Although it seems less common these days, there are still a fair number of us
public relations practitioners who enter the business by crossing over from the
journalist’s side of the notebook.
When you make that transition, you become something of an oracle.
Colleagues and clients expect you to be the walking, talking answer to the
Rubik’s cube puzzle of how to gain the attention of the media. If only it were
Landing media placements is at least as much about art as it is science.
But it’s also about you and who you are as a PR person. What did I learn in two
decades of writing and editing for newspapers, magazines and news services?
First of all, a PR pro doesn’t need a journalistic pedigree to succeed with
But you do have to possess something else: knowledge of what journalists
really want from PR people. I’m not talking about what journalists want from
your story – that’s another subject.
I’m talking about you. Do you know what journalists want from you, as the
individual who’s e-mailing, faxing, calling and (too often, I fear) pestering
Here’s my short list of attributes that will get you a hearing from journalists
(and that’s all you want – your story will sink or float on its own merits):
1. Honest brokers
Journalists know PR people have something to promote – a company, a
product, a point of view. That’s not the issue.
It’s whether the journalist trusts that the story is coming from someone who
won’t waste their time – someone who has invested the effort to understand
them, their organization, their boss, and whether the story might interest the
audience the journalist serves.
Trust is fundamental – but it’s also earned. Becoming an honest broker
requires more than one conversation with a journalist. It requires enough
dialogue that a relationship and a history of honest dealings can be
Face it, journalists don’t want to talk to PR people – at least not on the record,
and not as newsmakers.
Good PR practitioners know they’re not newsmakers. They recognize that their
role is to make stories happen, not be part of them. So good PR pros focus on
being matchmakers, putting journalists together with the sources who make
stories come alive.
For the PR pro, as well as the journalist, it’s all about the story. It’s not about
you, or the institutional challenges you face in making the story happen. It’s
about making the story real. And that leads me to what journalists really,
really want from PR practitioners (and what we should strive to be):
3. Advocates for communication
No journalist wants to deal with a PR person who’s primarily unavailable, and
when he or she is available, has a vocabulary limited to phrases such as “no
All other things being equal (including working for an organization or a leader
who doesn’t communicate) journalists still give the benefit of the doubt to a PR
person whom they know to be an advocate of communication.
That doesn’t mean someone who’s going to speak at inappropriate times about
subjects that aren’t in the best interests of their organization. It means
someone who understands deadlines, editors, the competition and the other
pressures that journalists face while trying to do their jobs.
It means someone who understands that the best interests of their
organization always include good relationships with the news media, the
trusted purveyors of independent information for the customers, employees,
investors and other audiences that the PR pro wants to reach.
In the end, that’s what all of media relations is really about: A good journalist
and a good PR pro want to serve their audiences first.
It’s not always possible for journalists and PR pros to achieve that objective
from their respective viewpoints in every interaction. But over the course of
time, in a relationship of trust, respect and understanding, honest brokers who
facilitate the story and advocate for communication will succeed in landing