It’s a never-ending battle: journalists v PRs. On both sides, many a person claims to be harassed by the other while many others on both sides keep making mistakes in communicating (it’s not really that hard – the communicating or, sadly, the mistake making), but this list by Bristol Editor (which is a thumpingly good blog) shows one of the great errors that journalists often make in their ‘let me tell the PRs how the world works’ in that they don’t understand a lot of PR – some through ignorance, some through having no experience of the other side of the fence.
Anyway, I’m going to go through the list, offering some observation and if anyone ever compiles the three million blog posts and articles that have been written on this topic, perhaps it may help.
Many of the points are fair, I don’t doubt it’s been written with a sincere desire to improve communications and should be taken on board by PRs, but it shows three failings:
Anyway, it hasn’t been written to start a flame war or anything like that, but perhaps in 2010, PRs and journalists can understand each other a bit better and we can get rid of lists like this, along with the incessant ‘why social media rulz’ postings.
1: Find the unique, interesting and different elements of your business.
Can’t argue with this. If your release isn’t that interesting – and more PRs do need to tell their clients that – why issue, unless you are chasing SEO. In which case, just issue online.
2: Ensure you can prove any statements you make with cold, hard facts.
3: Research every publication – do not send blanket emails or editorial.
With tools like Gorkana, MediaDisk and PRMax, there’s no excuse for this.
4: Remember that you need to earn a journalist’s trust and respect over time.
Can’t argue with this.
5: Make your press releases lively, fact-filled and relevant – not PR spin.
6: Utilise your knowledge and present your editorial with personality.
Good point but be careful. Too much personality will see people backlash against your releases as in “Oh God, not stuff from them AGAIN.” I’ve had conversations with journalists where they’ve been quite honest and said “Look, a release a week is too much, even if it is good stuff. They’ve had their shot in the limelight for now.”
7: Do not ever mention you advertise with a publication to a journalist.
True dat. Journalists aren’t responsible for advertising and vice-versa. If you are trying to squeeze into a paper on the back of the fact that you have advertising, go through the ad department and get them to apply the pressure to the reporters (happened all the time when I was at Archant papers and 90% of the time the ad team got what they wanted).
8: Remember that all News is people-based. Bring them out of your business.
Yup. Some stories don’t have an obvious angle, but some do.
9: Do not try to be controversial for the sake of it. Journalists get bored easily.
Sod this one. As long as you can back up your opinion and have the courage of your convictions, go for it. Why? Because all too often journalists find themselves looking for mouthpieces or people who will give them a quote on anything (see the Edinburgh Tories during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the early 1990s) and like to have people they can call for quotes.
10: To hold attention, all you need to be is relevant, timely and interesting.
See points 1 and 5.
11: Request a Forward Features list on first contact, as and where relevant.
Hah, this only works on magazines. Most newspapers don’t have time for these things. Despite 15 years in the press, I never heard of FF lists until I moved into PR.
12: Never question a journalist’s editorial judgement. It’s their domain.
Eh? Journalists spend enough time questioning PR’s, so play fair. Seriously though, if you have a good relationship, there’s nothing wrong with pointing out a better angle if you think there is one. But again, your release should have the strongest angle at the top anyway.
13: Remember that ‘off the record’ is usually an area of immense danger.
Oh yes, but it always was. This is even more relevant in the realm of PR/blogger relations.
14: Only target relevant publications for your products or services. No spam.
Yes, use the likes of Gorkana. See the answer to point 3. However journalists need to accept that they may be on a system liked Gorkana and tagged as relevant. Now I believe Gorkana gets its data from the newspaper companies, so don’t blame PRs for sending you material that you think is irrelevant when there’s a database saying that 14th Century crockery is exactly what you want to get press releases on. Blame your bosses for selling your details on.
15: Appreciate that the journalist is not there to serve you – other way round.
