I love blog series that involve interviews, mainly because they get a great reception and I meet some pretty fab people through them too.
So, when I thought of the idea of interviewing journalists to quiz them on the taboo topic of PR & journo relationships, I was keen to get stuck in. I also have another series in the pipeline, where I’ll be interviewing influencers, but at the moment I’m focused on this one which has picked up a much bigger response rate already. (Just FYI, like).
About this series
‘This one’, by the way, should be better known as #CutThroughTheNoise.
Namely, because there’s a lot of wishy-washy opinions and articles around PR to press relationships, and I’d rather ‘cut through the noise’, or rather the bullshit, and get down to the nitty-gritty. I want to ask the difficult questions and face the issue head-on as opposed to dodging it, which so often happens in this industry.
I think both PRs and journalists could learn a lot from my #CutThroughTheNoise series. There seem to be recurring problematic things that PRs are doing to blacklist themselves with certain journalists. And in the same breath, PRs have their fair share of niggles with journos too – and these need to be addressed. I’m a big advocate of building great relationships, and I feel as though this can’t always be done while there’s a stigma surrounding public relations and journalism. Therefore, in this series, I’m hoping to challenge that. To cut through the stereotypes and be rid of them for good.
If you’re a journalist, and you’d like to take part in this series then I’m always open to hearing from you. The best way to reach me is probably Twitter, so please do message me for a chat. My DMs are open, but it’s likely I’ll be following you anyway. 😂.
May I steal your attention for a moment…
I’ve been nominated for a UK Blog Award for best PR blogger, and would love it if you could vote for me (that is if you like my blog and think I’m worthy of course!). Here’s how if you’d like to.
- Click here.
- Click on the categories (Public Relations, Marketing and Communications is mine) and view the entries.
- To find my website, click on the globe.
- To see my entry information, click on the “i”.
- And to vote for my entry (please please please), click on the red heart.
- OR, you could go straight to my entry page here.
Thank you so very much. Now back to the blog…
#CutThroughTheNoise – with Kenny Toal
My second interview is with Kenny Toal, who I am SO honoured to feature on this blog, I can’t even tell you! When Kenny messaged me offering to help out, I jumped at the chance to interview him, and it’s safe to say I’ve learned a lot from his answers. Kenny was an ITV presenter for 20 years, winning a number of well-earned awards and interviewing some pretty famous people too! He now works for ITV Studios, running a department that makes documentaries for ITV – so cool! (I feel super starstruck).
Before I dive into the interview, let’s learn a little bit more about Kenny…
Name: Kenny Toal
Region: North East England
Type of journalist: Broadcast
Publications: ITV Studios
How long have you been a journalist?: 23 years
And now, let’s get down to the interview…
Jessica: Hi Kenny! Thanks so much for being a part of this series, I feel very honoured to feature you on it! Okay, to start us off, how often do you work with PRs every day in your job?
Kenny: I deal with an average of about five emails a day from PRs in my current role. Prior to this when I worked in the news operation I would receive significantly more. However I am still contacted by email around five times a day. I also have contact indirectly through text messages, twitter, linked in etc. Hard to quantify this on a daily basis but in an average week I will have been contacted at least two or three times by this method.
Jessica: And do you feel like you generally have a good relationship with PR people?
Kenny: Generally yes. I have some PR people who I have a better relationship with than others. The ones who traditionally understand the story and what the requirements are. The ones who will provide you with what you need rather than just use the media for their own gains. These are the PRs that I tend to keep in contact with.
Jessica: Yes, that’s understandable. It always helps when a PR resonates with what you do and truly understands what they’re communicating to you too. Okay, is there anything that PRs do that really get on your nerves?
Kenny: False promises. Some PRs are desperate to get their clients coverage so will invite you to an event knowing clearly that what you need is not possible. I would much rather have honesty than someone so desperate for media to attend they will say one thing and then not deliver. This month I had to cancel an entire programme due to be filmed for CITV because the PR had promised one thing and 24 hours before filming it was obvious what we needed to happen and what had been promised simply wasn’t possible
On a different note – certain PRS, mainly those working for politicians or larger companies – will be the story prevention police and will tell you what to do and how to do your job. I think that trust is essential in this industry and while it is a PR job to ensure the best message is delivered it’s also their job to understand that journalists do have a job to do.
