Developing Junior Staff Into Media Relations Experts

In a recent PR News Blog post, Diane Schwartz wrote that she received three calls in one week from junior staff at various PR firms asking her if she received a press release they sent.

I’ve practiced public relations for 10 years and started in the profession as an intern. I developed media lists, wrote press releases and distributed them. And I was directly instructed by Senior Account Executives, Account Supervisors and Vice Presidents to pick up the phone and ask the editor if he or she received a press release.

At the Senior Account Executive level and above, a person has been in the business for at least four years. And early in their careers, now experienced professionals definitely called a busy editor to ask if he or she received a press release, and the editor in turn let them have it with both barrels.

So why do we continue to instruct junior staff to pitch stories this way?

A lot of it has to do with PR agency workloads. Other reasons include the subtle (or not so subtle) pressure to remain billable; the stress of attaining that next title; and learning new tactics such as social media to do our jobs. In the middle of all of this, we are moving away from the basics—client relations, media relations, writing well and most importantly, training and developing new talent. 

I developed the following strategy that I’ve used to teach interns and junior staff to pitch stories and follow-up on press releases appropriately. When I took the time to actually teach them how to do their jobs, it increased the junior staffs’ confidence and work quality, and my ability to take on other responsibilities.

•    Involve junior staff in the account from the very start. Let them sit in on client calls and meetings; hand them trade publications not just to make clips, but to read and learn; and encourage them to research the client and related industry.
•    Copy junior staff on all communications materials developed and sent to the client. Allow them to write some of the content, and if you write it, let them edit it. I was an Account Coordinator and my manager allowed me to write client plans. Increasing my responsibility allowed her to work on other tasks such as new business development.
•    When showing junior staff how to pull a media list, also teach them to intimately know their media targets—not just a publication, an editor’s name and title, but by reading articles the editors have written, and even what other editors have written about the editor and/or publication. Also, ensure they make note of publication deadlines so no one on the team is calling an editor at a bad time.
•    Team leaders should work with junior staff to develop story ideas and key messages. No one should leave the room until those messages roll off their tongues comfortably and accurately. IMPORTANT: This gives those pitching something else to say to the editor instead of, “Did you get our press release?”
•    Pitching doesn’t come naturally to most people. Junior staff should have the opportunity to practice pitching with team leaders before they get on the phone. Team leaders should also allow junior staff to sit in on their own media calls.
•    Take a few minutes to let junior staff make a couple of calls while you listen. Don’t try to coach what they say while they are on the phone. Listen, take notes, and after the call is over, address what they did well and areas of improvement.
•    Let junior staff know they are going to get some negative responses, and that they should just make a note of what was said, thank them and move on. It may be the story idea or the editor may have had a really bad day at work. It should NEVER be that the editor was called while on deadline.

Once a PR professional has reached management level, it is their responsibility to teach junior staff basic tactics and how those tactics work within a strategic plan. Talent development leads to better client service and relationships, a cohesive, productive team and a stronger organization.

This article was written by Nicole V. Linton, principal at Creativita Consulting. She can be reached at