How to Balance the Demands of Clients With the Needs of Media


As we all know, things are changing drastically in the PR field. The traditional communications techniques are now being overshadowed by all things social. But I’m afraid something very critical—and very basic—might be getting lost in the 24/7 conversational shuffle: the importance of developing and nurturing relationships with journalists. I have provided PR and marketing services in-house or at agencies for early-stage start-ups, profitable mature companies, public enterprises, nonprofit organizations, celebrities and the public sector. That’s a lot of spin in a lot of languages, but some client experiences remain consistent. MEDIA COMES FIRST Our agency’s operating philosophy is always to put the media first, with the exception of revealing a client’s confidential information. Anyone can blast out a press release. But great PR pros craft stories—the kind the media will gladly pick up. If you’re a senior-level executive in-house, your primary clients are likely a senior or executive VP, the CEO or even the board of directors. No matter the semantics of who you report to or who you serve, all of us are expected to produce results and make our clients happy—and among those clients are our media contacts. That’s right— the reporter is also your client. Anyone who makes it a habit early in their career of burning bridges with journalists for the sake of their primary clients usually doesn’t go far in their career. Which brings us to the subtlest of skills: educating clients on how PR professionals work with the press. Like a teenager’s befuddled parents, we can never be sure what our clients will ask us to do on their behalf toward a reporter. This education actually starts before we take a client on. CLASS IN SESSION We tell our clients during the courtship phase that our relationship with a key business editor or broadcaster took years to nurture. It has to service many of our clients’ needs. How would you feel, we tell a new or prospective client, if we fulfilled a wayward request from another client knowing it could blow up and reduce our ability to produce results for you? Then the rubber hits the road when we say we would rather lose a client than fulfill a request that could hurt our other clients. It’s kind of a pay-it-forward approach, only it usually plays out on The Wall Street Journal or on the evening news. One happy journalist is infinitely more valuable to an agency than the revenue from one misguided or unreasonable client. The same situation applies in the corporate setting as well. You’ll go through many jobs at different companies, but work with the same reporters for many years. Those relationships need to last. We’ve learned that the clients who listen, but don’t actually hear, often have the most unreasonable media expectations. TEACHABLE MOMENTS Our goal is to introduce our clients to the journalists most essential to their business. While we do most of the heavy lifting, clients should be familiar with the basic rules of media engagement. The key is fostering empathy. First we relate to the client how PR professionals work most effectively with journalists. Important PR/media relations rules communicated to clients include: • Know the reporter inside and out, and be familiar with their articles. • Don’t ever lie to a reporter. You will usually get caught and you will provoke them to dig for anything else you might be covering up. The last thing you want is for a reporter not to trust you. • Reporters have multiple, absolute deadlines five to six days a week and are under enormous pressure. Reply to their e-mails and calls immediately, if you can. • Speaking of calls, depending on the relationship and how a reporter prefers to be contacted, a phone call or two a month to key journalists doesn’t hurt, even if there is no pitching involved. • Don’t let your own little world dominate when working with reporters. If you do something selfless for them on a Monday, it could result in a lead story for you on a Friday. While it’s true that the agency is responsible for handling the media for clients, it’s key for clients to be familiar with media relations best practices—maybe they’re well-known to you, but probably not to the client—especially because today’s busy media landscape dictates more direct contact with the client. Anything less could damage those relationships that took years to build. PRN CONTACT: This article was written by David Eichler, creative director and co-founder of Phoenix-based Dave and Sam PR. He can be reached at david@davidandsampr.com.

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