3 Ways Journalists and PR Pros Can Build a Better Relationship

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By Andy Stettler, Devine + Partners

Hey journalist friends! If there’s one thing media relations professionals want you to know, it’s this: the PR pro is only successful in the eyes of their clients when their story is covered or their content is published.

Yes, that sounds very selfish on our end. BUT, as a media relations professional and former journalist for 9 years, I know that journalists need OUR assistance on discovering stories and creating fresh content. So as the old saying goes, ‘team work makes the dream work’ and it all starts with open communication between journos and PR pros.

In my short stint working both sides of the aisle, here are my three ways that journalists and media relations pros can develop a truly valuable relationship.

Journalists: Share What Helps and Make That the Standard

When I was an executive editor, my favorite relationships with PR folks were with those who took the time to understand what I would needed to “get your story in the paper” and online.

This common understanding came when I let the PR pros know what kinds of topics our audiences loved to read and what kinds of media (photos, video, and story ideas about specific topics) would really help us to produce a better story.

For example, with a smaller newsroom, I recommended press releases and some accompanying visuals as the best way to alert us to a potential story. This way, if we couldn’t send someone to cover the event, we could at least reference the press release to produce a story alerting our readers to the news.

Can’t cover it? Ask for Submitted Content

There was a time when “submitted content” meant low-quality, shamelessly self-promoting content. That’s not the case these days. Many public and media relations professionals were once journalists, and they too now understand that promotional content doesn’t attract readers but objectively balanced content does. Will you need to change the voice for your readership? Maybe! Journalists need to be more open minded to submitted and creative content. Increasingly, we are in the same business of gaining eyeballs on content.

As newsrooms continue to shrink, editors have to rely more and more on content that is produced by the community it covers.

It’s true, we will always need reporters to do the digging when it comes to investigative journalism like exposing covering corruption, but when it comes to stories about events, people and achievements, submitted content can be a valuable resource that benefits both journalists and PR pros.

While working as a regional digital director in the Philadelphia suburbs, I had no live writing staff but would often find great pitches in my inbox that were sometimes just too good to ignore.

So what would I do when my work was overwhelming and there was no one to assign for coverage? I would ask for photos, a video or some form of media that could be used in a digital online post. And when the headline was interesting, the photos well framed and the social posts were bound to catch eyes, I knew we had a great piece of content that could contribute to our overall goal of growing online audience.

If You’re Not Interested, Just Say So

Yes, anyone in media relations would be disappointed to hear that their pitch did not convince a reporter or editor to cover the topic, but I now know that leaving the PR team hanging will only waste their time and leave you, most likely, annoyed.

Be honest. If the content isn’t worth covering, politely let them know. This way, they can move on to another media outlet, and you won’t see two to three more follow up emails coming your way on a subject you are not even interested in.

Note: PPRA is composed of many distinct organizations and individuals, each with different perspectives and specializations in diverse areas of public relations. Many of these members’ websites feature blogs with valuable insights and advice, and we would like to make this content available to you. Periodically, we will repost content from member blogs. If you would like to see your company’s blog considered, email Stephen Krasowski at skrasowski@rmahq.org.

 

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Connecting with Diverse Audiences: A Media Panel with Philadelphia’s Diversity Leaders

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Photos by Bill Allen of Perception Media

 

By Melissa Fordyce, Presby’s Inspired Life Community Support Center

On Thursday, January 17, the Philadelphia Public Relations Association (PPRA) invited a panel of six leaders in media diversity to Del Frisco’s steakhouse to share their insights on the role diversity plays in shaping our news outlets and messaging. Moderated by PPRA Hall of Famer David Brown, assistant professor at Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication, the panel featured:

• Sandra Clark, Vice President for News and Civic Dialogue, WHYY
• Mike Days, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, Philadelphia Media Network
• Andy Gotlieb, Managing Editor, The Jewish Exponent
• Hernán Guaracao, Publisher and CEO, AL DÍA
• Irving Randolph, Managing Editor, The Philadelphia Tribune
• Mark Segal, Publisher, Philadelphia Gay News

Brown opened the discussion with the question of what diversity is and why the topic is so important. The overwhelming and consistent response from the panelists was that, as a media entity, their respective outlets have the moral and ethical obligation to cover their communities, and those communities are diverse. Therefore, diverse reporting and coverage is a necessity.

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“Philadelphia is a minority-majority city,” said Segal. “If you are a newspaper, you have a social importance to record what is going on in your city at that given time. We have a small staff at PGN, but a diverse staff. How can we cover all different types of people and communities if they aren’t a part of our staff?”