Jessica: Oh no, how awful about the CITV issue. I’ve spoken with another journalist who said false promises are so annoying, so you’re certainly not alone there. I also can’t believe there are some out there who’d try and tell you how to do your job! Okay, let’s flip it to a more positive note… Is there anything that PRs do that you really appreciate?
Kenny: The best PRs are the ones who understand. Who know what you want and will do whatever they can to help you. They can talk to you ‘off the record’ and tell you honestly what is possible and what isn’t.
Jessica: The kind of PR I aspire to be 😊. Understanding and honesty is so important! I feel like more often than not, there’s a bit of a negative stigma around PR and journalists and their relationships. What do you think?
Kenny: I think on a national level my experience is that it is harder to engage with PRs. There appears to be a them and us mentality at times. Often hard to get someone to work with you on something.
Locally the PRs have a different approach. A personal and trust-based one. These are the relationships that I have fostered over the years.
Jessica: Couldn’t agree more! I actually wrote a blog post about that very ‘us and them’ mentality you just mentioned. Okay, carrying on with the subject of PRs… You’ve been in this business a long time, do you have any funny experiences to share?
Kenny: There was once a PR person who thought that it would be an idea to stand all the press and media in a holding area for the arrival of a company executive from Japan. We pointed out that it was a really poor position. The insisted it was the only place for us to be. The executive arrived at the other side of the building, the story was missed and we went to the coffee shop.
Jessica: Oh no, so like you mentioned earlier about PRs telling you what’s best, that’s a prime case of that here – and it came back to bite them!
Okay, let’s move on to some specific questions… What’s your opinion on PRs calling journalists to follow up on a press release?
Kenny: I think that’s fine. As long as they think what the news story is and ask themselves why it is newsworthy rather than badgering a journalist to get something covered that’s purely an advert (for free).
Jessica: I couldn’t agree more. I think you should only call if your story is newsworthy and you’re certain that it’s specific to the journalist you’re contacting… What about email follow-ups?
Kenny: For me – this is also fine. I’d prefer an email personally.
Jessica: I think a lot of people would agree with you there. Okay, on the subject of email, what makes you more inclined to open a pitching email, or to look at a press release?
Kenny: The top line. Write them like a news story. Catch me with creative flair. Don’t let it read like an advert. And ensure that there is plenty of human interest where possible and pictures. For broadcast pictures are key.
Jessica: Noted! Okay, to finish up, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to PRs for communicating with journalists?
Kenny: If you can, be targeted. Find out what journalists cover what areas of specialism. And then send out releases accordingly. This will have more impact than a general email to a general inbox. Journalists with specialisms are always looking for stories in their field. So if your release is about education – send it to the education correspondent, not the general inbox. That way it’s more chance of being picked up and used.
Jessica: That’s exactly the approach I take! Thank you so much, Kenny!
- The best PRs are the ones I find who have some level of journalistic understanding. Who have either been journalists and know a good story or who know what a journalist needs.
- Fostering relationships with journalists is key. Build a rapport and a friendship. Some of my best PR contacts I now also class as friends. People Ic an ring up and say ‘I need a story on this – can you help me?’ and if they can’t they know someone who can.
- It’s about fostering a relationship where you’re not seen as someone who only comes calling when you want something. But someone you know on a different level.
Thanks again, Kenny!
My top 3 takeaways
Okay, let’s break it down into my top 3 takeaways (even though it’s all great stuff).
- Understanding and honesty is the most important thing when building PR/journo relationships. That’s what keeps a longstanding connection, which is more valuable to both parties.
- This was a key takeaway from my last interview. But again, don’t offer things you can’t follow up on. It just strengthens the stereotype that all PRs are liars (and we’re not!).
- The best PRs have a journalistic understanding. This is why I try to write in my free time too (and have written for the likes of The Independent and The Pulse). It’s good to gain an insight into the flip side of the coin.
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