As senior political analyst for CNN from 1990 to 2009, Bill Schneider fielded his share of pitches from PR professionals, and has some strong opinions about how PR should work with journalists. Schneider, who is a distinguished senior fellow and resident scholar at Third Way in Washington, D.C., and Hirst Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University (and contributor to CNN International), led a panel on the state of relations between the media and PR at PR News' How-To Conference on Dec. 1. He spoke with PR News before the conference to lay out some of his basic tenets of media relations.
PR News: What is the No. 1 concept you wish PR professionals understood about the needs and nature of the work of journalists in today’s media market?
Bill Schneider: That journalists are always looking for a story. Not an announcement. Journalists look for the human interest angle. A story has to have interesting characters, an absorbing plot and some unexpected developments. Not just information.
PR News: What’s the best way for a PR pro to contact a journalist—particularly when it comes to first-time contact?
Schneider: E-mail. E-mail is not too intrusive, like a telephone call. And it's not too remote, like a fax or a mailing. The e-mail should be personally directed to the journalist. As an individual, not a category.
PR News: Has the rise of bloggers made it tougher for journalists from well-known media brands to get a guarantee that a story is exclusive?
Schneider: Sure. Because people talk. That's why time is of the essence. You have to impress the journalist with the fact that nobody else has this. But they will soon.
PR News: When was the last time a PR pro spent deskside time with you?
Schneider: Actually, never. Everything is done by e-mail. I would resent it if a PR professional asked me to spend valuable time with them, especially with deadlines looming.
PR News: What is the most common mistake made by PR pros in their dealings with the media?
Schneider: Not understanding the key role played by editors and producers. They're the gatekeepers. You may interest the journalist in a story, but the journalist has to sell it to an editor or a producer. The editor or producer will always ask why their readers or viewers need to know this.