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A Common Sense Guide To Practical PR : BoardroomArts.com

A Common Sense Guide To Practical PR

While the advantages of media attention are attractive — at least on occasion — contacting reporters may seem strange and foreign. In a society where “tooting one’s horn” is seen in a negative context, emailing or calling total stranger to promote oneself or one’s story may seem pushy, egocentric and tasteless.

There is also the problem of who you’re contacting. Don’t reporters spend their time muckraking? Aren’t they the folks who unearth scandals, find government waste and televise shoddy business practices? If you phone or write a reporter, won’t you get nosy questions in return?

As with any profession, reporters have certain obligations to those they serve, but with journalism such obligations are often obscured by public perceptions. We tend to see the glamour of journalism rather than the grinding realities.

At best, much of journalism can be described as labor intensive — there is nothing exciting about attending lengthy hearings, reading voluminous files or making dozens of phone calls while researching stories.

Then, of course, few professions are subject to such intense public scrutiny. Critics are everywhere and not all are particularly lucid.

What can you expect when dealing with reporters? Will reporters listen to your ideas or will you be ignored? Here are several observations.

Don’t expect to speak with a secretary. Print reporters and bloggers typically get their own email, answer their own phones, do their own typing, and open their own mail. You can speak with just about any writer directly, but neither a postage stamp nor the cost of a phone call earns you an unlimited commitment of journalistic time or attention. Access to television reporters, particularly anchor personnel, is more restricted.

Don’t worry about enlightened self-promotion. If you’ve got an idea that can be a good story and it happens coincidentally that you benefit, that’s not a problem. If your idea is entirely self-serving, don’t plan a long conversation.

Don’t expect to see a story before it’s online, in print or on the air. If a subject is technical and complex the reporter will either be competent enough to handle the topic or will ask for clarification. Remember that journalists often cover regular beats or work for specialized publications. They have ongoing access to experts in every field, and by virtue of their training and experience many are regarded as authorities in their own right.

Your schedule doesn’t count. Journalists report what is current — and the more-current the better. Alternatively, the publication or broadcast of “feature” material — stories not time sensitive — are often delayed.

Turf and territory are important with major media. With large media do not expect a reporter on one beat to write about a topic usually covered by someone else. The same proposition holds true at radio and TV stations as well. Smaller media and web outlets are far more flexible.

Competition in journalism is ongoing and universal, a process sometimes called “creative tension.” Journalistic competition includes not only external battles — one magazine versus another or one radio station against a second station — but also internal fights between individuals, staffs and sections. Success is measured by prestige assignments, column inches, posting placements, posting numbers, air time and positioning. If you’ve got a story that will lead page one, the reporter who writes it will look good to colleagues and peers — at least for a day. Conversely, the reporter who does great work for a year and is then less productive can be fired. There may be tenure in teaching and job security in many fields, but journalism isn’t one of them.

Individual Reporters

Recognize that the editorial process is complex and that the interest of a single reporter may not assure coverage. A local television station, for instance, may have assignment editors, reporters, anchors and producers involved in the decision to use or not use a particular item. Their preferences may be delayed or overturned if a hot story breaks, an executive producer dislikes the topic, or a camera crew isn’t available.

Don’t be surprised if you hear from a variety of people as a result of media coverage. Some will love what you say while others will think you’re subversive. Prospective purchasers will want your product while competitors will wonder how you got coverage and they didn’t. Then there will be individuals who feel that since you received media attention, you’re a rousing success and therefore obligated to finance their favorite charity. Most importantly, reporters constantly check competing media, so you’re likely to receive calls from other journalists as a result of one article or broadcast.

Be aware that you’re a seller in a buyer’s market. Even though you may have spent time with a reporter, been interviewed and supplied information, it doesn’t obligate a reporter to use your material, accept your views, or do a story.

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