You’re Doing It Wrong: 6 Things That Can Ruin Your Relations With Journalists

New technologies, and progress in general, affect various aspects of PR. What seems to come off as constant is the relations part. It’s weird that despite this knowledge we still manage to make so many reprehensible mistakes in this respect.

What will you learn from this article?

  1. What PR competencies are valued today
  2. What standards of collaborating with journalists are an absolute “must-have”
  3. What the media relations don’ts are/ What does media relations mean
  4. What is authorization/ How not to use authorization
  5. What inbound PR has to do with building relationships with the media

I’ve recently taught a digital PR class for postgraduate students in Internet Marketing. Our starting point was the definition of Public Relations, which has changed over the years, and the difference between traditionally understood PR and digital PR. We have touched upon key trends that affect how the recipients consume content today and through which channels a given message can reach them. We discussed what the perfect press release should include, what tools should be used at different campaign stages and how to measure their effectiveness.

We also looked through global reports to see what kind of activities consume the most time for PR professionals today and what are the biggest challenges they’re faced with, and whether AI is anywhere near taking away the jobs of PR professionals and what skills the market expects from them today. We collided the key takeaways with the position of PR in the structure of companies and organizations, which it has been aspiring to reach for years. This, in turn, led us to the question: why is there such a big gap between expectations and reality in this respect?

We weren’t able to find a ready answer. In my opinion, however, PR is trying hard and quite clumsily to adapt to the new circumstances, and the recent interview with Grzegorz Szczepański, which I found in Prowly Magazine, quite clearly sets out the vision of returning to the roots, or, in other words, building relations with the environment.

I think the time has come to restore PR to the essence of public relations, that is managing relations. For several decades PR has been dangerously flirting with communication, which I see as only as a means to an end for PR, not the end itself. We are in the ocean of professional communication industries. That’s why we’ve been put into one bag with advertising and marketing and lost what was our unique value and is summarized by the word »relations«,

Grzegorz Szczepański, President of Hill and Knowlton Strategies Poland

Grzegorz Szczepański, President of Hill and Knowlton Strategies Poland and the first Pole in the structures of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO), said in an interview with Magdalena Wosińska.

Let’s skip the root cause behind this reversing trend and focus on relations—specifically those with the media, which the reports I mentioned above place in high positions in terms of both key activities of PR pros (next to copywriting and editorial skills) and the competencies required from them (next to strategy, crisis communication, management, and campaigns). Interestingly, as for the above, PR has not changed for years. While the demand for employer branding or crisis management is increasing and the hype for PR specialists managing social media is falling, media relations or great writing skills have been persistently topping global lists.

Source: State of PR 2019, CIPR: Public relations activities most commonly undertaken in the current job

Source: State of PR 2019, CIPR: Most valued PR skills in senior positions

Source: State of PR 2019, CIPR: Most valued PR skills in junior positions

What the media relations don’ts are/ What does media relations mean

Does this mean that charts like the one below, prepared by PR specialists who have been spreading far and wide the words that they are doing much more than media relations, will once and for all disappear from the web?

I don’t think so, at least not anytime soon. So let me share with you a few practices that may affect your relations with journalists. I’ve been a journalist myself for 5 years, and one very close to the Public Relations market ;)

Source: SpinSucks

1. Failing to understand the needs and specific nature of the work

Buyer Persona—a buzzword that has become the Holy Grail of marketing. Meanwhile, the fact that the message has to be adapted to the audience and their needs is a no-brainer. Then why so many PR pros don’t think about who the journalist is working to reach with his message? If you want to build lasting and long-term relations with a media representative, you have to provide them with value, which is what will interest the journalist’s audience.

Just think about it, at every stage of the marketing Buyers’ Journey, the user encounters a different problem and has different needs. The marketer’s task is to respond to them, e.g., through content marketing activities. At the Awareness stage, we make the user aware and fully convinced. At the Consideration stage, we provide them with arguments that we’re better than our competitors, at the Decision stage we help them make the final decision, while at the Delight stage, we pamper the Clients that we’ve won over by getting them involved in joint campaigns.

The same scheme also applies to journalists: at the first stage, they have to write a text/prepare a podcast or a show, at the second stage they look for ideas, while at the third stage, they decide on the topic and do research to select brands and experts who will appear in the text:

Source: Iliyana Stareva

The question is, what are you doing to get them to approach you?

Here’s an interesting read in this topic, a book by Iliyana Stareva “Inbound PR: The PR Agency’s Manual to Transforming Your Business With Inbound”. Highly recommended!

