Top takeaways from every media panel: think like a reporter
As a mid-level public relations professional (and a career agency practitioner, at least so far,) I often find myself at PR industry networking events.
Sometimes, said events involve inspiring talks by super successful pros—sometimes, they are simple meet-and-mingles with like-minded communication colleagues throughout the region. But many, many times, these events involve a media panel—a roundup of reporters, editors and/or producers who are already strapped for time, resources and presumably patience.
And while professionals on both sides of the PR/media fence like to joke about the “dark side,” I often find myself empathizing with my media counterparts as they tick off the same exact “do’s and don’ts” they desperately tried to drill into our minds at the last media panel, which was likely only two weeks prior.
Because I’ve always been an agency professional (even during my internships as an undergraduate,) I’ve always considered my PR person role an extension of the local newsroom. Sure, I only work for certain clients, and I’m not reporting on an entire region or concentrating on one beat, but I’m still tasked with finding the story, the hook or the human element—precisely what so many busy reporters do every day.
So, to save everyone (on both sides) some aggravation, some rejection, and perhaps, even some money on that next media panel registration fee, I’ve rounded up the top takeaways from every media panel.
Take a look below, and stop yourself before asking the same old questions at your next networking event.
1. Know your stuff. This one is so, so obvious—but it constantly comes up at media panels, so let’s set the record straight right now. For the sake of our reputation as an industry, please do not pitch the education reporter a story about your bakery client. Same goes for pitching your tech CEO to a local house & home columnist. This is the easiest mistake to avoid, and yet, members of the media are forever beseeching us to know our stuff. Flip on the news in the morning. Listen to the radio in the car. It’s really not difficult to know who’s covering what. Be an informed citizen—and an informed publicist!
2. “Pack” the story. I learned this lesson working for a former television journalist-turned-perky publicist. When it comes to television (and really, all media,) it’s important to identify the newsworthy angle, prepare it, and “pack” it like a nice little newsworthy birthday gift. It won’t hurt to tie it up with a proverbial big red bow. No more open-ended, ambiguous story ideas. Before sending a hazy idea to gauge interest, put yourself in the reporters’ shoes. Would you want someone (who’s essentially asking for a favor) making more work for you? Considering this question makes reporters’ lives infinitely easier, and in turn, yours, because you’ll easily secure your client coverage.
3. NO Press Releases! If I had one penny for every time I’ve heard a reporter or producer say “I hate press releases” at a media mixer, I would no longer be working in PR. I’d be on a permanent tropical vacation. That’s how many times I’ve heard it. As PR pros, we should appreciate that the value of a press release lies internally—and certainly not in the media relations realm. Clients post them under the “newsroom” tab on their websites, and circulate them as memos to employees. And that’s where the list of people who care about a press release ends. Send a reporter the story in a quick paragraph or photo, not an endless, often jargon-filled block of text—which many PR people love to attach—another reporter pet peeve.
4. Exclusivity is key. Would it make you feel good to know that someone is treating you like a number—just one in a zillion other numbers solely to help move their career along? Probably not. Definitely not. And that’s exactly how PR people make reporters feel when we regurgitate identical pitches in a desperate attempt to get someone—anyone—to be interested in our client. See number two on this list, and pack the story with a specific reporter in mind, because you know he or she will be interested, and not because you’ve already sent the same thing to everyone else and they ignored you.
5. Be not afraid. This is a little nod to my twelve years of Catholic education—and it’s exactly what I tell new professionals when they express anxiety and fear regarding media. Be not afraid! First, your worry and insecurity will come through your email or voicemail with big flashing lights. If you’re not confident in the story you’re sending, you shouldn’t be sending it. Second, reporters, editors and producers are people, too. Every media panel I’ve ever attended has a variation of this theme running through the question and answer portion. If they like the story, they will cover it. If they don’t, they will either ignore your pitch or simply decline. If you continue to pitch the same story they’re ignoring, that’s when things get scary—so avoid doing that if you can.
Droves of communication professionals pay good chunks of hard earned (seriously, seriously hard earned) cash to attend media panels, and these events are essentially all the same. When it comes to working with the media, treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Be informed and considerate and try to imagine yourself on the other side. Don’t make a reporter work harder than they already do, and remember that reporters and PR folks exist in the media landscape to help each other, not make each others’ lives or careers more difficult or contentious.
Kathryn M. Conda is a Senior Associate at a small agency in South Jersey. She’s secured high-impact opportunities in national outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, AOLMoney, Ladies’ Home Journal and Glamour, as well as strong placements locally in Philadelphia and South Jersey media outlets. Kathryn is a member and committee chair of the Philadelphia Public Relations Association.
Photo: Business conference via Shutterstock