Days added, “If you have a diverse staff and you allow them to be their authentic selves, your company is going to do better.”

Randolph noted the immense responsibility the media has in shaping people’s perceptions. “How people are perceived in many ways is determined by how people are portrayed,” he said. “And in the media business, we often determine, in many ways—in what we report and what we cover—how groups and people are perceived. And how people are perceived often determines policy, action, etc.”

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“Diversity is a part of everything we do,” Gotlieb added. “Even our budgets reflect diversity.”

Clark spoke about how WHYY recently took a strategic look at its programming—what it covers, who it covers, and the types of people that are featured as a part of those stories, i.e. panelists and experts. She noted, “It’s important to think about not only who is included, but who is excluded, and remember much of our country is not exposed to each other.”

Shhhh! Here’s the Real Reason That Reporter Won’t Answer Your Phone Call

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By Sarah Larson, Furia Rubel Communications

Like most public relations agencies, Furia Rubel subscribes to media database services, and we have tried a handful of them over the years. Most are laughably outdated, in an industry that changes rapidly, or inexplicably incorrect, a point that was driven home to me on two recent occasions.

The first time I realized just how out of date most databases are was when a media contact list for a particular pitch for a health and science client included – drum roll please – myself, in my previous role as editor of a digital news organization. The second occasion occurred when I noticed that the database listing for a former colleague, who is a sportswriter in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, said that he covers pigeon racing. Um…not so much. (Note to self: what reporter does cover pigeon racing as a regular beat?)

Media databases do have some value, particularly for researching regional or international media outlets. However, they should be a communications professional’s first, not the only, stop in their media pitching research, because contact information alone will not get you past the first gauntlet: actually getting in touch with that journalist.
Nearly every listing for every journalist in these third-party media databases includes the journalist’s “preferred” method of contact, as reported to the database company. And there’s a reason that nearly every journalist claims to prefer to be reached by email.
Why is that?

Because she doesn’t like you.

More accurately, she probably sees most PR people as annoyances. If they’re being honest, most reporters will tell you that they’ve had dozens or hundreds of negative encounters over the years with PR people who have no idea how the news is actually reported. If you are a random PR person calling a reporter to whom you have never spoken, 9 out of 10 times, that phone call will kick over to voicemail. Why? That reporter doesn’t know you, she doesn’t know why you’re calling, and she’s busy. She doesn’t want to spend three minutes on the phone listening to a pointless pitch when she can scan and disregard an irrelevant email in a matter of seconds.

That is because journalists today are not just busy. They are overworked, in an industry that is frustrating and struggling and so very important, all at the same time, an industry where journalists are expected to do more and more with less and less with each passing month and with each subsequent layoff, buyout, and acquisition.

In this environment, triage kicks in. You answer only the calls that you know for certain will not waste your time. You cover only the stories in which a clear and direct contact to your beat, your coverage area, and your organization’s mission is immediately obvious.
So what does this mean for PR professionals and the clients we represent? Should we not even bother to try to pitch story ideas to journalists? Should we meekly email every story pitch one time, as directed, and slink away?

No, of course not. It just means PR pros have to be better.

You must get to know the reporters that cover the industry or geographic area in which your clients operate. One way to glean great insight is to follow them on social media, read their posts, review their writing style and get a sense of their schedules and deadlines.

Just this week, a Philadelphia social scene reporter publicly chastised a PR person for emailing him four times in two weeks asking if he would post her client’s event on his blog. He said, and I paraphrase, if she would have looked at my blog, she would have seen that I’ve been so busy that I haven’t posted to it in weeks. And if she looked at my Facebook feed, she would have seen that I’ve been busy covering events just about every night. Now’s, she’s blacklisted.

To be effective, a PR pro must research the journalist and outlet as they operate now, not according to what a database says they do. You need to be sensitive to their schedules. If they are in the middle of a months-long investigation or on a three-week stint of working night events or meetings, your feature story pitch likely will be more successful if you wait another week. To make those judgment calls, you must know what an individual journalist covers and what they don’t, and understand why they make those decisions. That way, you can anticipate their objections and address them head-on by demonstrating your story’s clear value to the journalist immediately.

That means you must fine-tune the actual pitches to be brief and attention-getting. A story pitch should include enough information to demonstrate the clear connection to that reporter’s beat or the outlet’s coverage area and focus, but should be short enough for a busy journalist to digest on the fly.

