Media Relations Forum: Rule No. 1—Make Journalists Do Their Job

"News is too important to be left to the media," said Gary Wells, senior managing director of crisis PR agency Dix & Eaton, at the PR News Media Relations Forum, held at the venerable National Press Club in Washington D.C. In times of crisis, PR professionals have to take the offensive with the media, who often miss the facts in favor of salacious details—with the end goal of attracting eyeballs, said Wells.

The solution: "Immediately call out journalists on their mistakes, and make them do their job," he said.

Those were just two of many nuggets of advice offered by media relations experts yesterday.

On a day when BP CEO Tony Hayward was being grilled by Congress just down the street, panelists couldn't help but chime in on BP's media woes. John Deveney, president of New Orleans-based Deveney Communication, said BP needs a bigger stable of spokespersons to take the heat off of Hayward. Deveney's agency recently took on the  Lousiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism as a client. "On paper, BP has done a lot of things right, but they've failed to be quick, credible and consistent," said Deveney.

One of the buzzwords at the event was "content." As journalists become one-person operations that are strapped for time, they'll take a well-written press release and run the first few graphs nearly verbatim. Sarah Martin, VP of corporate communications at software company CSC, said her team is setting up "content factories" and investing heavily in platforms such as video, Web site landing pages and skilled business writers. "We're rethinking how our team is organized, with more focus on search and better integration of all marketing functions," said Martin.

With all the talk about the care and feeding of journalists, the tables were turned in the afternoon "PR/Media Smackdown," as three members of the media revealied their pet peeves in interacting with PR pros. "If you want to know what stories I respond to, you have to read my articles," said Lynn Sweet, columnist and Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times. "I don't have time to chit-chat about stories that I don't cover."

Howard Arenstein, correspondent at CBS Radio News and Washington radio bureau manager for CBS News, said he's now using Twitter to hunt for story ideas and sources—all the more reason for PR to immerse itself in social media.

Panel topics ran the gamut, from media resource allocation to Web site optimization to measuring media outcomes. But Chris LaPlaca, senior VP of corporate communications at ESPN, perhaps put the changing media landscape in the best perspective: "While some of the tools and platforms used to reach the media have changed over the years, you still have to have a great story to tell, and strong personal relationships with journalists are still important."