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Do Journalists Need PR Professionals Anymore?

Quite a few Journalistics readers have suggested this topic for the blog. At first glance, I’m surprised anyone would question the value PR professionals provide for journalists. It’s easy to get caught up in all the negativity about off-topic pitches and “PR spammers” we see on a regular basis. I too have gone on and on about this topic in the past. The truth is, there are still thousands of journalists (and bloggers) who rely on public relations professionals for story suggestions and sources.

The popularity of services like HARO and ProfNet should be proof enough that journalists have a need for PR professionals. Granted, the need is more for sources and experts than PR professionals, but it’s usually the PR professionals who are scanning a lot of those queries looking for potential fits for the clients, organizations and individuals they represent. I recently interviewed close to a bunch of journalists for some research we’re doing for Journalistics and found that most reporters and bloggers still rely on PR professionals for a fair amount of the content they write. While a lot of reporters and bloggers complain about the off-topic pitches they receive from “lazy PR people”, when pressed, most will admit they have used information provided by a PR professional in a recent story.

If you’re one of the ones that think journalists don’t need PR professionals, get those thoughts out of your head. They need you, provided you have something newsworthy and relevant to their coverage area. They don’t need gobbledygook or jargon-filled press releases, but they do need solid story suggestions, industry data and expert sources.

What can you do to make yourself more valuable for journalists and bloggers? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Learn what their needs are – there are probably networking events in your area where you can meet journalists and bloggers. Search for a local press club, Society of Professional Journalists, or MediaBistro event to attend. Meet journalists socially and learn more about what they do, what their needs are and how you can help. Better yet, go to a conference where journalists are going to learn more about their trade. You’ll learn a lot more about journalism, and you’ll meet some great media contacts along the way.
  • Read what they write – nothing says you “get it” more than actually reading the stuff journalists and bloggers write about. Read and engage with journalists. If you like what they write, tell them. If you have something of value to offer, provide your thoughts in follow-up. Let them know you’re interested in more than getting your clients covered. Let them know you’re a consumer of information first and a publicist second.
  • Do some extra legwork – if you’re pitching a story on a topic related to a client, offer other examples of organizations or individuals that might also be good for the story. Provide links and references to objective, third-party data that validates (or contradicts) the points you’re trying to make. The more objective you can be in your pitch, the more journalists will respect your efforts to “think like a journalist.” Try to avoid being self-serving with your pitches. This type of pitch rarely works.
  • Suggest sources that aren’t clients – can you help a reporter with a story that doesn’t benefit you? I often scan HAROs and ProfNets to see if I know anyone that would be a good source. Using this approach, I’ve secured publicity for family and friends, for my chiropractor and for a small business owner in my town. I didn’t work for any of these people, I just helped a reporter find the best source for a story. I now have a stronger relationship with the journalists I helped, and everyone wins.
  • Help journalists find work – a lot of journalists are freelancers that work for both media and corporate clients. Is there anyone you know that’s looking for a good writer? Is there a freelance writer you can link them up with? What goes around comes around. The more you help others, the more likely they will be to help you. Some of my best placements have come from my relationships with freelancers I’ve helped along the way. I’m not saying the freelancers owed me anything, I helped them because I wanted to. They just did the same thing. It’s a two-way street.
  • Give them the scoop – whenever you can, give your “favorite” reporters the scoop on a big story. I’ve caught wind of big news before, or had big announcements with clients that I’ve offered as tips or exclusives to the journalists I consider to be in my inner circle. Journalists are competing for the “big news”, if you can help them land an exclusive on a big story, they’ll be more likely to give you some attention on your less sensational pitches. Sometimes one big feature story is worth more than a bunch of news briefs scattered all over the place. Be selective with your pitches and help journalists write about the bigger news.
  • Stay top of mind – find excuses to give a journalist a call, beyond wanting to pitch them something. Have regular chats about what’s going on in your industry. Are there any story angles you wish were covered, but nobody seems to be paying attention to? Have you come across some new services or tools that might help a journalist to his/her job better? Let them know about it. Again, you’re looking out for their best interests. Be transparent about it. Sure, you’re going to call them when you want something, but why not call them when you don’t have a need as well. Nobody likes to feel used. Build genuine relationships with your media contacts. The best media relations people I know have had journalists in or at their weddings. Journalists are people too. They just might be your friends.

Some of this may sound corny, but if you’re serious about media relations, these tips will help you avoid the trash can with your pitches. Media relations is about relationships with the media. Journalists and bloggers need good media relations people to help them do their jobs. Be a good media relations person. Don’t interrupt them with stuff that just makes their job harder.