It also definitely should not include all the information that you have to share about the topic. Journalists are curious beasts; they want to learn and they want to discover information. The purpose of the pitch is to get them interested enough in the story idea to want to learn more. Then you can get them on the phone or set up an in-person meeting to discuss the story further. That approach is far more likely to lead to a published or produced story that is relevant and interesting to all parties – the PR pro, the client, the journalist, and the audience.

Once you’ve demonstrated to a journalist that you understand what kind of stories they are interested in, they are far more likely to take a phone call from you the next time. Because now, she knows you and she knows that you wouldn’t call her and waste her precious time. And that is a relationship you won’t find in any database.

Note: PPRA is composed of many distinct organizations and individuals, each with different perspectives and specializations in diverse areas of public relations. Many of these members’ websites feature blogs with valuable insights and advice, and we would like to make this content available to you. Periodically, we will repost content from member blogs. If you would like to see your company’s blog considered, email Stephen Krasowski at skrasowski@rmahq.org.

Use Personnel News to Showcase Your Organization

By SPRYTE Communications

When it comes to telling your story, one of the most overlooked – or under-appreciated – opportunities is the classic personnel announcement.

Many times, personnel announcements end up falling into the “we’ll get around to it” category of priorities. After all, healthcare organizations often expend a great deal of time and energy (as well as expense) in attracting and landing top-flight professional staff to help them move forward.

Why not take the opportunity to tell the world (or at least your key clients and industry colleagues) about the exciting new developments taking place and the new people that are joining your healthcare organization?

Points of Distinction
What is the story you’re looking to tell? Is it solely about a new hire, or is there something more to say that can help brandish the image of your organization and distinguish it from your competition? At the very least, that’s a point you should consider whenever such opportunities arise.

Recently, SPRYTE reunited for a special project with a client that we’ve worked with off and on for the past 20 or so years. The opportunity brought back a lot of warm memories about past campaigns and projects, so we were thrilled to get the call to help Home Care Associates (HCA), a prominent Philadelphia based agency providing in-home respite and senior care to clients throughout the city and region. One of the things that makes HCA unique is that it is a women-owned business and worker-owned cooperative that has received national recognition as a welfare to workforce model. (In fact, more than 60 percent of HCA’s employees formerly received public assistance.) In addition, it is certified as a socially-conscious B Corp.

Back to the Future
The new project involved the announcement of a new CEO. The retiring CEO was well-known throughout the Philadelphia region as community-involved, politically-connected and every effective leader. HCA wanted to make sure they were hiring the right person. So a national search was conducted.

After several months of searching, it became apparent that the best candidate for the job had been there all along.

Tatia Cooper had begun at HCA in 1994 as a job coach. She’d held numerous positions at HCA in a steady rise up the organization’s ladder and was considered for the CEO role even as the national search began.

The Company You Keep
HCA leaders readily understood the message that Ms. Cooper’s appointment would send. Even after a national search, the qualified and capable candidate turned out to be an individual who had steadily worked her way through the organization, learning the various aspects of the company and earning her promotion to the top job.

In fact, Ms. Cooper personally developed a number of professional tools and approaches that directly impact HCA workers’ success, including supportive approaches to housing, health, transportation and child care challenges.

For a company that prides itself on being a woman-owned, worker-owned model, it would be hard to imagine a better example to reflect the values and the commitment of the organization as it moves forward.

Rollout and Response
Regional business, newspapers and other media outlets were quick to pick up the story, highlighting Ms. Cooper in an assortment of “Personnel News” and business announcement columns.

As part of the follow-up, we concentrated on Ms. Cooper’s personal story – in particular the fact that her family story of community commitment is one that goes back generations. Her grandmother, for example, was a well-known and highly-respected advocate for economic and social justice who served many years in the Pennsylvania Department of Education looking out for the interests of students.

Her mother, meanwhile, is a widely-respected community activist in her own right, was one of the original staff members and later became Executive Director of the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center for Women.

In addition, her aunt is President of the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation in Philadelphia and has been working for years to restore and renovate this famous North Broad Street community venue.

All in all, it’s an impressive story about a very impressive family of community leaders.
The angle has led to one local radio interview appearance, with other opportunities in the works.

For healthcare communicators, the moral of the story is to think creatively. It may sometimes seem that personnel announcements are a necessary chore that simply need to be disseminated in a timely fashion.

