No haters here: Eight PR pros & journalists on building better relationships

No haters here: Eight PR pros & journalists on building better relationships

In PR Pros vs. Journalists: Pet Peeve Showdown, eight journalists and public relations professionals shared their gripes with the other side of the aisle.

If you’ve worked in either capacity, their complaints might have sounded familiar. But they didn’t paint a full picture.

PR folks and reporters also manage to, occasionally, work in harmony. There’s a necessary and symbiotic tie between the two groups:

Journalists want access to PR firms’ clients as sources for stories. PR pros need journalists to secure earned media coverage for those clients.

A few of the folks who took part in the previous article made sure to remind me of that fact.

“They’re not all bad,” they’d say. “One even did something nice for me once.”

Me too.

When working in music PR, I had journalists who went out of their way to accommodate bands’ sometimes erratic schedules. I always appreciated that. (Just you try getting five twenty-something guys awake, sober and on the same call, at the same time, for an interview.)

When working as a writer, I’ve had PR people save me loads of time by getting me more background and better access than I’d have ever dreamed to ask for. That’s much appreciated too.

I get it. Sometimes the very people who can feel like the bane of our existence can, in the next moment, be the heroes who seem to rush in and save our hides.

So today we’re going to flip the script and spread a little love.

Seven of our eight previous round-up guests are back, along with a new professional blogger.

Instead of sharing pet peeves about their PR-journalist counterparts, they’ll tell you about those who went above and beyond, or the general habits that leave them with a warm fuzzy feeling.

Lookin’ for love: What PR pros want from journalists

Jason Falls (@JasonFalls), a digital strategist and consultant at, gets right down to what PR people really want.

No one-off hookups here. They’re the “relationship” type.

Want to score points with your PR contacts? Set up an occasional lunch date. Ask them about their work. Show a little love.

As Jason puts it, it’s all about participation:

"The best thing a journalist or blogger can do is participate in the relationship.

I don't just pitch folks to get that project accounted for. I generally enjoy connecting with them so that I can be a resource to them along their varied career path.

When they reach out and see if I want to grab coffee to catch up, see news about a client and ask about it proactively, or just come up to me at a networking event to say hello, I know they see me as more than a flack trying to get a placement.

When they see me as a resource and a valued colleague (or even friend), that's the absolute best."

Jeremy Pepper (@jspepper), a public relations consultant and PR blogger, reinforces this interest in relationship-building.

Even better, Jeremy reminds us it’s a two-way street. Good relationships are partnerships. And they require a willingness to work together.

"The thing I like is meeting off-hours to get a relationship with the influencers and reporters. I have had enough reporters still meet for lunch or coffee, let me know what they're looking for and how best to work together.

I'm old skool and believe that PR is a bridge, so I want to be that conduit that makes it easier for the client/company.

And I know how busy and overworked journalists are - and how most influencers have a FT job and then the influencer work - so I appreciate the time."

Helen Reynolds (@HelReynolds), the digital communications and strategy consultant behind Social For The People, takes it a step further.

It’s not just about making time for PR reps. It’s about really getting to know them.

Don’t be just another journalist who shows up when it’s convenient or when you want something. Be one of those kindred spirits who really “gets” the PR people in your life.

"Working in PR, we get used to defining audiences and shaping our content towards different groups of people.

What I admire about journalists is that, often, they work so often on producing news for one audience that they just have an amazing knack of seeing what you pitch as a story that’s perfect for their viewers or readers.  

I can think of one great TV news reporter where I can say, ‘I’m working on this project’ and share a few details and he shapes it into a really compelling piece that captures attention and tells a story.”

Get out there. Make nice. Spend some time with PR people. Build relationships.

But be careful. Don’t be swayed by every flashy piece of content a PR rep tries to slip you. You don’t always know where it’s been.

Ike Pigott (@IkePigott), who works in corporate communications for Alabama Power, would rather you take things slowly.

"One thing that I think journalists could do to be helpful is to slow down, and think comprehensively again.

Many are in a rush to fill the content buckets, especially those who are beholden to click count quotas. They often grab something from a third-party source and run with it, without thinking about the methodology or the implications.

The examples I am thinking of come from content providers which report out dozens of surveys and rankings every week.

Reporters [eager] for content grab those and go, even if the definitions behind the rankings are lacking very important context.

An extra five minutes to say, ‘Which companies would care about this being published? Did they have a say in this? Is this being sponsored by a competitor? If I worked there, would I want to add anything to this conversation?’

Maybe the better way to sum all of this up is to simply be skeptical of the sources of the ready-made content.”

