A Local Journalist Answers Questions From A PR Agency

When putting together a media strategy for a new project, creative public relations teams know to look for ways to work with popular local or regional pubs. Of course, this works best when the company or organization is based in the area, but it doesn’t always have to be the case. If your story has resonance to residents of Westchester County, look to John Bruno Turiano, longtime senior editor of premiere regional publication, Westchester Magazine. John is very open to story ideas and the magazine covers a wide variety of topics spanning the area and the world. You just have to know how to communicate effectively. John was good enough to answer our “three questions from a PR agency” for this post.

What is one thing every PR person should know about pitching Westchester Magazine?

We are perennially swamped! Anything you can do to make your story idea as short and to the point as possible provides you a better opportunity for consideration. Westchester Magazine has a small, tight and busy core staff and a cadre of equally busy freelancers covering everything from restaurants and shopping to arts and entertainment and real estate. Because we move so fast and are always on deadline, we appreciate brief, super-focused pitches that tell us everything we need to know. Read the magazine, know the section and the editor and write your pitch like you were writing the story.

Any inside tips on forging/improving a relationship with a writer?

Although it should be part of PR 101, I would stress the importance of not trying to “sell” the writer on a client but instead giving us information (preferably with high-res photos) that will likely match/fit into our columns. The magazine also follows an editorial calendar and generally doesn’t deviate as so many residents rely on our popular annual issues including  “Fall Getaways” in the current edition as well as “Top Doctors” in November, Best Of in July, and many more. I’d also counsel PR pros to attend one or more of the various events the magazine sponsors to get to know the writers and editors who always attend. “These are real opportunities to get to know magazine staffers in a non-pitch environment and talk about other topics.” Finally, despite busy schedules, Westchester editors will have the occasional lunch or drinks and many longstanding relationships have been forged just that way.

What is the key to creating a subject line worthy of your attention?

Forget the flash; make it smart and quickly tell us what the press release or angle is about – and most importantly, why our readers will care. Even in the case of a story with a less-than-obvious tie to the area, if you can make a non-local story relevant to our readers, we will sit up and take notice.

A Journalist’s View: 3 Questions From A PR Firm

Geoff Williams, a personal finance and business writer who pens probing pieces for U.S. News & World Report and American Express OPEN Forum, understands the PR agency dynamic quite well. I have had the pleasure of working with him for years, and he agreed to take a few questions – the answers to which should help any PR person improve their media relationships.

What’s a big challenge you regularly face that a PR person can help with? Time.  When someone saves me time in some way, it’s like a little gift. A great timesaver that PR people can provide is to offer up all the possible information I will need on their client ahead of an interview. Not just name and title, but where, geographically, they work and a few other details so I don’t have to go hunting it down on the website (websites are often incomplete, outdated or contain inaccuracies!) Be as specific as you can. You can’t overload on the details, even if some end up edited out. Mention specialties, use “branding” language. I will try to provide the most detailed description for your client.  One more thing about time. I have mixed feelings about conference call interviews. I do them sometimes, but they seem to add a layer of lengthy time, as opposed to simply providing a phone number for your client.

How much do deadlines influence what stories you decide to write? There are two types of deadline in a writer’s world: deadlines from editors, and society’s deadlines. The holidays are coming, so that’s a deadline.  I look at the calendar for inspiration when I’m trying to come up with article ideas. Those are the deadlines that influence me the most. The deadlines that I have with my editor just makes me crazed and harried. So, back to society’s deadlines; just because it’s back-to-school time, or it’s Black Friday, doesn’t automatically mean I’ll write an article about it. It helps to tweak the angle, so it’s a genuine twist on a known holiday or time period. Just know that I don’t always write about them since my editors may have many other writers pitching those same stories.

How much does it matter to you if competitors have written about topics you’re considering? It really doesn’t matter to me. I focus mostly on personal finance and business articles, and it’s virtually impossible not to cover topics that competitors have written about in some way.  I will say that when I receive a mass emailed pitch, or any pitch that appears mass emailed, I do look at it skeptically because I know that if I go for it, 10 other writers or editors may be jumping on it, too.

And while it doesn’t bother me that a competitor has written about some topic before, you do feel kind of foolish if you see someone you’ve interviewed in another article from a competitor within the same week.  I understand that PR people are presumably under pressure to get their clients media coverage, and I can understand why they blanket the world with a pitch. But when I see those email pitches that were obviously sent to dozens of media people, I don’t exactly get excited about what I’m reading. I don’t envy a PR person’s job. I’m sure we make it tough on all of you!