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Relationship between journalists and PR professionals

The “How PR can play nice with journalists” post has really become a genre in itself.

I still get a kick out of the BusinessInsider classic, “Dear PR Lady: Here’s Why I didn’t Open Any of Your 3 Email Pitches.”

The latest missive comes compliments of the Huffington Post, “How to Stop Pissing Off Reporters” (would love to see the A/B testing on “upsetting” vs. “pissing off”). Maggie Quale interviews Jolie O’Dell, managing editor of VentureBeat on the act of PR repentance.

I actually agree with most of Jolie’s guidance:

  • Empathize with the reporter
  • Don’t over-craft the pitch
  • “No” means “no”
  • Etc.

But one Jolie tip caught my attention:

“Another sticky situation PR folks find themselves in is deciding whether or not to attend a briefing with the spokesperson. It’s another one of those delicate balances between providing support for the client and micro-managing the process.

‘I’m a professional doing my job,’ Jolie adds. ‘I don’t violate my position and I’m not here to antagonize anyone. So you don’t need to take notes on every word exchanged. Your CEO doesn’t need a babysitter. They are adults. Show us both the respect we’ve earned and let them take their call with the journalist solo.’”

“Sticky?”

Maybe if the interview takes place at an IHOP that’s down a busboy.

Characterizing a PR person accompanying an executive during a press interview as a “babysitter” is misguided (to be kind).

I would venture to guess that more than half of media interviews end with some type of follow-up. This can be as mundane as resending a photograph or as expansive as finding multiple third-party sources to comment on a specific issue. Such follow-up often slips between the cracks, even with the best-intentioned execs. Plus, hearing the action items firsthand provides clarity to the PR person on exactly what needs to happen to close the loop.

Two, hearing the executive answer questions on his/her company and the industry adds to the PR person’s understanding of the space as well as the executive. Of course, this doesn’t directly benefit the journalist conducting the interview, but absorbing this type of unscripted dialogue strengthens a PR person’s knowledge — a plus for future interactions.

Last, I appreciate that nothing causes a journalist to get cranky faster than a PR person jumping in and saying, “Stop right there” (Meat Loaf circa 1977), when the executive is getting to the good stuff. At this point, it’s worth acknowledging that the journalist’s agenda and the executive’s/company’s agenda are not one and the same.

An effective PR person recognizes that the more “fresh” and compelling the executive’s perspective, the better for the journalist and the more likely coverage will appear. At the same time, there is content that serves the journalist’s agenda, but not the company’s agenda (like sharing the details on an unannounced product). Making sure the executive doesn’t share off-limits information is also part of the PR person’s role during a press interview. Naturally, journalists prefer to interview executives solo because it increases the probability of extracting off-limits information.

Still, experienced PR folks know how to navigate this “dance” so that both parties get what they want out of an interview.

Side note: If you enjoyed this post, you might check out “How to Measure Storytelling in Media Relations.”

 


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