Strange, in this day and age, I thought it was a mutually beneficial relationship. Also, journalists need to remember that in the age of bloggers, Facebook fan pages, Twitter and other outlets they are not the only outlet for PRs any more.
16: Do not be chatty, gossipy or unprofessional. Stay focussed and brief.
If you don’t have a relationship, totally agree. Also, gossip can stray into the ‘off the record’ area.
17: If you can offer fresh, new, exciting content regularly – perfect contact.
Yes, but being that perfect contact also depends on the journalist being the perfect journalist and getting the story printed (and not blaming the editor when it doesn’t show. “Sorry, was a great story but the editor didn’t like it” or “there just wasn’t enough space” – if PRs are doing their bit and getting you what you want, the journalist has to do their bit and get the story printed. This is a two-way relationship after all and professionally you are only useful to the PR if you can get them coverage.)
18: Track the career moves of journalists you know – build a media database.
19: Realise that most publications have online versions and online journalists.
And? This is actually a fantastic point, but there’s a bunch of implications to it. Does this mean pitching twice to publications – once to print and once to digital? Does it mean providing video? Where’s the time going to come from to do this things?
20: Monitor target media yourself and build up a published Press portfolio.
Otherwise known as a cuts folder. It’s a fair point – and I shudder to think there’s a PR not doing this. One point though: keep a copy fo cuts for yourself, not just your agency/employer as you never know when you’ll be shoved out the door.
21: Never make a press release more than two sides long – brevity counts.
Even though we are digital now, this is a fair point. Two sides long is roughly 800 words which is a page lead for most. And make sure your first three pars can be lifted and used as a complete story on their own.
22: Write the headline last – it should flow once the press release is complete.
Nonsense. Do whatever works for you, but of course revise it once you’ve finished the release.
23: Make sure you have one item of News only, not a series of items.
Fair point, but depends on the topic.
24: Utilise one key individual for your business as the quoted person.
Yeah, make it the expert in that area.
25: Do not try to be funny, witty, smart or sarcastic – present the facts only.
Hang on, what was rule 1? Funny, witty, etc all have their place – if used carefully.
26: Only use statistics if you can back them up with attributed sources.
27: Do not knock down your competitors – it’s unprintable and unprofessional.
It’s unprofessional perhaps, but rows are news generators and if you can back up why your competitor/regulatory body is crap, go for it – just be realistic about what will follow.
28: Piggy-backing on a current News issue is great – if you add editorial value.
Yup. Just don’t through hashtags onto tweets!
29: Ensure you supply at least one high-resolution image at 300dpi.
Eh? An attachment? In a day and age when most journalist spam filters are set to ‘Eviscerate and obliterate’? Provide a link instead – and provide a cut-out of the image as well as the normal pic (surprised me how many mags called up and asked for cutouts of shots).
30: Make sure any pictures are taken professionally, not by an amateur.
Can’t argue. Can newspapers and magazines make the same promise though as this can be a fault on both sides.
31: Remember who the editor is presenting the story to – be relevant to them.
32: Never ring a journalist to ask why a press release was not published.
Hahahahahahahah. The old classic. But he’s right. Don’t. I once had the news editor of a national call me wondering why the no.2 in a marketing firm that I worked for had called him asking why a tale hadn’t been used and if it was going to hold. He was furious with her.
33: If your editorial is included, add value by presenting a Feature around it.
Offer a feature only if you can deliver it on time.
34: Utilise knowledge and expertise – only add opinion if totally essential.
The opinion should show your knowledge and expertise.
35: Avoid PR jargon such as ‘ground-breaking’ and ‘industry-leading’ phrases.
Tosh. Use any phrase which is beneficial to your SEO plans. To be fair though, no one googles the aforementioned. Or shouldn’t.
36: A press release is like a perfectly-formed circle – end it where you start.
Just like a good story, yup.
37: Understand the editorial structure of the publication before you write.
Yup. Again, see point 3.
38: The first paragraph needs to tell the entire News item, and succinctly.
