Professional communications organizations are known to schedule a media panel discussion on their annual program calendars each year.
They do it because it’s easy, because members seem to turn out for these events and because usually, by creating a forum for PR people and journalists to interface, somebody will come away with a story, and someone else will come away with a PR placement.
The events themselves are predictable.
Three to five journalists sit at a table or on high stools in front of a group of communications pros who listen to about 10 to 15 minutes of opening remarks, and then the Q&A starts. This is where the real purpose for people being there starts emerge.
For some of the journalists, it’s a chance to get some grievances off their chests. They get to tell PR people what they are doing wrong in their pitches. These journalists provide this feedback in good faith and in the hope that some of the PR people will actually listen to them and contact them in the future, better prepared and better informed.
Other journalists do this because they like to hear themselves talk.
In the audience, some PR people attend because they really want to learn what makes journalists tick.
Too many don’t spend enough time actually talking to reporters day-to-day, so they wait for a formal meeting like this to actually listen to what journalists have to say. Still, they listen in good faith in the hope that they will actually learn something so they can be better prepared and informed in future media relations efforts.
Other PR people attend simply to look for an opportunity afterwards to corner a journalist and pitch a story.
Less commonly, reporters will highlight the good things PR people are doing, or will admit they actually rely on PR people for story ideas and development. And just as uncommonly a PR person in the audience may provide some constructive criticism to the media panel participants.
Kathryn Conda provided a great summary of the kinds of issues that pop up in these discussions on Muck Rack in 2014.
If you’re interested in changing things up at the next media panel event you attend, consider these tips.
1. Come with a list of some good things PR people are doing that are helpful to you. Make your examples as detailed as possible.
2. Don’t be afraid to admit that PR people do provide you with good story ideas.
3. Don’t make it difficult for PR people to reach you after the meeting. If you’re there to provide guidance, you should also be prepared to provide access.
4. Don’t presume to tell PR people how to do their jobs, but by all means, tell them how to best interact with you.
1. Don’t attend just to get five minutes with one of the panelists after the discussion to pitch a story. This is not fair to the journalists or the other attendees who are at the event to find common ground at a higher level.
2. Don’t pander or patronize the journalists with your questions during Q&A. Ask some substantive and tough ones to advance the dialogue.
3. Listen. Chances are pretty good that no matter how much experience you have, you’ll come away with something new that you can use as early as that afternoon, but it won’t happen if you’re fixated on your smart phone during the session.
4. Follow up. A day or so later, make it a point to follow up with at least one or two of the panelists, thanking them for taking the time, and for their insights, but do it genuinely. The goal is to build a stronger relationship with the individual reporter, and ultimately, strengthen relations between the media and the PR profession.
Any other tips for attending (or being part of) a media panel?
Tim O’Brien is owner of Pittsburgh-based O’Brien Communications, a corporate communications consultancy. He has over 30 years’ experience in communications and started his career as a journalist.
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