When advancing in public relations, nothing is more valuable than a Rolodex of trusted media contacts. During these difficult times, editorial relationships can define a practitioners capacity to secure positive coverage and become key differentiators when competing for highly contested positions. Last week, PRSA’s Young Professionals group sat down with journalists Scott Thill and Kate O’Hare at the Beverly Hills Library to gain insight into their editorial perspective, review pitching tips and discuss preferred communication methods.
Scott Thill: A freelance journalist whose writing has appeared in Wired, Salon, XLR8R, Alternet, Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, LA Weekly and more, Scott gave us his perspective of freelance journalist. (He can also be found @morphizm.)
Kate O’Hare: TV columnist with Tribune Media Services and blogger, Kate gave us her perspective on journalism, public relations and how we can all work together. (She can also be found @KateOH.)
The panel moderator was YP Program Co-Chair Gabriel del Rio (@gdelrio). A recap of the program is included below. (The event was also live tweeted by @ceematt and can be found by searching for the #PRSA-LA tag.)
A typical day at the office? “It’s never typical”
For Scott, there isn’t a typical day for him is working 10 – 12 hours from his home office. Having started in sports, he freelances for a variety of publications and shared that he’s always open to something. “You guys are our life line.” As a freelance journalist, he shared that he doesn’t have time to chase down everything that’s of interest, and relies on public relations professionals to do the chasing for him. The only rule he shared is to make what you’re pitching interesting. (A very outgoing character, Scott shared that if he’s not interested in what you’re talking about, chances are he can’t sell it to his editors and the readers wont find it interesting either.)
For Katie, a journalist who works in a news room setting in Downtown LA a typical day is different. Working within Tribune Media Services, she focuses solely on covering television for the syndicate. She too shared the life blood sentiment, and professional dependency journalists have with PR pros. For her, work is like a train that never stops moving. “We take 2 – 3 weeks to prep for stories, so we’re always working on what’s next.”
How many emails do you get from PR pros? (Be honest.)
Both agreed it’s probably more than 250 a day (from different PR pros), not counting the duplicates from the same professional.
What’s the worst thing PR pros can do?
Don’t fall into the unreliable column!! “We depend entirely on publicists to feed the beast,” shared Kate. Becoming unreliable – saying you have an interview, information or something lined up for a journalist and not being able to pull-through when you say you will (especially on tight deadlines) is considered a cardinal sin in their books. “We’ll push you to the limit,” Kate shared, but be honest when you can get something and when you can’t.
Also, Kate shared this tid-bit about pitching: “I’ll take suggestions, but I don’t take orders. That’s just not how it works.”
Creating and keeping relationships.
A few things to follow:
1. Make sure you don’t abuse your relationships with reporters.
2. Make sure your clients can give you what they’re saying – or don’t offer it!
Communication methods – phone vs. email vs. snail mail?
Both Kate and Scott agreed – email is absolutely better than phone calls. (Scott even shared that he use email for interviews to make it easier.) Why you ask?
Kate: To me emails are like IMs. I transitioned to email a long time ago and you’re interrupting my flow when I have to pause to answer the phone. (And voice mails for pitching, forget it!) It also makes it much easier for me because everything I do has to get forwarded and approved by my editor, so having it in email saves me TONS of time.
Scott: It depends on the reporter, totally depends on what they want. But for the most part, everyone’s on their Blackberry or at their inbox and it’s just easier.
• Start the dialogue via email. Especially if I’ve never talked to you before – include the 5 Ws and H, and know your window. If there’s a timeframe associated with what you’re pitching (for example a new TV show airing next week) put that in the subject line.
• If we don’t respond to your email it doesn’t necessarily mean we deleted it or we’re not interested. An email reminding me is totally appropriate. A follow up email is totally better than a phone call when I’m on deadline or chasing another story.
• KISS! Keep it short and simple! Make sure the information’s accurate and straight-forward. (One idea: pitch me like it’s Twitter; keep it to 140 characters.)
• Know your audience. Know the outlet and the journalist you’re pitching. Everyone’s on some social network, so do your homework and make sure you’re sending the information that’s the right fit for the right outlet. (For example, don’t send decoupage tips to Surfer Magazine.)
• Make your relationship as productive as possible. You can still be a person and be personable to build the relationship. (A genuine complement on a reporters’ previous article can always be a good start.)
• Let them say no. Don’t make it hard or painful for them to turn you down. Be gracious with their time.
Transitioning into a resource.
With every journalist it’s different. But you can always let us know what clients you’re working on and what you could potentially offer. The ask may not come next week – or next month even, but if we had a good working relationship with you, chances are we’ll come back when there’s an opportunity to do so.
Wanna learn more about pitching media?
YP recomends you check out the Bad Pitch Blog and other resources in the blogroll.