PR should stand up to scribes – Column in DNA


Found this column in DNA. Felt it’s worth sharing.. Read on :D

Surekha Pillai: PR should stand up to scribes

Surekha Pillai | Sunday, August 28, 2011

One of the most exciting — and sometimes nerve wracking — events in the life of a PR fresher is when s/he is first assigned to an outstation project. I got my break a year after I joined a PR agency, when I was sent to Calcutta to coordinate three media interviews for an overseas client. I prepared well for the project, and the media outlets I had pitched to readily agreed to the interviews. I sent extensive briefing material to the journalists, reconfirmed the meetings, and finally reached Calcutta after enjoying what was my first flight experience.

After meeting the client, I reached the first media outlet — a leading newspaper in Calcutta — to pick up the journalist. I walked into the bustling business bureau where I was taken to the correspondent who was busy tapping away at the keyboard. I flashed a big smile, introduced myself and told him that the car was waiting outside. He looked up at me and casually said: “Oh I can’t make it. I’m busy, something has come up.” I froze for several seconds while he went back to his tapping.

After what seemed like an eternity, I managed a weak smile and reminded him that I had reconfirmed the interview the previous evening and the client who was waiting to meet him at the hotel had travelled from the US just for these meetings. Nothing happened. In a last-ditch effort, I requested him to send a colleague. “No one is free.” I walked out, sat on a bench and wept, battling visions of a furious client and a boss morphed into one fire-breathing dragon enveloping me in flames. I am not sure what made me do what I did next — perhaps it was fear — but I walked into the chief of bureau’s room and, in between tears, narrated what had happened and pleaded with him to assign someone. Luckily he did and the day was saved.

I experienced different versions of this event throughout my PR career. Once a trainee reporter was sent as a replacement to a business magazine editor to interview a global CEO, and asked him questions about competitor brands, assuming them to be from his company’s portfolio. A reporter once showed up over 90 minutes late for an interview with a company chairman after assuring me every five minutes that he would be reaching in the next five.

Then there was this time a TV journalist, after confirming the show she wanted to interview my client for, walked in without the camera crew and said she just wanted an informal chat. On another occasion, a show producer repeatedly assured me a journalist was on her way to meet my client — an Ambassador — as I continued to wilt under his glare. The journalist didn’t show up and I saved those SMSes for years as a reminder of how some journalists could deliberately mislead.

Another memorable incident comes from a time when a reporter from India’s top news daily demanded I leave the room in which the interview I helped set up (with a much-in-demand music director who hadn’t yet won an Academy Award) was being held. I refused to leave my client’s side. The interview took place and was soon followed up with a call from a shrieking editor of the entertainment supplement to my boss with an order that I call her up and apologise within the next 10 minutes. My boss was kind enough to pass on the message and leave the decision to me. I didn’t make the call mostly out of anger and partly from fear — the editor was known to be a terror.

The PR industry is replete with stories about journalists’ appalling levels of arrogance and unprofessionalism. While a large part of it could be attributed to their cocky assumption that the PR community needs them more than the other way round, much of it is also a result of PR professionals taking this impudence without protest. If no solution comes to mind, dear PR industry, a hunger strike to get media to accord due respect to PR might not be a bad idea. Anybody?

Pallavi Palan
Blogger at The Color Purple

Debatable: What makes a good PR pro: A degree or a journalism background?

Hi All,

Came across this debatable article about what makes a good PR professional, a degree or journalism experience. It is authored by Debra Caruso is president/owner of DJC Communications, a media relations firm in New York City. Please read on the article to know the authors view.

It will also be interesting to know your views on the same. Let us discuss and educate the budding PR professionals on which path they should follow. 


What makes a good PR pro: A degree or a journalism background?

This former journalist (hint, hint) posits four reasons that experience trumps a degree. Do you agree?

By Debra Caruso

3 August 2011

In my experience, I’ve found that the most successful PR people are those who think and act like reporters. Anyone in sales will tell you that you have to know your customer base. For those of us who toil pitching stories to reporters, it certainly helps—and may be imperative—to have the journalistic background that tells how to define a story, write it and present it. PR is sales, and reporters are the customers.

