years and infects nearly every media beat.

He describes the relationship between journalists and PRs as a broken marriage, not completely over – but in turmoil. Now I can fully see where Peter is coming with here, as I’ve seen it first hand for myself. There seems to be this attitude implemented in PR where you’re just not supposed to like journalists that much. A solid relationship is often missing, more so dead emailing without any real conversation is the reality. Herein lies the problem.

Some PRs have become lazy.

We live in a world now that’s saturated with technology, and this makes flimsy interactions far too common. It’s easy to send an email without a second thought, but there’s no value in that for either party really. It takes a lot longer and a lot more effort, to research a journalist – get to know their subject area and to start a conversation over social media before sending over a press release, but it’s this kind of approach that wins the real longstanding relationships.

A lot of – and the best – PR people I know have great relationships with journalists, and that’s what puts them at the forefront of the industry. Nevertheless, sometimes it can be hard to grasp that kind of relationship when there’s a stereotype looming over the comms industry that PRs and journos simply aren’t meant to get along. (Which is actually the opposite of how it should be).

Where I slot in

I’m not typically speaking from experience, mind.

There’s a stigma around the PR and journalist relationship – but I challenge it.

I’ve actually been chatting to a lot of journalists recently and a lot of them are very keen to help me out and offer advice – Twitter is always great for seeking out great new connections like that. This comes in handy especially when I’ve been working on a new campaign, which is really beneficial to me as it helps me to see exactly what certain journalists and publications are looking to cover in the coming months and then I can tailor what I do around that. This way, both of us benefit.

I think there’s a common misconception amongst the PR industry – especially towards those who are new to it – that journalists can’t be spoken to. But this is so, so wrong. I only had to put a call out on Twitter to be welcomed with a number of journalists who were up for speaking to me about my latest campaign ideas and each and every one of then offered me invaluable advice that helped me to shape my next quarter’s activity. This is the way it should be.

You’ll know who you are guys, so if you’re reading this then thanks for all your help – it’s of indescribable value ☺️ .

The frustrations

I’m only young in PR though, and I’ve not had any bad run-ins or experiences that could possibly taint my views. I don’t expect to have them, but I could imagine this is where some negative opinions may stem from.

Referring back to Peter Himler‘s article, he’s mentioned pain points from both sides of the coin that are just too important not to include. I think to break the barriers in these broken relationships, we need to take the root issues and pull them right out. Here are some frustrations from both parties that might be ultimately leading to these shattered connections.

In Peter’s words, media relations has seen better days. Here are wish lists from each side of the media relations equation.

Journalists to the PR professional

  • Do not send me a story pitch without first researching what I cover.
  • Think twice about sending the same story pitch to multiple reporters, and again, know what each and every person on the receiving end covers.
  • Please refrain from sending me a manifesto. If you cannot articulate the story in a couple of sentences, then don’t bother sending.
  • Keep your email subject line newsy, not cutesy.
  • Take the time to learn and understand what exactly you are pitching. Be able to answer basic questions about your client’s business.
  • Deliver on the promise, i.e., don’t offer an executive for an interview and then not be able to produce him or her.

PR professionals to journalists

  • In spite of the overwhelming number of pitches landing in your inbox, please do your best to reply, especially if the story idea is editorially valid.  We just seek closure, good or bad.
  • If the pitch is not in your specific coverage area, but still viable, please consider forwarding to an appropriate colleague.
  • Please recognize that if you ignore reasonably news or feature-worthy overtures, we are at liberty to take the story idea elsewhere.
  • Please also know that we will do our best to run down the information or interviews you need when you’re in a bind.
  • Just as you have a job to do, so do we. Civility goes a long way.

The most part of these frustrations come down to one thing: poor communication. Whether it be from PRs who haven’t pitched to journalists properly or journalists who haven’t taken the time to reply. But this is where an element of understanding needs to come into play too.

PRs, journalists are often swamped with emails – it isn’t always possible for them to reply to every one.

And journalists, PRs work with a lot of journalists day in and day out – sometimes we miss the mark in our pitches, cut us some slack.

Moving forward & moving on

The PR/journo relationship might be damaged, but it’s not destroyed.

In the ‘olden days’ of Public Relations, there was a lot more hands-on communication. If you wanted to pitch a story, it wasn’t as easy as sending an email. It was writing the story, faxing it over or even delivering a press pack through the post (or by hand!). It was picking up the phone instead of hitting the send button and it was getting to know journalists instead of storing their name on a database.

I might be new to the industry, but I know a problem when I see one. We need to start looking at the PRs-before-us and start taking a leaf or two out of their book. Advanced technology (cheers Twitter) has made it easy to find and chat with journalists, but the effort is still needed to reach out and kick-start those relationships.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to start making a conscientious effort to make better connections. Converse more, whether that be in or out of work hours. PR is all about going the extra mile and putting in that additional effort, and god knows I’m ready to do that.

Have any comments on PR & journalist relationships, or any advice for the fresh meat (a.k.a. me!) in the industry? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Oh and while you’re here, please subscribe to my blog by heading back to my homepage and entering your email on the right-hand side of the page.

PR and lifestyle blogger jessica pardoe


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