PR Tip: Reporters Are Not Parrots

PR tips for engaging with reporters from San Diego's Remedy PR. Tip 1: They're not parrots.


This is the biggest misconception people have when launching a PR or media relations campaign. It’s common even among seasoned marketers.

But it’s the truth.

Here’s a tip: Journalists are not sitting around waiting to regurgitate what they’re sent by PR people. They are not parrots.

We were reminded about this we saw this Tweet linking to The Walking Deadline from Billy Brown, a journalist we work with fairly regularly.

Billy, like many journalists/bloggers/content creators/whatever you want to call them, is not a parrot. Also, Billy is not an idiot and can think for himself. Why is this important to keep in mind?

If we put in the headline of a press release or subject line of an email “This Is A Game Changer!” or “This Is The Best Thing Ever!” then it better be a game-changer, or else Billy will think twice before looking at our pitch next time around. Keep in mind that we can send things to Billy that aren’t game-changers, but before we do, we better be able to explain why it’s worth his time or else we’re going to sour the relationship.

Simple enough? You’d think so, but time and again PR people are asked to push things to media that either aren’t newsworthy or so overstated that they turn off the intended media targets.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind when trying to forge relationships with journalists and what you need to do to ensure your efforts are deemed newsworthy.

  • For the most part, media outlets need make money: They accomplish this based on selling advertising in some shape or form, the rates for which are calculated from publication sales, website traffic, Nielsen ratings, headline clicks, etc. It’s the journalist’s job to create compelling stories, relevant to the media outlet’s specific audience, that will help with this.

  • What may be a good story to you and/or about your brand may not help with the point above. You need to consider that. And while your pitch doesn’t have to be a game-changer to secure coverage, you do need to explain what value it has to offer.

Personally, when looking to hire consultants for our partners, we’ve found that the best PR people are those that can secure coverage for the brands that aren’t the leaders in their space. Our overused phrase in this instance is that anyone can pitch an iPhone to the media. Everyone wants to cover the next iPhone.

  • Journalists are busy. They’re not waiting around for your news, regardless of their need to drive revenue for the media outlets they’re working for. They’re most likely not going to drop what they’re doing unless what you’re offering is incredibly monumental in the total scope of their relevant news world. And the more time you can give them, the better.

Even that Instagram personality with 100k that you so desperately want to feature your brand using a VSCO picture may work days, if not weeks in advance. Local media have their own deadlines, as do journalists who write for magazines and websites.

  • Everyone is your competition for media coverage. Every brand, regardless of newsworthiness, if they’re engaging in PR, they’re potentially blocking you from securing media coverage.

  • Journalists have their own coverage areas and interests. This gets overlooked often. Some will cover a range of topics, others not so much. Some just don’t like certain brands. It happens. A finance reporter at one publication may cover everything from credit cards to mortgages, but at another media outlet, those topics could be spread across multiple reporters. This leads us to our next point…

  • You need to go to the right person at the right publication with the right pitch. At your own company, you don’t drop off a creative brief for a new logo design with the accounting department, do you? Sure, they may pass it onto the right people, but why would you ask them to do that? They’re busy handling accounting related tasks and your request, in addition to being annoying, may cause them to think twice about getting back to you in the future.

  • Send your news at the right time. We can’t stress that enough. This is going to vary by what sort of media you’re targeting, but again, Billy and others like him aren’t just waiting by their laptops for emails from their favorite PR people every minute of the day.

We’ll close with this because potential clients often ask about media lists and networks.

Relationships matter,  but the story being pitched is more important.

Remedy has developed some incredible relationships and in our network of colleagues, it’s fairly easy to connect to journalists we’ve never worked with before. The same goes for many other PR consultants and firms and a lot of them will agree that the relationship won’t matter if we don’t follow some simple points outlined above.

If you want to secure editorial coverage for your brand, you need to look at it from the reporter’s perspective and go from there. Give them a relevant story for their coverage area(s), presented in a way they want to see it and with time to consider it.

Need a second opinion on the topic? Check out this article on PRNewser for some similar examples to what we outlined above.

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