2. Lack of preparation and respect

If you’re sending a press release or pitching a topic to a journalist, be prepared to answer some additional questions. Journalists, especially those dealing with the news, are in competition. That’s why they’re always hunting for some extra details that the competitive editorial team will not publish. Besides, they want to present the topic as exhaustively as possible, so that the reader gets the complete picture. It’s not about you suddenly becoming a specialist in the field, but there are certain rules. And these most certainly include:

  • basic knowledge of what you’re approaching the journalist with,
  • providing, if necessary, someone on the client’s side who would elaborate on the topic or make some comments for the journalist’s material,
  • relying only on reliable sources.

It would be great if you could also “sell” a personal attitude to the subject to the journalist. You’re not the only one who’s tired of telemarketers wanting to invite you to a cookware show.

And one more thing. Journalists are usually pressed for time. Don’t make them wait for your reply, try to respond fairly quickly, especially if you’re trying to interest them in a topic that is hot and trending “here and now”. The same goes for the conferences you organize; be sure to cross every “t” and start as planned, not with a half-hour delay. “Have you ever seen an Apple conference start a minute late? My point exactly,” wrote Piotr Zieliński from MediaLeaders in his guide. Respect and reciprocity, this is what builds relationships. Breaking these rules kills them. Those who don’t fail can expect the journalist’s calls much more often.

 What’s important is that it’s a lose-lose situation. The journalist cannot deliver on her duties, the company loses a coverage opportunity, and, in addition, may be considered disrespectful to the editorial team.

3. Unreliability

There’s nothing worse than flaking out on your promises. If you’re already the chosen one and you’ve agreed to provide the journalist with your comments or other material he’s asked for—deliver. Ideally, do it on time. Yes, there is a good chance that the deadline you have been given leaves some room for maneuver (believe me, it is a common practice for a journalist to put some kind of pressure on you because they know you are going to be late anyway, but on the other hand, they get a sense of security and enough time to work on the material). But don’t stall unnecessarily. Whenever you feel you can’t deliver, but you care, it’s worth asking if a few hours/days would really make a difference.

4. Sloppiness

There’s this one screenshot that pretty much sums it up:

It was shared by a British journalist on a Facebook group for journalists and reporters covering new technologies and PR specialists representing different brands working in this field.

In my career, I’ve been called Ewa, Ela, even Anna. I’ve received materials that were incomplete, with errors or inactive links, containing false information, without a phone number or other contact details attached, with photographs in sizes unfit for publication. Not to mention emails showing all BCC’d addresses, and painstaking follow-ups (which were also a waste of my time) done five minutes after a mailing was sent without even checking whether I opened the email in the first place.

Everyone will forgive you one misstep on the job, provided that you usually keep things professional. But you won’t get away with recurrent failures. You won’t even get any feedback—your news will simply end up once and for all in the “SPAM” folder, and you’ll keep wondering by why it didn’t get published. The effect? A long list of unresponsive addresses in your media contacts list and… zero relationships.

5. Authorization that isn’t really authorization

“Dear X. I’m judging that the post-authorization interview is no longer of any value.” This is a message once received by Aleksandra Ptak, whom I mentioned above. As the journalist points out on her LinkedIn, despite a lot of work put into writing and editing the interview, she decided not to publish it, which after all the changes resembled more a “puff piece”.

What does she make of authorizations? “I’m against it. I think that the Polish PR industry sees is wrongas a way to force through content that no one has even mentioned during the interview and to remove all attractive phrases, saltier comments, everything that gives flavor to the text. Authorization is not intended to serve this purpose, but to improve the content so that it doesn’t say that »War and Peace« was written by Dostoyevsky. And not, as it once happened to me, to make the report »Farmers are a very difficult client for a bank« into »Farmers are the most important and good clients of banks, we have great respect for them«,” we can read. The post got a lot of attention. As you can see, the problem of abusing the institution of authorization is not uncommon. It certainly is one of the more effective ways to waste any efforts towards getting published.

6. Being one-sided in contacts

Unfortunately, it happens that a PR specialist is only willing to start a conversation with a journalist when he or she needs something. On the other hand, when it is a journalist who reaches out to talk about collaboration opportunities, the PR pro has no time or desire to discuss anything. It’s a pity because of thanks to having such occasional conversations we could build together completely new standards of activity which would be beneficial for both parties.

And the point of all this? Journalists are people too. Let’s respect each other’s work, do our homework and learn about our needs to provide each other with valuable materials.

Congratulations! You’ve made it through our guide. By now, you should have all the necessary knowledge to get in touch with journalists. If you’re looking for a way to reach them try Prowly’s media database. Search by niche, location, outlet and job position to find the most relevant tech journalists for your story.

It contains over 1 million media contacts and is completely free for 7-days with full search access so you can see if it’s a match for you.