A Professional Journalist’s Guide to Public Relations
Having worked for many years as a public relations consultant myself (until the 11 p.m. calls from newspaper reporters and consistently overdue payments of too many clients eventually inspired me to give up the ghost), I’m all too well aware of the hazards of the business, how the slightest misstep can blacklist you and your client…for life. And having worked both sides of this media table, I find myself not infrequently amazed at the number of untrained people out there calling themselves “publicists.” It is no wonder the profession has the reputation of being the purview of former cheerleaders who have consumed too many energy drinks.
But lest I offend the couple dozen public relations professionals who regularly and promptly supply me with expert sources in deadline pinches (you know who you are–God bless you!), let me say there are plenty of PR folks who know exactly what they’re doing–those who are able to walk the fine line between promoting their clients and understanding that journalists do not exist for the purpose of providing upbeat editorial coverage of hair tonic and exercise videos. Nor do they berate me by e-mail for failing to interview their company CEO when he failed to call before my deadline or tell me how unreasonable I am to expect them to locate the world’s foremost brain surgeon in two hours. Trust me, my editors would not understand or empathize if I attempted to explain it was 2 a.m. in Australia, and Dr. So-and-So just isn’t awake right now.
So for those of you who are scratching your heads and wondering just how to do this tricky job of PR, here are some tips:
- When I call you for an interview source and tell you I’m on two-hour deadline, please don’t whine about how impossible it is for you to work within that ridiculous timeline. How do you think I feel? Either say you can help or you can’t, and IF you say you CAN, then please do it. Don’t string me along for 118 minutes only to finally tell me getting an interview with your client is hopeless.
- Understand you are not the only boxer in the ring. Chances are good, you’re not the only person I’m calling for comment on whether or not eating a can of tuna a day is bad for your health. Realize the fastest pigeon wins the race, and if two other doctors call me back before yours does, bow out gracefully, and ask me to call you again sometime. Chances are, I will. Throw a raging fit, and you’ll never hear from me again.
- Once your happy client has been featured in an article of mine, please don’t pelt me daily with irrelevant pitches by e-mail. Nothing will inspire me to associate your name with the “delete” button faster.
- Don’t even think of calling me on the phone unless you are responding to a direct request from me for a source. The last thing I need when I’m on two-hour deadline is to hear your pitch on “the secret life of the penis” for 15 minutes. I don’t care if you are Dr. Oz or his best friend. I just really don’t have time. If you think what you have to say is really and truly that important and within my realm of typical editorial coverage, send me an e-mail, and if you don’t hear back from me, you can probably assume your hunch was wrong.
- Understand relationships are everything. Establish a good one with me, and I’ll think of you every time I need an expert.
- Do not ever call my cell phone outside normal business hours in my time zone. If you have the misfortune of getting me on the phone, you will not only be blacklisted (and blocked) for life, but you’ll probably experience a side of my personality I reserve exclusively for telemarketers, excessively nosy neighbors, and meddling relatives.
Please note that the above rules apply in almost any media coverage situation with almost any journalist. If you abide by them (and can simultaneously accomplish the not especially easy task of getting your client to abide by them as well), you’ll find yourself outpacing your peers in the field by leaps and bounds. So next time you get a grumpy reporter on the phone, ask yourself (before you take offense), if you’ve followed these six rules. Chances are, you haven’t.
Deborah Huso is an award-winning journalist and founding creative enchantress at WWM, a niche communications firm specializing in the market less understood.