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PR lessons for dealing with media you probably never learned in communications schools

by | May 24, 2021 | Analysis, Public Relations

There’s an old adage among military men: Once the battle begins, much of the preparations are useless.

The same is true in our business, as PR practitioners are aware. Often, the detailed crafted program does not satisfy the client—and even if it does, results are often scanty. What I have done in such situations, unlike most practitioners, who refuse or are fearful of admitting defeat to a client, is to tell the client the program is not working and, as football coaches do, make mid-game adjustments.

But during my long PR career, I have often found the reason for a program’s failure is because PR practitioners tend to go by the ancient tenets of public relations, many of which should have been shredded decades ago. This is most evident in the “according to Hoyle” media relations aspects of public relations, which I have never followed.

Below are several media contact strategies, some which go against traditional thinking, which I have always used and urged people who reported to me to follow:

  • Don’t ignore trade books—beat reporters often get story ideas from them.
  • When holding major press conferences, always also invite desk and night editors and assignment editors. Most will not attend, but they’ll appreciate not being ignored.
  • Don’t limit pitches to only daytime hours. Overnight assignment editors, who often plan the a.m. assignments, should be included. This means PR people will have to work into the evening, but, in my opinion it’s part of the job.
  • Send info on upcoming events to daybook editors and also invite them to press functions. This should be PR 101 but many PR people are not aware of the daybooks.
  • Don’t worry about sending too much background material to journalists you target, but do it via regular mail.
  • Despite what is taught in PR schools and practiced by do-it-by-the-book practitioners, don’t limit your pitches to only one journalist at an outlet. You can send the same pitch at the same time to multiple journalists on a specific beat, but always with a “CC” so that they’ll know that you did so.
  • If you get a hit in a major publication, make certain to send it along with a pitch to TV producers. If you follow news coverage closely, as everyone in our business should, you’ll notice that many stories are covered on TV a few days after a story appears in a major pub.
  • Always make certain that the names of the journalists you are pitching are spelled correctly. I’ve known editors who will not even look at a pitch if their names are not spelled correctly.
  • Provide journalists with your after hours and weekend contact information. You have to be available to a journalist, not vice versa.
  • Never send information to a journalist just because it came from a client. Always check to make certain it’s accurate—and don’t be afraid to tell the client if it isn’t.
  • A day after sending the initial pitch, I always follow up with an email describing various ways a story could be approached, but do not attempt to speak with the reporter until several days later.
  • This is the most controversial of my tactics: Despite what is taught in PR schools and practiced by do-it-by-the-book practitioners, don’t limit your pitches to only one or two lines. I’ve always structure my pitches as feature stories except in the very rare occasions when I actually had really hard news, an uncommon occurrence in our business, whose job mainly is to invent news. The trick is to write an opening graph that will attract the attention of journalists so that they will read the second graph and beyond. I structure my pitches as feature stories for the following reasons. It’s impossible to describe why a pitch is newsworthy in one or two lines and by crafting it as a feature story it shows the journalist the various different ways a story can be approached. Sometime my pitches are eight or nine graphs and I’ve never been told that they are too long.
  • Of course, the most important aspect of dealing with the media is to never exaggerate, never mislead and never lie.

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Arthur Solomon
Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr@juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.

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