4 ways PR professionals help me do my job better

As a journalist, the one group of people with whom I interact almost as often as my own colleagues are public relations professionals.

And I count that as a huge plus.

For starters, they tend to understand the work of their respective companies and clients better than I ever could.

Quite often, a PR professional will share a story idea with an angle I hadn’t thought of — simply because he or she understands the subject matter from an insider’s perspective.

These folks also have direct access to the information and sources critical for me to do my job.

And at the heart of that job is covering the major news of the used-car industry from a business-to-business perspective — with fairness, professionalism and accuracy.

That’s the “hard news” portion of the job: the quarterly or monthly numbers, mergers and acquisitions, personnel announcements, legal/regulatory situations, etc.

Of course, there’s also the feature story and enterprise storytelling aspect of the job, of which I tend to have more editorial discretion.

To be blunt, when it comes to the latter, the better the PR personnel is with building professional relationships with reporters/editors and understanding our jobs, the more likely I am to write a feature story on that company or topic he or she pitches.

I can’t even begin to count the number of outstanding PR professionals I know who excel at relationship-building and understanding the work of journalists — all while representing the best interest of their client/company and performing professional, impressive PR work.

Here are four real-life examples of their habits:

  • They correctly identify the topic(s) the journalist covers and make pitches accordingly.We have been pitched story ideas on everything from fast-food fried chicken to rock music, both of which I love dearly, but neither of which has anything to do what our publication covers.

    That’s not to say I don’t like off-the-beaten-path story ideas – but it has to be applicable to the auto industry. An example: virtual reality headsets. That might not seem like it fits, but a company that pitched me this idea tied it in to how VR is becoming an effective sales tool in the car business.

    Point is, whether you’re pitching a boilerplate story or something off the wall, make sure you understand and vocalize why it make sense for that specific publication.

  • They offer the chance to follow-up for more information.Note: this does not mean asking to review the story before publication. Beyond the journalism ethics involved, sharing a story for review creates a logistical log-jam. In a deadline-driven business, slowing the process is the last thing I want to do.

    But understandably, your client might be discussing subject matter that’s highly technical or legal-intensive, etc. and you don’t want anything to get lost in translation.

    There’s a way around that: At the end of the interview, offer the reporter the opportunity to follow-up if there’s anything that’s unclear as he or she is writing the story. On more than one occasion, I have taken advantage of that offer, and the story was better for it.

  • They offer feedback on stories and the opportunity to share a different side of the story.One of the most helpful emails I receive quite often from PR folks goes something like this:

    “Hey, Joe. Read your story on Topic/Company ABC. We at Company XYX do some work in that same and have some additional perspective on that topic. Might make an interesting story; can I set you up with one of our executives?”

    Doing this adds to the discussion, can offer another viewpoint to a complicated topic and gives stories more shelf-life — all of which I sincerely appreciate.

  • Offer embargoed news and the opportunity to do an interview in advance of the story.I understand this is not always possible. But doing this (when feasible) allows the reporter/editor to plan ahead and give your client more thorough coverage.

    Of course, it’s nice to be the first news outlet to report something; I’m not denying that. But it goes beyond scoops; it’s about being proactive versus reactive in putting together a more complete story.

I can’t emphasize enough how important public relationships professionals are to people in my line of work. And more importantly, they’re valued and respected in this newsroom.

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