When I started out as a business writer in the early 2000s, the age-old rivalry between journalists and PR people was going strong. But in today’s changing media environment, strong relationships between the two sides are more important than ever. While every PR pro knows the importance of getting the right story in front of the right reporter, media relations faux pas are still common. Here are some tips for interacting with the media:
Be Available. I’ll start with my biggest pet peeve: when companies send out a press release, but the person quoted in the release is not available for an interview that day. When the release hits the wire or reporters’ inboxes, make sure the spokesperson is not at an “all-day off-site meeting” or has just left for vacation, and block off time for interviews.
Avoid email interviews. Companies often say no one is available for a phone interview, but they’d be happy to do an email interview. I try to avoid this, but in some cases, I have to agree. (Some companies rarely do phone interviews, but if their news/point of view is highly pertinent to my article, I will accept email answers. In other cases, the spokesperson might be travelling/in a different time zone and email works best for both parties.) The results are usually unsatisfactory: the answers read like a press release, the tone is not conversational, and there’s no chance for follow-up questions. Instead of offering answers by email, ask the writer for the questions/discussion topics in advance of a phone interview. That way, you can be prepared, but your answers will be more conversational and your quotes will be more usable.
Don’t give up on press releases. There are a lot of reports about the death of the press release, but many media outlets still find them useful. While writers now mine social channels for news, the news editors I work with check the wire multiple times a day. Even if you don’t get coverage when an announcement comes out, having press releases on the wire may come in handy for future stories. If I’m writing a feature on sustainability, for example, I’ll search for press releases on this topic, and will reach out to companies with news in this area.
Provide access. Giving journalists an insider’s look is guaranteed to put you in their good books. This could be anything from a plant tour, to a cooking demo at a test kitchen, to attending a meeting. I once was assigned a profile on a prominent advertising executive, and she invited me to attend an informal meeting designed for new employees to get to know one another. She didn’t tell the group that I was a writer from a trade publication. The staff members went around the table and talked about their backgrounds and answered questions. I appreciated the opportunity to get an insider’s look and it added a lot of colour to the story.
I know PR people also have pet peeves about journalists, but these are just a few ways to improve your chances of getting coverage and build stronger relationships with journalists (or at the very least, not annoy them).