It often pays to look deeper. Is there a more meaningful and relatable story that can be told that will advance the interests or the image of your organization? At the same time you’re sending a message internally, that a promotion or new hire is in fact newsworthy.
You might have to dig a little deeper, but very often the extra work will be worth the effort.

Note: PPRA is composed of many distinct organizations and individuals, each with different perspectives and specializations in diverse areas of public relations. Many of these members’ websites feature blogs with valuable insights and advice, and we would like to make this content available to you. Periodically, we will repost content from member blogs. If you would like to see your company’s blog considered, email Stephen Krasowski at skrasowski@rmahq.org.

Communicating the Merger

By Kirk Dorn, Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy

When two companies merge, or one is acquired by another, the immediate reaction from many stakeholders is trepidation.

Employees may fear for their jobs or benefits. Stockholders worry about profits. Customers wonder about the quality of the product.

At Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy, we’ve worked hand-in-hand with business owners as they’ve gone through the process of merger and acquisition. Our job is to help them get the proper message out to all concerned parties.

And, in doing so, we are always guided by one word: Reassurance.

Clearly, transactions like this are not always good news for all sides. After all, the point of a merger is efficiency and that often translates to fewer employees. When two organizations become one, they don’t need two chief financial officers or, perhaps, as many workers at the plant.

But the goal, of course, is the greater good. We aim to reassure everyone involved that the changes will ultimately be beneficial for the future of the company, its investors, its workers and its customers.

Recently, we worked with a large educational services company that was acquired by a much smaller company. It was that rare case of a minnow swallowing a whale. Concern rippled through the staff of the company being taken over. We needed to let them know they were in no current danger of losing their jobs. Reassurance.

In another case, we represented a high-end restaurant group that was bought out by a larger restaurant company. It’s fair to say that the purchasing group’s chain of restaurants were more basic, in both price and menu. We moved to let all concerned parties – including patrons – know that the fancy eateries’ quality would not be compromised. Reassurance.

The first order of business in both cases was to help the companies’ leaders prepare their message breaking the news to high-ranking managers. Those managers, in turn, explained the changes to groups of employees.

In-person meetings are always best in these cases because impactful news deserves personal attention. Something might get lost in translation, even in well-written memos. Ceisler Media experts helped the managers prepare scripts they could read or use as cheat sheets. We also equipped them with likely questions and appropriate answers.

If an in-person meeting is not possible with every employee, we recommend video as an option. In these cases, the spoken word is almost always more effective than the written word.

Then there are the customers. In the case of our educational services company, we needed to reassure affected school districts that, even after taking on a large debt service, the newly created firm could still deliver the excellent service they were used to receiving. So Ceisler’s team helped company executives script phone calls to every school district.

For that restaurant acquisition, a main objective was to tell customers of the fancy establishments that food quality would be as good as ever. So we told frontline staffers to refer any customer questions to management. In these deals, worker bees are usually the least affected – you still need cooks and servers and busboys. The savings come in the back office – accountants, IT staff, HR people. Once those frontline employees understand their jobs are secure, they are happy to support the company and turnover inquiries to managers.

Keep in mind that any written materials for employees could make their way to news media.

Remember that if you are preparing an email blast or letter.

Ah yes, the media. Once employees have been informed, it’s time to broadcast the news – if there is a reason to do so. Sometimes the mergers or acquisitions aren’t all that interesting to media or there is no benefit to coverage. That’s a determination a Ceisler Media communications expert can help make. We have had cases where one company bought another to bail it out. It was not in either’s interest to publicize the deal.

If, however, there is a benefit to publicly sharing the news – or if it somehow gets out inadvertently – you’ve got to prepare your messaging. Come up with as many questions and strategic answers as you can for media interviews. Conduct mock interviews with the CEO. Know that when you go to the media you are talking to all of your audiences, as well as employees who already know the news.

Even as you prepare the message, realize ahead that you may not be able to answer all questions. False information may get out there. Sometimes you have to stay silent because you cannot validate – or dispel – a rumor.

One final point: The mergers and acquisitions we typically hear about in media are the huge ones. The rules change in those mega-cases because they receive so much scrutiny. But for the average case, following a systematic plan of reassurance for all audiences will produce the best results.

Note: PPRA is composed of many distinct organizations and individuals, each with different perspectives and specializations in diverse areas of public relations. Many of these members’ websites feature blogs with valuable insights and advice, and we would like to make this content available to you. Periodically, we will repost content from member blogs. If you would like to see your company’s blog considered, email Stephen Krasowski at skrasowski@rmahq.org.