As a PR professional, I make it a point to follow the Twitter accounts of the reporters I reach out to and whose work I enjoy reading. I find it integral to get some insight into their daily lives; to really learn about who they are as people, both professionally and personally. At first, I didn’t understand why I was consistently reading tweets from journalists attacking PR. The question that immediately came to my mind is, “Why?” Why would anyone hate to hear from someone that is trying to help them professionally? Why would reporters literally dread reading through their inboxes? The answer is simple: There is something fundamentally wrong with the way PR pros relate to the media. I’m certainly not the first person to realize this, but according to the numerous reporters I follow, I am one of the few. My self-adopted PR mentor, Ed Zitron, has written a book on the subject matter titled, “This Is How You Pitch: How to Kick Ass in Your First Year of PR,” in which he addresses the inherent flaws of the PR industry and works to teach readers that there is a better way of doing things. Though his suggestions may not be the most common methods of the last thirty years, they are effective. Zitron describes the industry as full of “martyrs and self-deluders who can’t possibly just sit there and say ‘hey…we need to get better.’ No, we have to actively snarl and snap at reporters who dare point out legitimate issues.” He’s right.
I’ll admit even I was guilty of blaming reporters for all their harsh words, of explaining away their problems and making excuses for why what I was doing was right. And at the end of the day, it didn’t matter. It did not matter one bit the explanations I concocted in my head, because my client wasn’t getting the coverage I expected. Reporters have the last laugh, always and forever. We need them. There are very few of them that need us. It would do every PR professional some good to realize this once and for all, to understand that the annoying sales calls we get from trade shows and the like are not even remotely as frequent as the constant emails and voicemails reporters receive that they are not the least bit interested in.
Those who are new to the industry would do well to question the strategies used in the past. It seems as though what’s fundamentally wrong with PR is that no one is thinking for themselves, no one is using common sense to realize that something or everything isn’t working. It has become one giant group-think, and if history has taught us anything it’s that conformity with a head-down attitude is a direction that can only lead to poor decisions. Reporters hate PR professionals. Let’s change that. Here’s how to start:
- READ what the reporter writes: This needs to be common sense. Read their writing, tailor the pitch to their own style. Do they use jokes? You do, too. Do they use flowery language? Then by all means, please compliment their personal techniques with similar practices.
- Find out his/her interests OUTSIDE of writing: Believe it or not, they have lives, too. Most are really quite witty and have similar interests. They even come outside in the sunlight and don’t sleep in a coffin.
- Email them WITHOUT pitching them: In his book, Zitron recalls sending reporters emails just to check in with them and see how they’re doing, using the subject line, “not a pitch.” This is a fantastic way to build real relationships with these reporters.
- Be GENUINE: If you can’t say that you actually care about reporters, their interests, and their writing needs, then maybe this isn’t the right industry for you. Or maybe it is and you will just be one of the professionals that perpetuates the disregard for PR that journalists currently house.
If we want to change the way PR works, then we must begin to question why it doesn’t. Those who are new to the industry can push back, learn for themselves, test out new approaches and throw away the ones that are ineffective. The industry is clearly broken, so let’s fix it. Let’s roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and fight the good fight. If we can accomplish this, maybe one day I’ll be pleasantly surprised to scroll through my Twitter feed and see a positive remark about PR from a reporter.