Being a middle child, my personality has always been one of the peace maker and the bridge builder, which is why I want to call for a cease fire in the war between reporters and PR professionals.
Bashing PR professionals is getting quite passé. And at times it seems as trite as complaining about government workers. It’s easy to say government workers are slackers, but I used to work for the government and many government employees work very hard in a turbulent political environment. I just don’t see what can be gained from the endless sniping. For example, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington recently declared, “I don’t like PR people for the most part.” Nice.
I don’t find this attitude to be very constructive. PR people and reporters often have a symbiotic relationship. Putting it bluntly, they need each other. I don’t think it makes much sense to annoy the same PR people who you are going to turn to for a quote when you are on deadline. Instead of tarring all PR practioners with the same brush, it would be more helpful to offer suggestions on how PR professionals can improve their technique and provide better information to reporters.
Here are some reasons a reporters should keep PR practioners in their good graces:
1. They are useful in a bind. I learned that a good way to develop rapport with a reporter is by making yourself available to them when they are writing stories. One way to do that is by providing comments to reporters who post their queries on sites such as Peter Shankman’s Helping a Reporter Out (HARO). (If you are not on the mailing list for HARO, you need to be.) Most reporters will love you if they have a quote they can slide into their story when they are on deadline. It also helps when you are pitching them in the future. They are more likely to give your pitch a second look if they know who you are. Even today I get calls and e-mails from reporters I helped years ago on HARO.
2. They provide good tips. Good PR practioners usually have a knack for developing good story ideas. I often receive calls from reporters asking for story ideas and I always make the time to provide suggestions. This comes in handy when I have a story I needed running and can call on them for assistance.
3. Some PR practioners can write pretty well. In these days of shrinking newsrooms, many editors have to do more with less. Many small publications have one editor and a bunch of freelancers. So who will the editor turn to when one of his freelancers flakes out on him? His friendly PR rep, that’s who. There have been many times when I have received last-minute calls from editors who have 10-inch holes to fill and no copy.
4. Some of us are sympathetic to the cause. Reporters are often frustrated because they are lowly paid, work crazy hours and get criticized more often than they are praised. Who else understands your business apart from other reporters? Sometimes it is good to sit down with a PR practioner and just vent. Believe me, we have heard all the horror stories and understand where you are coming from. Also if a new reporter is just starting a beat, your local PR rep probably knows all of the good sources and right people to talk to. A good PR rep will also make sure that uncooperative source provides you with a quote before deadline.
5. We might be able to help you land a job. Working in PR means that you collaborate with a wide variety of media professionals, editors, freelancers, etc. We often see how the industry is changing, what companies might have openings, or what magazines are looking for writers. If a reporter has developed a good relationship with a PR professional he will likely send some of these openings his way. And in this climate, media professionals need all the help they can landing work. Journalism skills can often be put to use in the PR world, although even suggesting this is controversial.
Finally, most of us PR professionals are just trying to do our job. We have clients we are trying to satisfy and bosses to please. I wish editors would realize that we were not put on earth to make their lives miserable, and instead see us as a great resource.
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