Media Relations Roundtable: Move From Dictation to Collaboration

What are the hot topics in media relations? What should PR pros be doing to lift their media relations campaigns? PR News recently went to media relations experts to get answers to those questions.

Our media relations roundtable panel includes:

  • Emily Kinsky, assistant professor, communication division, Pepperdine University
  • Ryan Zuk, senior manager, media and analyst relations, Sage North America
  • Deirdre Breakenridge, president and executive director of communications, Mango! Marketing

PR News: What are two things that media relations/PR executives should be thinking about for the rest of 2010 in terms of better reaching the media?

Emily Kinsky: One of the most important actions media relations/PR professionals need to consider going forward is building relationships with media. While the goal has remained the same, the tools and channels have changed the last few years. Besides talking to them in person, by phone or via e-mail, you can now develop or expand those relationships through Twitter, for example. Follow journalists who cover your field.

PR practitioners should make good use of ProfNet and/or Help A Reporter Out (HARO).  Both of these entities post needs for experts on their Twitter feeds. (HARO's Twitter feed: @helpareporter. For ProfNet, see or @ProfNet). Through these sites and feeds, members of the media announce a need for sources for stories in progress. Also, start a list of those reporters posting requests related to your client’s industry.

Ryan Zuk: Think about completing the move from dictation to collaboration. Megaphone communications that trumpet news to huge lists of journalists—yet signal this news isn’t uniquely for them—must become relics of the past. The transition from dictation to collaboration has occurred for most communicators who have either always appreciated the value of collaboration, or who are now convinced from experiencing social media’s benefits and witnessing the crises it has amplified. The rest of 2010 offers PR an opportunity to prove out its customer-centric focus for the organizations, clients and media we support. This comes at a time when most news outlets are operating with fewer personnel who are time strapped to produce content. The window of opportunity to support journalists, freelancers and bloggers has blown wide open.

Deirdre Breakenridge: The first thing is to understand that the media scours the Long Tail of the Web for story ideas, and their participation in social networks continues to increase every year. PR people need to learn how to engage with the media through social networks, and keep in mind that communication preferences will vary. You have to research your journalists to make sure the way in which you want to reach out to them (perhaps through a tweet or on a Facebook wall message) is in fact the way that they want to interact with you.

The second thing is to remember is that you should use social media as a resource to do more research, including homework on the journalist, the industry, and to uncover timely and relevant information to help the media with their stories.

PR News:
Speaking of social media, how is social media affecting media relations? What should PR pros about in integrating media relations outreach with social media such as Twitter and Facebook?

Breakenridge: Social media affects media relations because it allows the media to be invited directly into social networks.  They are able to listen to conversations firsthand, which was not as easy in year’s past. As a result, PR people have to be more knowledgeable, extremely skilled listeners and conversationalists, as well as savvy Web users to be able to proactively interact with journalists on a level that is so cutting edge and offers new and valuable information that is not easy to obtain otherwise. For example, sharing a link to a social media release, through Twitter or Facebook, is a great way to provide the journalist with interactive content.  However, any journalist will tell you that if (1) you don’t know who they are or who their audience is, and (2) if you don’t understand what they report on, then you shouldn’t send any kind of new shiny social media object. They appreciate knowledge and understanding first, and then all of the fancy bells and whistles.

Zuk: Social media first and foremost has advanced how we can research our markets and the journalists who cover them. Compare how you profiled editors and reporters just five years ago with how you do so today. Details about journalists which were previously passive have sprung to life. Social networks help us identify journalists’ most common and unique behaviors. We are now exposed to before-and-after details that journalists post on their social profiles and blogs, in addition to being able to evaluate their published articles and broadcasts. They’re actually giving us, and everyone, tips and advice on how to strike up compelling conversations with them.

One recommendation for integrating social media with media relations: Bridging virtual relationships into actual ones—including in-person visits and real-time phone conversations—remains powerful and critical in the digital era. Social media increases our opportunities to connect with media, yet connection is an initial stage. Earning their trust, honoring deadlines, learning their audiences and preferences, building friendships… these are all aided by online connection but solidified by actual presence.

Kinsky: Social media has made a large impact on media relations. Reporters have Twitter feeds and Facebook pages where you can keep up with what they’re doing, writing, reading, talking about, etc. The Twitter chat group #JournChat allows PR practitioners to ask advice from journalists, too.

These social media tools open doors for you to befriend, or at least become an acquaintance, to many reporters. Besides Facebook and Twitter, PR practitioners are blogging and following reporters’ blogs. They’re using Delicious to bookmark stories for journalists to use as background material. They’re increasing their audiences through podcasts. Plus, many citizens have become “citizen journalists” through their own Web sites, Twitter feeds or Facebook pages. This has expanded what our society considers “the media.”

PR News: How can PR better serve today's journalists?

Kinsky: Providing more information than a traditional news release is necessary now. Give them links to your Web site, related stories, speeches, downloadable logos, your event photos on Flikr, etc. I believe the same relationship guides hold true. Try to deliver the information in the preferred method of the journalist, in a timely manner and to the appropriate reporters.

Breckenridge: We can better serve journalists by increasing our knowledge of the subject matter that’s important to their readers or communities interested in their content. We should no longer be considered the PR people who send the news releases that are nothing more than “spammy” broadcast messages filled with “spin” and “hype,” when we have the tools for targeted one on one dialogue.  We should no longer be viewed as the PR professionals who don’t get it, or who just don’t take the time to research and understand what the journalist needs, when we have the knowledge, resources and the passion to reinvent our own industry’s reputation.

PR can better serve journalists by being genuinely interested in them and removing any perceptions of being genuinely lazy about learning their preferences. We’ve all likely attempted a blanket pitch at one time or another yet this seldom returns ideal results. Productive media and PR relationships require knowing how you can best support one another. Most of us have just a handful of journalists who are pertinent to our businesses survival. Immersing ourselves in the interests of these people and their audiences develops the direct connections we’re seeking. Everyone’s time is valuable, so reflecting how diligent you are with your own time can help guide brevity and keep you on point when asking a journalist to review your information. Consider spending a portion of each day, even if only 30 minutes, reading and learning about one of your core journalists.

Emily Kinsky,; Ryan Zuk,; Deirdre Breakenridge,