Yup. And then the first three pars should be easily lifted to tell the whole tale as well.
39: Be positive, upbeat and engaging in your editorial, but forget the PR spin.
Forget the spin. As for positive and so on, depends on the release.
40: Do not re-send the same press release. Send it once and media monitor.
Send it once, find an online home for it and media monitor.
41: Always ask a journalist if they are on deadline. Always. Every time.
Yup, but good savvy will see you knowing when the good times to call are.
42: Understand that a journalist is busy, stressed, bombarded – help them.
PRs are too!
43: If a journalist needs information, provide it without question or delay.
Oh really? Sometimes it’s not up to the PR. With the best will in the world, if someone else at the PR’s end – client (if agency) or colleage (if in house) – isn’t providing or willing to provide for whatever reason (negative story, doesn’t fit with company plans) then don’t take it out on the PR.
44: Do not miss a deadline given by a journalist. You get one chance at this.
See answer to 43.
45: Make your conversations to the point – ideally, only ring with one point.
46: Appreciate that you are not the Editor’s best friend, and never will be.
Odds are the editor doesn’t get out enough now to make friends – and when he does he wants to see his own friends – so accept this one.
47: Understand that the paramount thing on a journalist’s mind is deadlines.
For most, yeah.
48: Make yourself available to give comments on deadline when needed.
Oh really? See answer to 43. Contrary to what many a journalist believes, PRs don’t just sit about all day waiting for the phone to ring and neither do the people needed for the quotes for the story you are working on. Sometimes people can’t be reached or don’t want to offer the exact comment you want. It would also help PRs if the journalist called in as far advance as possible and not 5.45pm. Every PR has their ‘Friday 5pm phone call’ story.
Journalists should also bear in mind that if they do call late in the day, sometimes it just isn’t possible to reply (which, of course, is sometimes the aim of the journalist).
49: Be consistent, reliable and a ‘safe pair of hands’ for a ‘rent-a-quote’ item.
See point 9. And 48.
50: Understand the publication’s deadline and editorial production structure.
Can’t disagree. Use the likes of PRMax.
51: News changes rapidly – do not be upset if a deadline removes your story.
Fair enough, but also understand that if it happens a few times on stories provided to you, that the PR may be slower getting back to you. After all, PRs expect to see their material published.
52: Understand different deadline structures for magazines and newspapers.
53: The pace of News-gathering is increased when you deal with online Press.
Yeah. But you should only go to any press once you have all the information ready – video, audio and so on.
54: Include a blog hyperlink with all emails – it gives more content on deadline.
Not a blog link (unless you have a relevant one) but there’s a role here for social media newsrooms or similar web page.
55: Provide content, features, comment in one accessible place for a journalist.
56: Ensure your website has a Press area with editorial and images included.
I can’t stress this point enough. It shocks me how many don’t do it.
57: Remain professional and polite when dealing with journalists on deadline.
58: If a journalist is on deadline, ask when is a good time to contact them.
59: Every journalist respects their deadlines, and so must you to gain ground.
60: Journalists will usually be more stressed and less receptive on deadline.
TALKING TO THE PRESS
61: Research the name and title of any journalist you intend to speak to.
Yes, use Gorkana.
62: Practice the conversation before you pick up the phone.
Eh? I can see where he’s coming from but if you can’t structure a basic conversation in your head then you have bigger issues than being able to talk to reporters.
63: Never ring a journalist on deadline.
Unless you have something pertinent to their deadline. However, journalists need to remember that PRs aren’t psychic. They may not know that you are on deadline – until they call.
64: Always ask a journalist if they are able to speak before you continue.
Most PRs ask this. At least all the decent ones I know.
65: Demonstrate you read the publication – identify different editorial sections.
Only if relevant. I don’t care if you read sports when pitching a business story.
66: Offer an exclusive wherever possible to the journalist.
