I’m joining my former WXRT News colleague, Charlie Meyerson with our first blog brainstorm.
Charlie has graciously agreed to my request about his good, bad and ugly experiences with PR people. I’ve happily obliged his idea to dispel the myths about journalists who switch to public relations. Keep visiting here for this unique online conversation between a veteran journalist and a veteran PR professional.
Often when I meet new clients, someone invariably jokes that when I left journalism for public relations, I entered the “dark side” of communications. Heck, even I feared I’d sell my soul by switching to a PR career after 20 years in broadcast news at WXRT, WBEZ, and WGN radio.
I recalled conversations in the City Hall Press Room, cynically feeding the misconception about PR people with names like: hacks, flaks, spinmeisters, handlers, sellouts and worse. So in my mind, I too feared becoming one of those dark characters lurking behind the curtains when I accepted the Communications Director’s job for Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 1995 re-election campaign.
After 17 years in PR and media relations, I can tell you that dark sinister image is great for TV dramas, but not a reflection of reality. In fact, these real-life nicknames are more fitting monikers: ”Story Assistant,” “Mr. Communicator” and “Message Engineer.” Our role, as PR people is to communicate our clients’ stories and help journalists with story ideas.
We serve as the media’s information providers, schedulers, and fact-checkers. With jobs continuing to decline at newspapers, TV and radio stations, those media reps lucky enough to remain employed need all the help I can possibly give them.
Providing ideas — knowing when and how
Reporters have even greater pressures to feed the beast — the 24-hour news cycle. Without ideas from people like me, they’d have to do more scouting, calling and mining for sources. I routinely get journalists’ request for ideas. In fact, even when I don’t have a client expert, I will go out of my way to find sources to help them out (in journalism as in life, there is value in paying it forward).
Reporters often lament about the hundreds of daily emails clogging their inboxes, so before sending an email, I call first, ask if they’re on deadline, or leave a short message about a client who’s an expert source with a promise to send details in an email. It’s how I interested Newsradio 780 reporter Mike Krauser to interview my client, Marathon Coach Brendan Cournane on the day before the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Krauser’s reports aired throughout the day.
Providing enough facts, without overwhelming reporters
Journalists need a daily dose of ideas and supporting materials to help them craft their stories. Researchers or junior staffers may have completed those tasks in the past. Now, the legwork is often done by the PR pro who pitched the story.
In addition to sending them a press release, PR professionals will be asked to help develop a complete package for a news report, as well as for online media content. A package would involve assembling fact sheets, photos, graphics, charts and even happy customers to validate a client’s claims. Some of those components were gathered for a live interview on PBS’ Chicago Tonight, and a long-form web report on WTTW.com about the National Museum of Mexican Art.
Here’s another recent example of TV coverage on ABC7 Chicago about plans to build Chicago’s first elevated park – The Bloomingdale. The PR legwork required roughly a full working day of assembling the facts, photos and architectural renderings and coordinating experts’ schedules for interviews.
Knowing their needs in a crisis
When reporters are under intense deadlines, that’s often when they need PR people the most. For example, last year during the recession when the stock market tumbled amid concerns about European debt, I followed the news to identify ways I could offer my clients’ insights to reporters and TV producers. As a former broadcast journalist, I had to turn on a dime during breaking news. I know reporters and producers need experts as news unfolds. To save them time, I had experts lined up and ready when I reached a WGN-TV producer at his home, to offer my client’s commentary on the tumultuous ride for stock market investors during summer, 2011.
I’ve established trusted open relationships with reporters who count on me to deliver expert sources who are prepared, quotable and knowledgeable.
There are always a few bad apples who spoil it for everyone, and Charlie has a pretty good story about one of them in his Meyerson blog: PRs dark side not always a myth.
Post happily written by Michelle Damico