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PR Tip: With Reporters, Be a Help and Not a Hassle

December 30, 2016 Damon Maida


If you work in public relations, you’re busy. I guarantee it. You’re balancing internal projects with client needs and working hard to maintain the holiest of relationships – the ones between you and the reporters you pitch. I can guarantee one other thing – those reporters are just as busy or busier than you are. They’re balancing internal projects, the needs of their editors, their interview subjects and working hard to maintain what can feel like the unholiest of relationships – the one between them and the hundreds of public relations professionals who likely contact them every day.

“Please” and “thank you” aren’t phrases from a bygone era, and they go a long way in fostering a positive relationship with the media. 

It’s got to be exhausting, and it’s no surprise that some reporters are not always “enthusiastic” about hearing from public relations folk. But I’m an optimist, and I have high hopes for these sometimes-rocky relationships. As I wrote in a previous article, it’s important to treat reporters like human beings – not just conduits for your clients’ news. I thought it was time I offer some more ways to bridge the divide, help reporters smile when they think of you and actually open your pitch letter when it arrives:

Show some respect

Seriously, though. “Please” and “thank you” aren’t phrases from a bygone era, and they go a long way in fostering a positive relationship with the media. Be timely and courteous whether you’re giving a quick call to follow up on a pitch, or in the midst of arranging an interview for one of your clients. Go out of your way to treat reporters like you couldn’t do your job without them – because you can’t.

Give them something they can use (tip lists never go out of style)

Reporters are busy. Make their lives easier. Don’t send a five paragraph pitch. Just don’t. Keep it short, simple and to the point. When possible, offer something a reporter might be able to lift directly from your email and use in an article. If he doesn’t have time for an interview or a prolonged email exchange, he might just appreciate a tip list or compelling stat for a story.

Offer more than just your expert

Go the extra mile to help with a story, even if your client isn’t a good fit. It can be tempting to offer a story idea or an interview with your CEO client and then cut off communication when you get your first “no.” Don’t do that. Take the time to ask if there’s any other way you might be able to help. Perhaps you’ve got another client who could be a source, or you know where a reporter might be able to go and get the information they need. Be generous whenever possible, and it will come back to you in the long run.

Follow the news cycle and pitch accordingly

Why would a reporter be interested in writing about something that has nothing to do with what’s currently in the news, nothing to do with her past coverage or nothing to do with what’s “next?” She wouldn’t. Stay current with the news and don’t rush to contact a reporter until you’ve read her recent articles. And, if you pull information from a media database, double-check it. If you consistently go out to a reporter with material irrelevant to her area of coverage, you not only hurt your credibility, but you waste valuable time in getting to those reporters who could use your assistance now.

Don’t over-pitch

Sometimes it’s unavoidable if you’ve got a time-sensitive news story or only a single contact at a given publication. However, whenever possible don’t pitch a reporter multiple times in one day – maybe not even multiple times in a week. Be sure that what you’re offering is of real value. If you make a habit of reaching out for every little thing and hoping that your reporter friend will just take one of them and run with it, you’re likely to be disappointed. And worse – when you finally do have something worth reporting about, you may have already damaged the relationship. Give reporters time to breathe and only go to them when something might really interest them.

Just close your eyes and connect with your best self. Be one of the great ones that make the PR industry look fantastic. There are a lot of us out there, and if we stick together, we can mend the fences that may have been broken by unscrupulous flacks. We need reporters in order to do our best for our clients. Make yourself a respected partner and be there when a reporter needs you.

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