Chapter 10: Finding and Making News
Students interested in careers in public relations and related fields greatly benefit from media and newsroom experience. Gleason says when you understand what journalists need to show, see and tell, you have an upper hand on everybody else who wants to share the same story. You’ll be faster and you’ll understand what they need (hint: not just a talking head on camera, lot of visuals and B-roll).
Public relations professionals without experience in a newsroom may not appreciate the tight and constant deadlines journalists face or the information and resources needed to create an objective news story. Corporate environments often move at a slower pace where decisions and messages require several layers of approval, and corporate policies and politics can come into play.
“It’s a completely different animal working in a newsroom than in a corporate environment. And when you understand the time constraints and the stresses that a journalist is under, you are going to be able to make their job easier, which is going to make them want to work with you more,” explains Gleason.
It is the role of a media relations or communication professional to provide journalists with access to certain information and resources that make it easier for them to produce a story. This might be background information, examples, sources or photos and video.
Lessons I learned writing for daily newspapers and magazines that gave me an edge in the PR world:
- Deadlines are life and death in the news business. Once you get a request for information, it’s vital to find out when it’s needed. Ask about it.
- A deadline is final. Don’t expect extensions or give excuses. Find a way to get it done on time or submit the best you’ve got before deadline.
- It stinks when PR people don’t respect deadlines or return calls. This made me eternally committed to responding quickly to media inquiries, even if just to tell them I was still working on an answer or source for their story from within my organization.
- Be persistent and resourceful. If one source doesn’t return a call, try again or try a different source.
- Get it right. Triple check spellings, question all facts, ask if you’re not sure, step away for coffee and come back for a final proofread. Do whatever is in your power to be completely accurate.
- Work fast. The more you work under the pressure of deadline, the better you get at producing accurate and well-written content quickly. Good time management and the ability to do good work quickly has never been more important.
It’s also important to understand and research the different types of earned media. Depending on the brand and its goals, a PR practitioner might be seeking coverage in Cosmopolitan magazine, a local television news broadcast, a blog or a trade publication (which is specific to a certain industry).
When Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams collaborated with Dolly Parton for a signature flavor, they wanted coverage in food, lifestyle and entertainment media outlets. The successful Belle Communication campaign achieved this, securing even “wish-list” coverage like Rolling Stone, Billboard, People and the Late Show With Stephen Colbert. The partnership involved a prominent brand and a celebrity and spanned several different verticals, or areas of consumer interest (i.e., food, entertainment).
In a different campaign, Slide Nine partnered with Crunch time Apple Growers to increase consumer awareness of the SnapDragon apple. Earned media was part of a larger campaign, but it looked at very different media outlets, including trade publications like Fruit Growers News.
It’s crucial to do the research to have a strong understanding of what media outlets and reporters can help an organization best achieve specific objectives or reach key audiences.