It’s hardly a secret: The relationship between public relations professionals and journalists has always been fraught with tension. Reporters roll their eyes at persistent pitching and often regard PR flacks with a hefty dose of skepticism. PR reps, meanwhile, are ever-vigilant against any whiff of unfair coverage of their clients.
Despite this dynamic, journalism has always depended on PR and vice versa – and that’s especially true in today’s media landscape.
Rapidly evolving business models have coincided with news cycles that are more frenzied than at any time in recent memory, meaning that fewer and fewer journalists are expected to produce more and more content. The Pew Research Center finds that in the U.S. alone, newsroom employment plunged 23 percent between 2008 and 2017.
It’s not only print and legacy media who find themselves hard-hit: CNN’s digital unit and new media startups like Vox are among the most prominent brands to announce substantial layoffs in recent months. Each week seems to bring news of additional layoffs and restructurings, as publishers pivot to video content and look to cut costs amid declining fortunes.
With journalists increasingly crunched for time and resources, PR connects them to key sources and keeps them abreast of major trends and narratives. This not only helps reporters meet mounting content demands, but also helps burnish their expertise on their respective beats.
For PR professionals, journalists’ need for reliable conduits of information and ideas presents a plethora of opportunities. To make the PR-journalism relationship as mutually beneficial as possible, PR reps should approach their day-to-day tactics from the perspective of a journalist working in the current media environment. The secret to building solid working relationships with the media often lies in asking the right questions.
Is this pitch perfectly packaged to contribute something meaningful to the conversation, or does it read more like an item checked off a to-do list, liable to go ignored in reporters’ inboxes?
What’s missing in the larger media conversation, and how can you make a reporter’s (and your client’s) day by injecting something new and compelling?
How can this press release be written to ensure it’s actually a newsworthy resource for relevant reporters?
Who might be an excellent target for an exclusive report?
There’s no doubt that PR has taken on heightened relevance in the current climate, but that makes it more critical, not less, that PR professionals tailor their strategies and tactics to reflect the realities of the media industry. At the end of the day, we depend just as much on journalists as they do on us.
Public relations as we know it today took root a century ago, and the tensions that have animated its relations with journalism have existed from the beginning. There’s no use in pretending there won’t always be some element of tension, but by leveraging smart strategies and the right touch points, PR professionals can underscore why, in the final analysis, it’s a win-win relationship.