The relationship between PR professionals and media is often seen as a necessary evil, especially by media. In my sector of tech PR, reporters rely on us to connect them with brands and keep them in the know about upcoming news. We in turn depend on them to generate the coverage that keep our clients happy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Every PR pro has experienced the stomach-churning moment when coverage goes bad or a piece doesn’t run in time for an embargo lift and we scramble to fix the situation before things fall apart.
While we sometimes have to deal with these scenarios in the moment, there are best practices for anticipating and avoiding disaster. Best of all, you can keep the relationship in good standing. Based on interviews with my favorite media contacts, here are four tips for doing just that.
Most media criticisms of the way PR pros operate have to do with poorly targeted pitches, careless e-mail blasts and apathy or ignorance about a journalist’s beat. While a well-placed mail merge can result in some good “quick hits,” PR people are ultimately doing disservice to their reputation — and the agency’s — with a tactic that is short-term at best. On the flip side, an informed pitch to a handful of media targets can get the same results or better, without causing aggravation. It may seem like an extra effort, but in the long run, it saves both time and friction.
PR people often don’t understand the journalist writing processes. And while it’s common for PR teams to be under the gun for securing announcement coverage, it’s unrealistic to expect a tech reporter to agree to coverage under tight timelines. The article workflow is intense. A writer must get familiar with the news, draft a piece, wait for copy editors to flag changes, make edits and then schedule it for publication. Sending a reporter a release at 5:00 PM with an embargo lift scheduled for 8:00 AM the following day — or moving an established embargo date up — only results in frustration and destroys the tenuous trust between both parties.
One of the surest ways to destroy a reporter’s trust in PR is to mislead or grossly embellish what’s considered “news” for the sake of getting coverage. While honeypotting a reporter with the promise of exclusive or ‘top-secret’ information to mask a less interesting story may sound clever, it’ll only ensure that they never trust you again. Be as honest as possible about the content you’re pitching, even if it makes finding a home for news difficult. This will result in more karma points with media and will be an education in navigating soft story outreach overall. On the flip side, see this earlier post for a few rules to break for killer media relations.
PR pros should be wary of when and how they go about using the ‘exclusive’ for coverage – meaning, we offer a specific journalist first crack at a story. The exclusive works best for a large targeted story in a high-profile outlet or to make a softer piece of news more attractive to a relevant mid-tier or trade outlet. Regardless of the scenario, a surefire way to alienate a contact is to promise them the exclusive and retract it when a bigger outlet comes knocking. Even if it’s a second or third choice, you made the pact to give them the news. Taking it back will burn a bridge, and it’s never worth it. While it may seem like “no big deal” in the short term, if or when that contact moves to a better publication, your long-forgotten mistake will come back to haunt you twofold.
Once of the challenges we face in technology PR is a bad review for a client product or service. No matter the stakes, it’s never a good idea to attack a journalist over a negative review, unless it’s factually incorrect. Instead, understand who the reviewer is. Learn the ratio of favorable to unfavorable reviews for similar products and be aware of the pros and cons of the product itself. Product reviews are ultimately reflective of the reporter’s experience. Therefore, they’re paradoxically both subjective and objective. If the content of a review is factually wrong, then PR pros have a responsibility to sensibly and courteously rebut the errors and ask for a correction. If there’s nothing incorrect, badgering a reviewer to change their take simply to appease a client will only damage the reporter relationship and ensure that that reviewer won’t collaborate again.
These are just a handful of tips for better cultivating and nurturing relationships with tech journalists and those in other verticals that we’ve seen work best here at Crenshaw. See this earlier post for more ways to cultivate better PR/media relationships.