Fair enough, but the journalist has to accept that the scoop is time-limited. I’ve seen journalists sit on stories that were offered to them purely to stop their competition getting a chance of it. There’s also a point where you may like the scoop but your editor doesn’t and while you may think he’ll change his mind tomorrow, that’s no consolation to a PR being asked when the story appears. If a reporter gets offered the chance of a scoop they should play fair with the story.
67: Never mention competing publications, it usually winds an Editor up.
68: Ring a journalist to brief them of a relevant issue you can comment on.
69: Do not contact a journalist to see if they have received a press release.
I agree and God knows my refusal to do the phone call ringaround has cost me jobs in the past, but if spam filters are sent to ‘nuke from orbit’ how is the PR meant to know if the journalist got the material? Email notifications aren’t worth a toss.
70: If a journalist requires additional information, provide it within the hour.
See previous points. Have supplementary material handy, but journalists need to remember that sometimes this just isn’t possible if the relevant people are engaged in other activities.
71: When contacting a publication, be polite to everyone. People talk.
72: Demonstrate your expertise when possible, but do not ramble on.
73: Never interrupt a journalist – let them tell you what they want and when.
Disagree. Use common sense on this one. Sometimes journalists ramble on as well.
74: Add editorial value to the publication with every interaction you have.
75: Brief a journalist before you send a press release – by phone and quickly.
Unrealistic in this day and age. Too many publications and people being targeted for stories. Also leads to the issue of contacting journalists on deadline.
76: Do not invite a journalist out to lunch unless you add real editorial value.
Nonsense. What happened to contact building? Journalists take contacts out for lunch for long-term benefit. If you are allowed to, then go for it – but make sure the reporter knows there’s no immediate tale in the lunch.
77: Only present yourself as an expert or industry guru if you can back it up.
78: Be passionate about your business – talk to the Press from the heart.
Both good points.
79: Do not try to use the Press as a mouthpiece to gain column inches. Ever.
The point of PR is to gain column inches. Also weren’t we told earlier to have people to be go-to quote machines?
80: Work with a journalist, become a trusted source of information and ideas.
81: Do not offer an exclusive to more than one journalist. Common sense.
82: Follow your target publications religiously and identify opportunities.
83: Realise that media relations is straightforward, and not a Dark Art.
84: Being in regular contact with a journalist will never guarantee publication.
No, but it makes sense.
85: The media landscape is changing – be aware of editorial nuances.
The media landscape is changing – and journalists are no longer the sole providers of news.
86: Be confident, calm and collected in your dealings with the Press.
87: Understand that successful media relations is not about PR spin.
88: If you ever lie, or mis-represent, to a journalist – say goodbye for ever.
89: Journalists are busy most of the time – but they are still human beings.
90: Have an awareness of the political leanings of a publication. It matters.
91: Do what you say you will, on time, and as agreed with a journalist.
92: If asked to provide editorial, keep to the word count requested. Always.
93: Journalists know what they want and need – do not second guess them.
Yes, but they may not be in full possession of the facts or what your client/company is doing. Feel free to offer more if it adds value.
94: Never mention that you used to be a journalist. It is totally irrelevant.
Dunno, depends on the relationship.
95: You might think you can outsmart a journalist. Wrong – it’s their rules.
Wrong. There’s new rules now in the digital era. Both sides in PR/Press have powers, strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes the PR has the upper hand, sometimes it’s the journalist. And, just as there are thick journalists, there are thick PRs.
96: PR schmoozing holds an increasingly useless impact to the Media.
97: Sending flowers, free gifts and the like rarely influences publication.
True on both accounts, but if you want to send a freebie or have a schmooze, feel free. Just accept that getting people along is a lot harder than it usd to be.
98: Do not be nervous or stuttery – present the facts and the angle. Simply.
99: Always back up your information with reputable sources and facts.
100: Remember that your News is useful, but not invaluable, to the Press.
Depends on the press. Most news these days is useful to someone and as such, there is an outlet for most news. And journalists need to remember that they are no longer the sole providers of news to the masses.