Nowadays having caller I.D. on our phones is no longer a luxury, and emails are the main source of communication between the media and public relations. One little mistake can hurt your track record as a public relations professional and could potentially hinder any future relations with a valuable journalist. For example, Kim Ode never answers unexpected calls from New York City, because they’re mostly publicists asking her to write about books that have nothing to do with Star Tribune. How can PR people avoid getting on a reporter’s blacklist?
Kim Ode, a general assignment feature writer at the Star Tribune, has the valuable- but sometimes unfortunate- experience of communicating with PR people. Referring to the Star Tribune as a fairly reporter driven newspaper, Ode strongly emphasizes the importance of PR people having a good track record. Although a PR professional could save a reporter’s life on a slow-news day, most of the time the lifesaver is the reporter. Since whether a story will be written is initially dependent on the journalists, it is essential to realize their needs and wants.
1. Know what a good story is. What journalists look for is a story in everything, to “bring the slice of everyday life in a subjective form, a guiding light to the public” as Ode puts it neatly, and to “do a pretty good job in letting people know what happened that specific Tuesday.” Don’t send reporters bad stories. Even emailing one bad story can put you in the blacklist of a journalist. Once you have a bad track record with a reporter, they will always skip over your emails and ignore your phone calls.
2. Look at the bigger picture. Kim Ode recommends that PR people ask themselves whether they would be interested in reading the story they are trying to pitch. It is necessary to take a step back and look at the bigger picture and ask yourself, “will the readers of this newspaper/magazine be interested in my story?”
3. Do your homework- know the newspaper’s wants and interests. Ode could not emphasize enough that the Star Tribune, like many other major newspapers, never writes about fundraisers and kick-starter events. The general public will not be interested in an obscure organization’s fundraiser. “Do your homework and study the entity you are pitching,” says Ode, “Do you see any news stories in the Star Tribune about some new body sculpting tool? Know that the Star Tribune does not really write about kitchen gadgets.”
4. Ask to be in the blog. If turned down by a reporter, ask your story could at least be in the blog of the newspaper. People do not pay for blogs, whereas papers exist forever. Blogs are more of a cycle where a post appears and disappears as new stories are posted. “Blogs are a publicist’s best friend,” says Kim Ode, “and it is a win-win situation.” Always bring up the blog.
5. Don’t ever, ever oversell a story. Most importantly, over exaggerating facts and being dishonest about even the smallest detail about an organization or company could scar both the reporter’s and the PR person’s professional career. This situation is also an indicator of bad reporting especially when the journalist failed to check a little fact from the story pitch. Kim Ode recommends to “Be scrupulously honest.”
As a PR professional, you don’t want to be that person from NYC who is avoided by reporters. Do your homework, know what a good story is, know what newspapers and magazines need and want, and always be honest.
Links: You can read Kim Ode’s feature stories here: http://www.startribune.com/bios/10645551.html