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Forget The Story You're Promoting – Here's What Journalists Really Want From PR People

By Paul Furiga
Posted Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Although it seems less common these days, there are still a fair number of us public relations practitioners who enter the business by crossing over from the journalist’s side of the notebook.

When you make that transition, you become something of an oracle. Colleagues and clients expect you to be the walking, talking answer to the Rubik’s cube puzzle of how to gain the attention of the media. If only it were that simple!

Landing media placements is at least as much about art as it is science.

But it’s also about you and who you are as a PR person. What did I learn in two decades of writing and editing for newspapers, magazines and news services?

First of all, a PR pro doesn’t need a journalistic pedigree to succeed with journalists.

But you do have to possess something else: knowledge of what journalists really want from PR people. I’m not talking about what journalists want from your story – that’s another subject.

I’m talking about you. Do you know what journalists want from you, as the individual who’s e-mailing, faxing, calling and (too often, I fear) pestering them?

Here’s my short list of attributes that will get you a hearing from journalists (and that’s all you want – your story will sink or float on its own merits):

1. Honest brokers

Journalists know PR people have something to promote – a company, a product, a point of view. That’s not the issue.

It’s whether the journalist trusts that the story is coming from someone who won’t waste their time – someone who has invested the effort to understand them, their organization, their boss, and whether the story might interest the audience the journalist serves.

Trust is fundamental – but it’s also earned. Becoming an honest broker requires more than one conversation with a journalist. It requires enough dialogue that a relationship and a history of honest dealings can be established.

2. Facilitators

Face it, journalists don’t want to talk to PR people – at least not on the record, and not as newsmakers.

Good PR practitioners know they’re not newsmakers. They recognize that their role is to make stories happen, not be part of them. So good PR pros focus on being matchmakers, putting journalists together with the sources who make stories come alive.

For the PR pro, as well as the journalist, it’s all about the story. It’s not about you, or the institutional challenges you face in making the story happen. It’s about making the story real. And that leads me to what journalists really, really want from PR practitioners (and what we should strive to be):

3. Advocates for communication

No journalist wants to deal with a PR person who’s primarily unavailable, and when he or she is available, has a vocabulary limited to phrases such as “no comment.”

All other things being equal (including working for an organization or a leader who doesn’t communicate) journalists still give the benefit of the doubt to a PR person whom they know to be an advocate of communication.

That doesn’t mean someone who’s going to speak at inappropriate times about subjects that aren’t in the best interests of their organization. It means someone who understands deadlines, editors, the competition and the other pressures that journalists face while trying to do their jobs.

It means someone who understands that the best interests of their organization always include good relationships with the news media, the trusted purveyors of independent information for the customers, employees, investors and other audiences that the PR pro wants to reach.

In the end, that’s what all of media relations is really about: A good journalist and a good PR pro want to serve their audiences first.

It’s not always possible for journalists and PR pros to achieve that objective from their respective viewpoints in every interaction. But over the course of time, in a relationship of trust, respect and understanding, honest brokers who facilitate the story and advocate for communication will succeed in landing media placements.

About the Author
Paul Furiga is president of WordWrite Communications LLC, a Pittsburgh-based virtual agency. He is the former editor of the Pittsburgh Business Times, and has also covered Congress, the White House, edited magazines and written for publications ranging from Congressional Quarterly to Frequent Flyer magazine.