The Keys to Communicating with Professional Journalists

One of those relationships we will inevitably have to build as public relations professionals is with news reporters and journalists. They may hold the power to get our stories, events, and clients in the press, but we have influence over the ever important brand. Business columnist Eric Wieffering talked to our PRSSA group about the best practices for a relationship between publicists and journalists. Eric has spent the last 25 years in journalism, with 14 of those being at the Star Tribune. Essentially, there are two situations where you will have to interact with reporters: when a writer calls you for information about a crisis or feature story and when you go to the reporter to promote a story. Eric gave guidelines to professionally navigate both situations.

Crisis Management

  • Be available – When there is a crisis or breaking news at your company, the best thing the spokesperson can do is answer the phone. Journalists are under tight deadlines; if you don’t talk to the reporter, you may not have a chance to get your side of the story to the public. Responding to the reporter’s needs is appreciated and critical. Eric also mentioned that it is generally best to give some sort of statement on the given situation opposed to saying “no comment”.
  • Be prepared – Part of the journalist’s job is to get accurate facts in a compelling manner. They may not always want to talk to the company’s spokesperson and may push to speak with a principal of the company.  Try your best to get the information they want to avoid negative images of the company.
  • “Become a counsel to your client. Figure out the risks and opportunities.” – In addition to being prepared, if a reporter comes to you looking for quotes or photographs, know what they are writing about. Don’t assume the story is going to be positive for the company; be proactive and aware. It is the publicist’s job to know what the story is and the possible repercussions.

Pitching Stories 

  • Know your reporter – For important stories, try to tailor your pitches to the specific reporter. Investigate what they like and what they typically write about. Of course, you can’t know exactly what everybody wants, but try to do your research.
  • Pitch new, fresh stories – A reporter is not going to write about ‘old news’. Pick the outlet you want most and try to offer some “exclusivity” with your big stories.
  • Keep it short – Between investigating, writing, blogging, and tweeting, the demand for a journalist’s time is a struggle. Many times, press releases go to the bottom of their to-do list. Be sure to include contact info so if there is interest, the writer can reach out to you for more information. “A good pitch is not a story. The pitch is going to sell the reporter, not the media kit.”
  • Write well – Creativity and originality are key to your press releases.  Even though your pitch may be short, spice it up with compelling writing.
  • “Be persistent, not overbearing.” – Be patient when waiting for a response. Reach out to the journalist a couple days after you e-mail them your press release. Don’t e-mail them at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday and call them Thursday morning expecting a response.

Thank you, Eric!!

This post was written by Brooke Ahlers (@blahlers) and edited by Kelsey Darnall (@KelseyJDarnall).

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About The New Take - University of Minnesota

Fresh new thoughts from writers in the University of Minnesota's PRSSA chapter.

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