As a former journalist, I bring a perspective to PPBH that comes from working in the trenches side-by-side with the reporters and producers for nearly a decade. Before making the jump to what many journalists lovingly refer to as the “dark side,” I found myself smack in the middle of a newsroom evolution and picked up some great tips along the way.
The fact is, we are in an era where journalism is rapidly changing. From the influence of social media to cuts in staffing, newsrooms are continuously evolving across all media. With these changes come unique challenges and opportunities. That means public relations professionals need to evolve and adapt to today’s news environment. Tactics that worked well for clients just a few years ago do not work as well today.
Here are few tips and tricks that will ensure your clients don’t get left in the dust:
Press conferences are boring. Gone are the days of simply sending out a media advisory and having news crews show up in droves to a boring staged press conference featuring “talking heads.” While this tactic is still revered by many clients, it just doesn’t make for a good news story. If your client must have a formal press conference, arrange for media interviews with key players before the event. With reporters covering multiple stories in one day, it is simply not realistic to expect them to sit through an hour-long press conference just to get their interviews at the very end. In fact, if your client is willing to try something new, consider hosting a media briefing rather than a press conference. It is a great way to provide journalists with the opportunity to come get their interviews, video and photos in a flexible setting and timeframe that works well for them. The stories they produce will also come across more authentic, and you will often get better coverage than you would from a standard press conference.
Keep it simple. Press kits can be a very helpful tool in telling a client’s story. Make sure that the key messaging doesn’t get lost in a “creative” press kit. Be sure to provide media with a simple fact sheet that is easy to read and understand. I can’t tell you how many times I passed on a story just because the press kit was too complicated and the information was not presented well. Journalists don’t have time to read a novel. They need the information quickly and seamlessly.
Find the human interest story. With so many news stories to choose from each day, if your pitch doesn’t have a human-interest factor it may get overlooked. Contrary to popular belief, public officials do not always make the best interviews. In fact, there are some news outlets that do not allow reporters to use public official interviews in a story. That creates a challenge for PR professionals because you might have to really work to find the human interest story that will capture a journalist’s attention. Always ask yourself, “So what? How does this affect the audience? Why would they care?” That is exactly what the reporter, producer or assignment editor asks when a pitch or press release comes across their desk.
News photographers are your ally. Many PR professionals only consider their event or story a success by the number of reporters in attendance. However, in today’s evolving newsrooms crews are doing more with less. In fact, it is not uncommon for a photographer to be sent out solo to shoot a package or story to pass off to a reporter. As a PR professional, it is your job to treat photographers with the same respect you would treat a reporter. Make sure that a photographer gets everything he or she needs and that you are as accommodating to them as possible. Never forget that the photographer is your ally, and the fate of your client’s story often rests in their hands. Don’t get discouraged if the photographer doesn’t show up with a reporter. Photographers have a huge impact on a story and its success.
Sometimes, you’ve got to pay to play. The reality is many opportunities for earned media have gone the way of the dinosaurs. The economic downturn has impacted news outlets, and that has led to many companies looking for unique ways to make up the difference. You may have heard of a new “added value” opportunity where a news station will offer interview slots on a news program as part of an advertising package. In the past this was a fairly common occurrence for lifestyle shows, but added value has now crossed over into the news realm. The good thing is, it gives a client another great opportunity to ensure their message is communicated to target audiences.
Relationships are key. It can be easy to get stuck in a rut and forget that in PR it really is our job to work hand in hand with the media. We all have a job to do, and we need each other to do it. All PR professionals should take the time and effort to get to know the journalists you are working with. It can pay huge dividends for your clients.
We can never forget that newsrooms are in a constant state of change. The tips I shared today may not be relevant six months from now. As the news industry changes, PR professionals need to learn and adapt quickly to ensure continued success. Flexibility is key, and you can’t be afraid to try new things. In the end, your clients will thank you for it it.