5 Secrets Every PR Pro Should Know About Reporters

old reporter guy

For starters, they don’t all look like this because technicolor is a thing.

In the fabled world of public relations, it amazes — well, really, disheartens — me how few flacks take time to get to know reporters. Forget the national ones who are on everyone’s bucket list. I’m talking the general assignment reporter in their own backyard.

These are the people that can make or break your effectiveness as a PR professional and not once is there an attempt to humanize these folks. I should know. As I have shared a few times in this blog, I’m a proud hack-turned-flack. I have good friends in the media, and I suppose that is why I can understand the jitters when pitching a reporter who answers the phone (intentionally) like a brash horse’s patoot, “NEWS!”

For that, I offer this list for you: 5 secrets every PR pro should know about reporters. Enjoy and share with your team.

keep-calm-and-research-on1. Reporters Appreciate When You Know Who the Hell They Are. I can’t stress this enough. Pitch a reporter without understanding what he or she covers and you can kiss that resource goodbye because there’s this thing called “a grudge.” It’s true Cision and Vocus, as hard as they may try, don’t always remain updated. You have to do a little bit of research on your own. Find the right reporter for the right story. Read past articles. Watch previous interviews. Get it right, people, because you only have one chance to make that … well, you know the rest. And if you know don’t, research that as well.

b.s. meter2. Their Most Prized Possession is the B.S. Meter. Whatever you are shoveling, they will catch a whiff of that crap coming a mile away. Rookie beat reporters, veteran assignment desk editors and producers of whom you have heard — one and all, have a bullsh detector. You would think news directors give them out along with the employee handbook, but it’s an innate thing. The good reporters (and there are many more than you realize) all have one attached to that thing they call “a gut.” If your client has a bad story, it will sound even worse in an email. Peel that onion or it’s just going to stink.

expectations3. Manage Your Expectations Accordingly. This is not the job of the media. They have a job to do as well. And while the average reporter/producer/writer is sniffing around for facts, you are trying to get in their face about a story that has to break this week. Listen, if your story doesn’t involve a church fire, a car crash or something about the war, it’s not “breaking.” Here’s a good tip: Watch the news two weeks out regarding anything you are going to pitch. See if that industry is being covered at all. If not, it’s doubtful your pitch is going to break the industry into the lead story. Set your expectations, and then, do that for the client. You will seem like a smart pro for that.

whats_your_angle4. Angles Work; Ideas Suck. “Hey <NAME>, I have an idea.” Annnnd *delete*. Do you know how many PR pros offer ideas like they just sparked a twig on a rock and found this fire thingy? It’s true. As awesome as your client’s brand is believed to be, it won’t impress nearly as many people as you think unless you can attach it to an angle. What’s trending in the news? What’s being covered nationally? What’s a hot topic on the blogs? Is that something with which your client’s brand can connect? If so, you may have something. Have a different point of view and you could get someone’s attention. Sound like everyone else and your email will end up like everyone else’s — filed, in that special way.

brevity5. Learn to Quote Shakespeare. Huh?! The most powerful quote I know about PR and journalism is found in Act 2, Scene 2 of Hamlet. Yes, seriously. Sure, PR wasn’t considered in the mid-1600s but this quote can be attributed to what you do on a daily basis without question.

Polonius, chief counsel to King hooked up with Claudius to spy on Hamlet, and was in turn killed by Hamlet. Before he met his demise, Polonius said this:

Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad.
Those six words mean the difference between your pitch being deleted and read, your calls being answered and ignored, your presence being welcomed or avoided. In short, writing must be to the point. If you are trying to be creative, write a book or fancy a blog. Pitches should be concise, articulate, void of jargon and clear of bullsh (See No. 2).
Do that (and the rest of these notes) and good things could happen because it shows you respect the reporter’s time and attention rather than just looking for a spotlight of your own. Trust me, I should know.