When I was a journalism student at Fordham University, one of my instructors was a news director at a New York City radio station. He told us repeatedly to use the “who cares?” rule to decide which stories to choose for that night’s newscast. Who cares if a guy drove off the George Washington Bridge? Who cares if the price of oil went through the roof today?

The answer to “who cares?” would determine the order of the stories. If more people care about the price of oil than the poor guy who drove off the bridge, then oil is the top story. Journalists know this viscerally. PR people who have never worked in a newsroom may not have that kind of news judgment.

Here’s a quick recap of four key reasons why journalists make the best PR pros. If your department or hiring manager is debating whom to hire—a former journalist versus someone who has never worked the newsroom—offer this list.

 1.   A nose for news will help drive client coverage.

First and foremost, it’s our job as PR pros to advise clients on what stories to send out. We’re successful if we can do this with authority. There’s no use letting a client believe that a ho-hum story will sell; we will only look foolish when we can’t sell it. With a reporter’s nose for news, we know to offer the proper advice. If the client knows our background as journalists, he or she will take it.

 2. Press releases and company/client copy will be more clear, compelling and accurate.

It is likewise with the writing of a news release. Write your release as well as the stories in newspapers (on websites, etc.), and without the back-patting, peddling and verbosity some would include. Releases should also include data to support what’s presented. Who better to write a release than the former journalist who has written a thousand stories, and to whom writing comes naturally? Yes, there may be messaging slipped in and a quote attributed to the client, but a good release will be solid news that a media outlet will be happy to share with readers.

 3. Hit rates for client or company pitches will increase.

A former reporter knows not to call reporters when they are on deadline—harder these days because of around-the-clock-news—and to make it quick. It is best to avoid these phone calls, but if necessary, include only pertinent information.

 4. Media connections will increase and reporter rapport will improve.

Journalists know how to follow a reporter and get to know what topics the person is most likely to report on. Good PR people, like journalists, scour news outlets and read everything they can get their eyes on. They know who’s covering what.

 If PR pros are really good, by the time they make a pitch they are able to offer other interview subjects (even if they don’t represent them) and other angles to a story. Former journalist PR pros think like reporters and do everything in their power to help them put together a piece they can sell to an editor.

 My background is in radio news; I worked on constant deadline in a busy New York City newsroom. I had to interview newsmakers, cut tape, write stories and package a five-minute newscast, often in fewer than 30 minutes.

There is no better training in decision-making, writing, interviewing and presenting. I learned that there was no such answer as “no.” If there was a story that required an interview from a certain politician, that person had to be found. Deadlines were immovable, and there was no excuse for dead air—not even a split second for a pause or misstep.

This is the way it is in PR, especially when working with journalists at major outlets. If you want your clients to be in a story, you have to make the interview happen per the reporter’s deadline. It helps to beat the deadline so the competition doesn’t snag it first.

 There is a potential downside to all of this. Former journalists generally have a number of friends and colleagues working as reporters or editors at the outlets they pitch. Some would say this is an advantage, and they’d be right. But it can also be a disadvantage.

 When we are close to someone, it can be difficult to approach him time and again asking for coverage. We don’t want to damage friendships. For me, this was the most difficult part of the transition from the newsroom to the agency. Though I’ve bitten the bullet hundreds of times to make those pitches, I have winced on many occasions. Having these contacts is helpful, but good businesspeople must be judicious.

 Also, I will admit that there are good public relations programs at some very good universities. I wouldn’t shy away from hiring someone who came to me with a PR degree and the skills described above, but I would prefer a seasoned journalist.

Debra Caruso is president/owner of DJC Communications, a media relations firm in New York City. She is a former reporter and producer for WHN Radio in New York, and former news director at WFUV Radio. A version of this article originally ran on PR Café.

Best Regards,
Richa Seth

PR Consultant
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