4 Tips for PR Pros Working With Journalists


Stephen Snart

Last week, BPRS (Black Public Relations Society of Chicago) and NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists) hosted a panel entitled “The Ties That Bind” addressing the ever-relevant topic of how journalists and PR professionals can best work together. In an inspired move, the panel was comprised entirely of speakers who had worked in both journalism and PR. The group discussed several differences and similarities of our complementary professions – with one of the speakers summing up the connection most succinctly: “At the end of the day, we’re all really good communicators.” 

Key insights from the panel include: 

Play the Long Game: Focus on nurturing relationships over time rather than seeing a specific pitch as your only shot. Maudlyne Ihejirika from the Chicago Sun-Times gave an example of a PR representative from Dominick’s who cultivated a relationship over several years by updating her on news and inviting her to events with the understanding that she wouldn’t necessarily be able to cover them. After enough news was shared and goodwill fostered, Maudlyne was able to find the right angle and it resulted in a great story for Dominick’s.

Keep it Professional: It’s important to nurture relationships and social media has given us even more opportunity to connect on a personal level. But don’t forget the professional divide. PR professionals should maintain empathy for journalists (understanding deadlines and the need for compelling information) but remember that everything you say can be treated as on the record, even if you’re friends.

We Live in an Era of Transparency: Deborah Shelton, who recently took on a senior position at Golin Harris after 30 years as a journalist, noted that the response “no comment” doesn’t work the way it used to. In this day and age it makes you look bad. Spokespersons should come from a place of confidence in order to control the message.

Leverage Social Media: Ron Childs from Chicago Defender (also a former PR professional) said that he can reach journalists ten times faster via Twitter than by phone or email. In the past he has pitched certain campaigns exclusively on Facebook and Twitter. 

Stephen Snart is a Senior Account Executive at Ketchum Public Relations. He is also the editor of LegendsofSpringsteen.com and has written about film at PopMatters, Not Coming to a Theater Near You and The L Magazine.

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