The Care and Feeding of Reporters: A Guide For PR Professionals

People working in public relations deal with journalists all the time, and building a relationship with a reporter is one of the best ways to help clients. Want to get a story out about a client? Is there a crisis and you want to share your client’s side of the story? A personal connection with the right reporters is an easy shortcut, yet often those in PR aren’t always sure how to develop and strengthen that relationship. After over a decade as a full-time reporter, I have had dozens of encounters with public relations practitioners who seemed to view me as an exotic, inscrutable creature. There’s no magic bullet for creating the kind of relationship you want as someone in PR, but there are some critical aspects to keep in mind that I’m going to talk about here and in my next several blogs.

GETTING NUTS WITH REPORTERS

Reporters can be a lot like squirrels. By that, I mean they can be both single-minded and easily distracted, often frustrating those in PR angling for an of article or interview with their client, ideally focusing on the positive aspects of the client. To accompany that handy squirrel analogy, I’ve made up the acronym NUTS to break down what reporters are looking for, and how to provide it while getting the kind of coverage you want for your client at the same time.

New – It may sound obvious, but people working for the news want stories that are new. Not everything you have to say about a client is groundbreaking, but it doesn’t need to be. What it does need is something different. That could be a new angle on something old, a conclusion about an ongoing issue, or even just a pithy comment on a larger story the reporter is working on.

Unique – Related to the idea of something new, reporters want something unique and different to write about. Some stories are perennial, like how the economy is doing, and some are seasonal, like stories about going back to school or graduating, but there’s always a hunger for unusual approaches to what are broadly similar stories. Thinking creatively and looking for new ways to tell old stories is a central part of PR. Reporters may find something new they want to ask you about, but in an information-saturated age like ours, it’s better to be proactive about bringing a new shine to something familiar.

Trending – Stories focused on clients are great of course, but reporters often cover bigger stories, with commentary from multiple sources. Finding those trends that a client can speak on intelligently can give PR professionals a jump when looking for ways to pitch a reporter. Any journalist is grateful for a solid quote to a story they are working on, or inspiration for a potentially larger piece, which the client may end up taking a starring role in.

Sources – For many reporters, the hardest part of the job isn’t writing or even figuring out what story to tell. Instead, it’s finding and getting in touch with people who can explain, comment, or provide some insight into a story. On some subjects, reporters will have a shortlist of sources that they know will respond quickly and that can be trusted to have something worth saying. Depending on the client, getting on those lists should be a central goal for anyone in PR.

What reporters want isn’t a big secret. Some of it may seem obvious when laid out this way, but when composing a pitch it’s useful to think in these terms. Whether working to get immediate coverage for clients or planning long-term press strategies, understanding what reporters are looking for is a mandatory first step.