In public relations, we are all infused with an inherent sense of the classic newsroom spirit.
I can say this firsthand, having spent years as a news and business reporter. I know that newsrooms work as a trinity – they function quickly, they function as efficiently as possible, and they are ever-changing. Yet the one thing all newsrooms have in common is that they all operate under the direction of the ever-crucial deadline.
When I had a story to write, I was always working against the clock, never for it. Rarely do reporters have the opportunity to breathe and actually plot out what they’re doing or think far enough ahead that they can get a jump on projects. In the process, I would receive countless emails and calls from PR professionals trying to sell me on a story they felt was spectacular. Unfortunately, most never took the time to research my beat or areas of focus. That’s why their emails would be deleted and their phone calls would last less than 10 seconds.
Being immersed in journalism taught me to work fast and ultimately develop an innate sense of what would make a good story versus what sounded flashy but realistically had no substance. If a PR representative could make their client sound fun, relevant and innovative, I was usually sold, especially as I was trying to cross items off my journalistic agendas as the minutes ticked by. I’ve since learned that in PR, we must do the opposite – work for the clock to better engage reporters and pique their interests on whatever event, topic or client innovation we send their way in a thorough yet succinct email or phone call.
In a newsroom, you learn to write more to the point and in a language understandable by “those with an eighth grade education” as my editorial superiors used to say. In my case, these same skills have transferred over to the world of PR. You want to tout a client in as simple a manner as possible, while making sure not to detract from the qualities that make them newsworthy.
Working in PR, I also think like a newsroom, i.e. be as proactive as possible from the time I get to the office until the time I leave several hours later. I am always attuned to the news cycle and monitor for shifts in breaking news and trends of the day. If I’m positioning a client as a thought leader, I need to see what’s being written in real-time that would be a complementary fit for both the client and the reporter. Once this is achieved, the window of opportunity slowly opens up but the crack it leaves behind may be suddenly closed if the client is not positioned properly.
I’ve also learned to cast a wide distribution net when reaching out to reporters, all the while trying to garner their interest in my clients. Where one might ignore me completely, there’s usually another whose eyebrow darts up and thinks, “That could be interesting.” My job is then to develop and cultivate a relationship with that writer or editor on behalf of my client which hopefully results in immediate—and future—coverage.
The bottom line is this. In order to appeal to reporters we in PR need to think like reporters. We need to know the beats they cover, the tone of their pieces, and what ultimately interests them in terms of topics. We have a head start if we ourselves first came from the world of print or broadcast journalism given that we used to be on the receiving line of frequent PR inquiries day after day. But even if we didn’t start out in this field, it’s our imperative to shape a client’s messaging in such a way that it sounds like it’s coming from someone who did.
Time is of the essence in public relations. We all must adhere to deadlines all to better assist our clients with media strategy. The more adept we become at thinking ahead and anticipating next steps, the better we will ultimately be at having reporters pay attention to us more often than not.