When I joined Burson-Marsteller, the staff largely was composed of people from the communications business, including newspapers, consumer magazines, trade pubs, radio and TV and PR agencies.
When I left 25 years later, staff composition had changed. In the interim, communications schools became important feeders for PR firms.
While many graduates gain practical experience through internships, there is another relatively inexpensive way for them to acquire PR knowledge.
If they avoid taking too seriously some of the comments of TV pundits, politicians, pressure groups and segments of the business community, new PR pros can learn a lot from watching political shows on cable.
The most important thing a young PR pro can learn from watching these shows is to avoid writing or speaking to a reporter or brand executive like a pundit.
- Unlike pundits, keep your sentences short and crisp.
- Unlike pundits, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know,” to a reporter’s question.
- Unlike pundits, don’t be afraid to say, “I’ll look into it out and get back to you.” Don’t wing it.
- TV pundits use clichés and trite phrases such as “expanding the map,” “wave election” and “bad optics.” Such language contained in press releases or media pitches is likely to drive editors crazy. More important, it will count against your pitch.
Watching these shows illustrates the difference between so-so reporting and good reporting. Notice the reporters who largely echo what politicians or spokespeople tell them and, by contrast, those who provide clear, concise facts and useful information.
When preparing press materials, write the way newspaper reporters write and the way they talk. Beware of adding too many adjectives. Use short, factual sentences without hype. Another tip: while reading the daily newspapers step back and be aware of their writing styles.
Why Reporters Aren't Writing About Your Campaign
A tenet of PR is to think like a reporter. As a former journalist, I agree. In this context it means PR campaigns must contain news or include elements that will interest reporters and work for the brand.
A mistake I’ve witnessed often is crafting PR programs that only please the brand. That might make it easier to get the effort approved, but the desired results will be missing.
Often, we hear PR pros say journalists will not take the time to look at their pitches. In part that’s because too many story ideas lack value for the journalist and are considered fluff.
News people always want good stories. Be certain your pitches contain valuable elements for journalists. Make sure these interesting elements are clear in your pitch.
In terms of pitch length, I’ve never believed in the keep-it-short method. How a journalist can determine the value of a pitch from one or two lines baffles me. Always include facts, examples and other facets needed for a reporter to craft a news story.
Arthur Solomon is a former journalist and SVP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller. A frequent contributor to PR publications, he was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org