“I can’t believe how lazy this reporter is—I spoon fed her a great story and yet she can’t bother to pick up the phone and do a five-minute interview.” Anyone who works in PR has heard a similar refrain, probably more than once.
And if you spend any time in a newsroom, it won’t be long before you hear something like, “Another pitch for a social media app in my inbox! My tenth one today and I haven’t even finished my coffee. If this PR flack spent two minutes looking at my byline, he’d see I’ve never written about tech in my ENTIRE CAREER!”
Interactions like these can lead PR professionals and journalists to develop less than favorable feelings for each other. But is it justified? And are we all stricken with laziness, or is something else going on?
I think it’s something else.
Consider that journalists these days often are operating under a cloud of looming layoffs or buyouts. For the lucky ones that remain in their jobs, they face more pressure than ever to produce more stories that increasingly are judged not just by their social value, but the number of clicks they generate.
Nor are the challenges facing PR specialists insignificant. We are fortunate to be in a profession that is still growing, but our reliance on and proximity to a sector facing such uncertainty presents its own challenges. Reporters frequently change beats, if they are lucky to have one at all, and often jump from job to job, making it difficult to develop long-term relationships formed by numerous helpful interactions over months or years.
And because reporters are pulled in so many directions, they have little time to consider a thoughtful and well-researched pitch. On top of that, many receive several hundred pitches a day, particularly those at leading dailies, magazines and blogs. This dynamic can make the PR pro’s job of obtaining earned media seem impossible.
What’s the solution?
For starters, we can give each other a pass when things don’t go perfectly. If a journalist has trouble making an interview on time (or at all!), it may not be because he’s lazy, but because his editor just handed him five new stories to complete by the next day.
And if reporters could suspend their skepticism for just a moment, and allow themselves to be open to pitches that are well-researched and thoughtful, they might find a strong partner in a PR professional who can help make their jobs a little easier (and maybe more pleasant).
Sure, those of us in public relations can help with this dynamic by not filling reporters’ inboxes with irrelevant pitches. But the challenge of competing with the pitches of hundreds of others among us can make it tempting to blast our story to everyone in the hope that the numbers will somehow work in our favor. But in the long run, I think we know that really doesn’t help any of us.
Yet despite all these challenges, we continue to plug away at our respective trades. Maybe that’s what keeps us tied together as journalists and public relations professionals, even with these simmering tensions. Deep down, we know we’re both just doing what we must in this topsy-turvy business. And when we get a great placement or an interesting scoop, it makes it all worthwhile. Or at least for one glorious moment.