What PR pros wish they could tell journalists

Although practitioners in the two fields sometimes have contentious exchanges, they have a lot in common. Here’s an open letter intended to bridge the gaps between them.

This article originally ran on PR Daily in February of 2017.

Most of us in public relations love what we do.

With lots of variety and the opportunity to improve a brand’s bottom line, what’s not to like? As in any career, though, it can sometimes be tough.

For example, we in PR often read that journalists don’t like us very much.

Maybe it’s because there are so many of us. With more public relations practitioners than ever before (there are now 4.8 PR people for every reporter), those of us who work in media relations face greater competition to grab a reporter’s attention. This means more annoying email pitches, more phone messages filling up their voicemail, more social media stalking.

It makes sense that reporters get fed up with us.

Still, it hurts to be misunderstood. After all, many of us are honestly trying to do a standup job for our clients while respecting the needs and preferences of journalists.

So, what can we do to help smooth things over with reporters, editors and producers? Maybe it would help if they knew more about our true motives.

Here are five things we would say to reporters, if we could.

1. We don’t mean to be pests.

There are occasions when you might feel we follow up too aggressively or too often. Please understand that we’re not trying to be pests; we’re just trying to do our jobs.

Yes, we realize you receive many pitches—and a good number of those might be off topic, contain spelling errors or be directed to the wrong reporter. On the flip side, there are a lot of us who take the time to create a well-written pitch that warrants at least a quick look. If it’s truly not a fit or the timing’s off, we can accept that. Please, take a moment to tell us.

When we get no response to a carefully crafted pitch, we wonder (and our clients wonder) why you didn’t feel it was a fit. Is it realistic to expect that you will respond to each and every pitch? Probably not, but as Nicole Fallon Taylor, managing editor of Business News Daily, recently wrote in a piece for Muck Rack, “As a journalist, I’ve found that the best way to stem the tide of follow-ups is to just answer the emails in the first place.” She continues to say, “In a lot of cases, PR pros will gladly accept a curt ‘no’ over radio silence any day.”

Remember that any answer is better than no answer. If you let us know that there was a fixable problem with our pitch (perhaps we sent it too late or maybe you’ve changed roles since we last worked with you), we can do better next time.

2. We want to be of help to you—really.

Yes, some go into PR and learn it isn’t for them. One person from my previous agency is now a carpenter; another is a chef. Clearly, they’d had enough of the PR life.

Many of us understand and have a passion for good journalism (some of us have journalism degrees), and we sincerely want to be of service to you. Please let us help. If you need something, we’re here for you. Whether it’s sources, visuals or data, we can provide it.

So, please look to us as a resource. We can save you time and provide what you need.

3. We respect what you do.

Reporting is a tough gig.

We know many journalists are overworked and underpaid. Job security in the news business is dwindling, with the number of U.S. newspapers staffers dropping 40 percent in just eight years, from 55,000 journalists in 2007 to 32,900 in 2015. We realize many are trying to do less with more. This past year in particular, journalism has taken a beating.

Above all, we appreciate that you try your best to share relevant news with your audiences.

4. We trust you.

Though this is said to be the post-truth era, most PR pros I know believe in and trust the reporters we work with. We trust that you’ll provide fair, impartial coverage (although we sometimes have to convince our clients of that).

We do believe you’re doing your best to find and share the true story.

5. Sometimes our jobs stink, too.

We have clients who don’t share information with us, clients who insist on rewriting our carefully crafted pitches or press releases, clients who ask to see the story before it’s printed—you get the gist.

So, please remember we’re just people, too, and some days, despite our best efforts, our clients rake us over the coals as we try to get you what you need. Have a little compassion.

Journalists, we like you—we really like you—so please give us a chance.

Michelle Messenger Garrett is a public relations consultant, speaker and award-winning writer with more than 20 years of agency, corporate, startup and Silicon Valley experience. A version of this article first appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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