When I was a journalist, a common refrain among my colleagues was that most PR firms “just don’t get it.” Their gripe? What reporters want is pretty straightforward: a good story angle, a quotable source and accurate information–ideally on demand and in plain English. So why don’t more PR many practitioners, they complain, provide it?
It’s been a little over a year since I left a career in magazine journalism (I know, that’s something of an oxymoron given the dire state of magazine advertising these days) for one in public relations, and I’ve gained a new appreciation for why it is not always possible to deliver (maybe the client is reluctant or too busy to talk to the press, for instance, or maybe the client really shouldn’t be talking to the press!)
But there are a few things that the media always want that we can and should provide. For starters, a jargon-free press release or pitch that provides context and forward-spin. Even the smallest bit of news can generate coverage if it can be seen as part of a larger trend and the broader future significance is explained. The more you can frame the issue, provide supporting evidence and additional material, the more likely a reporter will respond.
Of course, providing a quotable source isn’t easy. But just because your client communicates in geek speak, there’s no excuse for you to do the same. Think of the KISS principle in journalism: Keep it short and simple. If you can’t explain something briefly and clearly, don’t bother. Given, many reporters receive 100 or more emails each day, your email needs to be clear brief and interesting—and that includes the subject line. Keep it short, to the point and catchy, “press release” just doesn’t cut it. Remember brevity is key for the body of your message, too. And think twice before attaching any big files which can be cumbersome and irritating. If you can’t get your point across clearly and quickly in the body of an email, think twice about sending it.
That leaves the last bit—providing accurate information. Just like us, reporters work on tight deadlines and often make seemingly endless and last minute demands for information. Trust me, it’s not done to irritate you (although it might seem like that after the umpteenth request). But don’t be tempted to bluff answers or conversely ignore a reporter’s call if you can’t get the information they need. Instead, admit you don’t know and find someone who does–fast. Sound like common sense? It is and it’s not meant to be condescending. But given how often PR practitioners ignore some of these basics it bears repeating.