The media and PR professionals are a lot like partners in a longtime marriage— they know they need each other, but sometimes, they can’t help but get under each other’s skin.
So how do PR people stay in the good graces of news types in order to obtain favorable coverage for their clients? The answer, according to those who responded to our very informal survey, is to start by avoiding these seven practices:
1. Avoid calling the newsroom for a friendly chat about the press release you sent
While everyone is crazy-busy these days, most newsroom folks are in a deadline-driven, caffeine and Red Bull-fueled-frenzy — tracking down sources, coordinating photographers and interview subjects, finding b-roll, feeding video to the daily promotions department, uploading and time-coding video for editing, all the while having to tweet, post to Facebook, and otherwise engage in social media conversations with the general public, the news desk, producers and editors about their story. Phew, it exhausted me to even write that.
So, if they sound, (let’s call it “a bit abrupt,” shall we? ) on the other end of the line when you’re being nice as can be, well, don’t take it personally. Even if they decide to transfer you to the fax line. Unless they specifically tell you to call, don’t. Email them instead.
TIP: In your email, make sure to provide additional information about why this would make a good story for their viewers or readers.
2. Don’t assume all of the media are out to get you
Veteran reporter Laura Barnhardt Cech, a Washington Post freelance writer, formerly with the Baltimore Sun, says, “I can’t tell you how many times a company has declined to comment or refused to participate in a story that could only be considered positive.”
TIP: Cech offers this piece of advice to PR pros: “Call back quickly, it breeds goodwill.”
3. Make sure your pitch isn’t missing key elements
If a news outlet decides to cover your story, congratulations! But not providing crucial elements can force a news crew into a mad scramble to find those elements, sometimes with only minutes to spare.
For example, a veteran Washington DC photojournalist, says that on more than one occasion, he would arrive at a physician’s office for a medical story, and find no patient to feature in the piece. Noticing the crew was on deadline, the office would often quickly volunteer one of the staff to serve as a “pretend patient” for the camera.
To quote him, “Well, this doesn’t work if you are a real TV news crew expected to cover real news for the real world.”
TIP: Try to anticipate what the reporter needs BEFORE you pitch the story.
4. Even if you’re avoiding the media, don’t “breadcrumb” a media outlet
A network photographer and satellite technician at NBC News offers this piece of advice: “If the answer is ‘no’ then just say it’s ‘no.’ Don’t string us along with delayed call backs and ‘I’m checking with the boss’ comments. We are on deadline every day, and if we can’t do something with your company then we will move on,” he says.
TIP: Even if you are positively convinced the story would wind up casting your company in a negative light, always get back to the reporter as quickly as possible.
5. Never, ever tell the reporter what questions to ask
This is a big-time no-no. Definitely crossing-the-line territory for many reporters. You wouldn’t want someone telling you how to do your job so you shouldn’t try to do theirs. Some news reporters and editors say you would be lucky if they ever decide to work with you again.
TIP: Prepare for any potential land mine questions ahead of time by going over them with the interview subject. Follow the adage “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”