In other words, think about who you’re bringing home to your readers.

Staying true to yourself and your audience will go a long way toward helping you build relationships with the PR folks who can do the most for you in the long run.

Journalists want a little win-win

Here’s the thing about relationships. You have to give a little to get a little.

PR folks -- it’s not all about your needs. Sure. You have clients to answer to. But journalists and bloggers have readers, viewers, or listeners who count on them.

Reporters work their tails off all day building audiences, building trust -- the very things you say you want out of them.

What do they ask for in return?

Not much.

A little respect. A little appreciation. A little help every now and then.

You might be surprised how much the little things matter in maintaining the relationships you hold so dear.

Paula Hendrickson (@P_Hendrickson), freelance entertainment writer for publications like Emmy and Variety, offers a great example of how easy it can be for a good PR person to stand out in a so-so crowd.

"A few publicists always ask for extra time (and if I have an extra day or two to spare, I'll allow it since they asked), but [one] time the deadline fell on a Friday, and I was summoned for jury duty the following Tuesday. I clearly explained this was a very hard deadline since I needed to turn everything in before jury duty started.

One publicist emailed three days before the deadline, saying she'd been out of the office and was hoping for extra time. I explained the situation (and pointed out that I'd cc'd her emergency contact when I sent everything out the week before). Not only was that publicist the first to send everything in, [but] in three days she did more than any of the other publicists, so I told her she was Publicist of the Week."

You don’t always have to compete for a reporter’s attention. But keep this in mind -- your favorite journalists and bloggers are often under plenty of pressure without you adding to it.

Freelance blogger and content marketer, Sharon Hurley Hall (@SHurleyHall), had a nice run-in with a PR rep who helped her get ahead by making her life easier.

"I had a great experience with a PR rep recently when trying to get a quote from an influencer for an article.

He went the extra mile to get the quote I needed (in lots of detail) and he threw in a great pic too. That made my life much easier and helped me meet my deadline.”

See? How hard is that?

Give your partner what they need out of the relationship, and you’re much more likely to get what you want in return -- in business, as in life.

A little effort goes a long way.

That’s especially true if the object of your affection has recently been burned.

Just ask Philippa Willitts (@PhilippaWrites), a journalist who writes for publications like the Guardian, the Independent, the New Statesman, and Channel 4 News.

Sometimes in the journalist-PR game, rebound relationships turn out to be the most rewarding.

"I was writing about a political issue and my interviewee, from a political party, let me down. The only other political party that had an interest in this issue was running their annual party conference so were overrun with work but, nevertheless, their PR team got information to me, including several quotes from their spokesperson on the topic, within hours.

From their point of view, they got extra coverage during their party conference. From mine, the piece was saved by PRs making an extra effort after a different team had let me down."

In these relationships, being the reliable one beats “fun and flaky” every time. But is that enough to make it last?

You’ve made a good impression. You’ve roped in that journalist who caught your eye. Things are looking good. You’re ready to take it to the next level.

How can you keep your new journalist friend coming back for more?

Lori Widmer (@LoriWidmer), freelance writer and editor and owner of LDW Publishing, tells you what it takes to get her to commit:

"I love it when PR pros send relevant content. Some of them go one step further and set up article ideas on which their clients can speak.

I’ve used a few of them verbatim, and modified others slightly, but it shows me they get what I specialize in. It’s so much better to pitch the idea to a writer who will include their clients in an article than to pitch a contributed piece that may not see daylight.

Plus, they’re helping me find my first source for the article, not to mention the fact that they’ve just helped me increase my own income.

Those are the PR folks I turn to every time."

You mean maintaining a strong, mutually-beneficial relationship sometimes means putting the other person’s needs first?


Who’d have guessed?

Well would you look at that...

For all the animosity journalists and PR professionals sometimes display toward each other, it turns out we’re all really looking for the same things.

We don’t want to feel used. We don’t want to be taken for granted. We want a little give-and-take.

We want respect, appreciation, and an understanding of what we each bring to the table.

We want relationships -- real ones.

We want to take care of our clients’ needs while satisfying editors’ deadlines. And as journalists, bloggers, and PR pros, we can do both of those things much better when we look for ways to work together as a team.

So what do you say? Truce?

Jennifer Mattern is a freelance business writer, blogger, and PR professional specializing in online PR, new media, and publication strategy. In addition to running the All Indie Writers community, Jenn will soon re-launch NakedPR where she was known for taking on bad behavior in the PR industry through an anti-charm offensive. Visit for news and updates related to the upcoming re-launch. Twitter: @jenn_mattern

Photos: Created by Jennifer Mattern

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