Thursday, May 29, 2008

What Reporters want from PRos

Earlier this week my public relations class had the opportunity to sit down with the editors from two of Portland’s alternative weekly newspapers. Kelly Clarke is the Arts and Culture Editor at the Willamette Week and Amy Ruiz is the News Editor at the Portland Mercury.

Both Editors offered their honest perspectives on the relationship between reporters and PRos.
Here are some great tips I took away from the conversation

1. Reporters use press releases as background information. Both women said they rarely write a story about a single press release. However, they will file press releases away and search through their email if a related story comes up.

2. Write a short description of your press release in your email. Having a three-sentence description of the press release will allow the reporter to quickly know why you are contacting them, and allowing them to decide quickly if they are interested or not. If your message is too long and complicated, chances are it won’t get heard.

3. Make sure you are sending your email to the right person. This might seem a bit obvious, but both editors said they constantly received emails directed to the wrong department. Both receive hundreds of emails a day and do not always have time to forward the email to the correct person. This also plays into the next tip.

4. Get to know the reporters you are pitching. Both contended that personalize messages sent to three reporters who might have a genuine interest are much more effective and efficient than sending a mass email. Nobody likes spam, and this includes reporters. I have heard of using twitter to get to know a reporter. I think this a great idea, but neither editor I spoke to is currently using twitter. They suggested reading past articles to get a sense of a reporter’s interests.

5. You know what happens when you assume… Don’t be presumptuous in your message. As alternative weeklies, these editors get plenty of messages saying: “Since you’re young and edgy your readers will like this.” The reporters were put off by these emails because the PRos assume they know the readers. Leave those decisions up to the reporters because they know their readers better than you do.

6. That follow up call is not necessary
If you have done everything correctly, chances are the reporter probably already received your message and has it safely saved in their inbox. If they are interested, they will let you know. Both editors found phone messages that give the same information as an email tedious and annoying. The only reason to call is if the reporter is a true luddite and hasn’t really caught on this whole email thing.

While not every reporter will have the same preferences, I think these are a great place to start. Please leave comments if you disagree or have had different experiences. I would love to get a discussion going in the comment section.


Eva Sylwester said...

Somehow I don't see Twitter catching on among reporters at all. Having worked in both PR and reporting, I see a huge cultural gap between the professions.

In reporter culture, fun is a trip to the public records office to look up dirt on everybody you know. Information is power. Reporters gain and maintain power by digging up sensitive information on others and keeping information about themselves as private as possible.
Why would they diminish their power by giving out personal information about themselves on Twitter?

Hannah said...

Interesting point. I suppose I think of everything from a PR stand point where we always want to get our message out there. We do want to protect sensitive data, but if we put it out there we want people to know about it. I am really careful not to tweet things that I wouldn't want a potential employer to see. I guess maybe reporters shouldn't tweet about things they wouldn't want a PRo to know about.

I've found in social media you have to strike a balance between being transparent and not airing your personal business publicly.

jbarrett said...

I think one of the biggest things when pitching to reporters is to treat and talk to them like human beings. If you focus on this rather than trying to get them to cover your story, chances are you're going to be more relaxed and you'll get the right information to them.
This whole stigma, that was debunked in the meeting we had with those reporters, about how reporters don't have time for PR people is bogus. Yeah, they are busy people like the rest of us, but the truth is, PR people provide reporters with their material a lot of the time. If we do our job correctly, reporters can do theirs easier and more efficiently.