Good and Bad Lessons for New PR Pros from Political Talk Shows

Earlier this year, I wrote a column, “What New PR Pros Can Learn from Watching Political Talk Shows.” In this follow-up article, I’ll zero in on reasons why new communicators should act like investigative reporters and refuse to automatically accept what is said on the shows, and, importantly for their careers, from other information sources, without checking the veracity of statements.

Cable hosts hardly ever identify the political philosophy of guests, sometimes resulting in the dissemination of propaganda-like statements. Equally as bad, cable reporters and anchors seldom ask follow-up questions. Together, this makes for flawed journalism.

When researching information for a PR campaign, communicators need to question everything. As a former reporter and editor at New York City dailies, I have always felt that the best PR people should think like reporters. I realize you've heard that maxim countless times. Here's what it means:

  • When crafting a PR program, preparing a press release or pitching a story never include information from a single source, whether it is from a search engine, a periodical or even from the executives you are working with. Verify all factual information.
  • As above, never accept a statement as being the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Research it.
  • Switch up your diet of cable's political shows with broadcast newscasts. You’ll notice broadcast news is very different from its cable kin. Broadcast news is fact-filled instead of being talk TV. Make no mistake, the cable shows can be informative and entertaining, but as a PR pro, you'll benefit from including broadcast news content in your daily consumption.
  • Use network newscasts as a template when crafting a press release or pitch: Facts only, of course, with quotes from the executive(s) you are assisting. Better still, write press releases and pitches the way reputable reporters write in major newspapers. Be clear, concise and rely on facts. Remember when writing a press release or pitching you are acting as a reporter disseminating information.
  • Be aware that unlike respected print publications, cable TV political shows sometimes lack a wall between news and editorial departments. When preparing news releases create your own wall between opinion and fact.
  • Those who keep up with politics know spokespersons have agendas, which can lead to fact-bending. As a PR pro, never lie to a reporter, even if your supervisor tells you to do so. Once you’re caught lying, you will be considered an untrustworthy media source.
  • When speaking to a journalist or an executive, don’t act like a cable TV pundit and think that by repeating the same points you can change someone’s mind. A tip: When you feel an important point is not receiving enough attention from a journalist, write an email to the reporter expanding on the point and explaining why you believe it’s worthy of further discussion.
  • Pay close attention to how cable TV anchors call on anchors of other programs on their network for expert analysis. This is often a ploy to improve ratings. Nearly all the anchors are glorified pundits. Do not act like a TV anchor. If you need help with a PR problem ask for help from an individual who is experienced in the subject, regardless of the account team.

Arthur Solomon was SVP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller. A frequent contributor to PR News, he is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. Reach him at: [email protected] or [email protected]