How do you go above and beyond the pitch to demonstrate your value to journalists and bloggers? What approaches have helped you build stronger relationships with the media? Please share your thoughts.

(Image Credit: Press Newsroom 12112008 by annieo76)

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.

  • http://www.lauraclick.com Laura Click

    Great post with very useful tips. It’s good to know that journalists still need us PR folks (though, I don’t think there was any doubt of that). Just like in any industry, there are always bad apples that spoil the pot for everyone. Look at attorneys, for example – there are plenty of good ones, but the few rotten ones give everyone a bad name. If PR folks follow these tips, it will be better for everyone in the industry.

  • http://kadetcomm.wordpress.com Ken Kadet

    Seems like someone feels the need to write about this at least once or twice a year. The question of whether journalists need PR people is sort of moot, except to make PR people feel better about themselves.

    I say this as a long-time PR agency guy, now independent. We shouldn’t kid ourselves: with or without PR people, journalists are going to write stories. The people who need to be reminded of this aren’t journalists but corporate executives who see the PR budget as an easy target. It’s the corporations that need PR people to know the conversations out there and where they’re happening and how to impact them on behalf of the corporation. Executives need to remember that a) without focusing on this, they can’t manage this bewildering array of media — online, offline and social — themselves; and b) that silence and disengagement from the this world doesn’t help them any.

    Public relations needs to be the eyes, ears and voice (or to guide the voice) of the organization. A big part of that PR role often turns out to be building good relationships with journalists by helping journalists them do their jobs, and these tips are great. It’s just important to remember that the actual job is to bring value to the organization.

    • Jeremy Porter

      The question might be a moot point for you Ken, but some of our readers clearly wanted to give this topic a suggestion. I wonder if comments like this fall into the same category (make PR people feel better about themselves)?

      That said, I do think it’s good advice that executives get more involved in the process.

      • http://kadetcomm.wordpress.com Ken Kadet

        Glad it makes you feel better, then! :-)

        • Jeremy Porter

          It does. I feel awesome now. :-)

  • http://www.3hatscommunications.com/blog/ Davina K. Brewer

    Good tips for any PR pro building a relationship with a journalist or blogger, though it’s troubling that something so obvious as “read what they write” has to be included. Best advice: Be helpful. Give them smart sources, timely information, real leads, legitimate news and then just get out of the way and let them do their jobs. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.vandenhurkpr.com Ann Marie van den Hurk, APR

    Relationship between journalist and PR professional will always be around. Like with every relationship, there will some miscommunication, but at the end of the day both need each other equally. All relationships evolve and change. Both fields are going through “growing” pains with Web 2.0 and how that impacts journalism and public relations.

    Thanks for sharing the great tips.

  • http://twitter.com/RManning_Mynt Ronnie Manning

    Great article.. solid advice on relationship building, which is key in our industry.

  • http://www.sparkplugging.com/marketing Susan Payton, The Marketing Eggspert

    Great post. I follow these rules in pitching to the media and don’t get the cold shoulder that other PR pros do when they don’t target or try to help someone other than themselves. Bloggers too, I consider to be part of the media landscape, so I treat them with the same respect.

  • http://flyonthewallmedia.com Anthony Piatt

    A comment, perhaps a question, regarding PR versus Publicity… I see them as interchangeable, however, PR does seem to have a more corporate connotation and perhaps denotes ‘spin’ more with the word/idea of ‘relations’ to the ‘public’- it sounds protective. As music publicists we have the advantage of highlighting the positive and (short of Britney types) music publicity doesn’t involve being a ‘flak’ or running diversion. Any press is good press when dealing with a bluegrass or world music band. Heck, like the Stones, I might even enjoy a little bad boy press for a Todd Snider type, etc.

    Plus, we provide CD’s to most everyone we pitch. Invite them to shows. Set interviews. Our website is built for journalists with easy to download, press-ready images (no searching for a road manager to email a pic from Starbuck’s).

    Coming from a journalist background, I found it hard to find some of the things we now provide. As for ‘spam PR’, etc. we wouldn’t waste the postage to send the CD and press release and find emails without a product sample unhelpful (with the exception of show invites). But, we concentrate on print media and reviews. Spam, thankfully, wouldn’t help our publicists.

    PS- Where would journalists find out about our clients without us? The glossy mags we work with have room for our up and coming and unknown world, reggae, folk, Americana artists, but, we are often there first (and only) exposure to the CD and artist.

    Thanks for the dialog!
    (And I answer ‘Yes’ to Journalists needing PR pros!)

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