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  • Fred Feiner

Four Tips for Working with Journalists During Challenging Times


It seems like the experts have been saying newspapers and public relations are dead industries ever since I received my journalism sheepskin years ago.

These problems only seem to get worse yearly, the most recent example being the furloughs, or unpaid leaves, that many journalists have been forced to take in the midst of what seems to be the most important news story of our time. Yesterday, on World Press Freedom Day 2020, the International Press Institute issued a report claiming the “public health crisis has allowed governments (of both democratic and autocratic states) to exercise control over the media on the pretext of preventing the spread of disinformation.” The organization said it had documented 162 such violations.

Journalists, of course, are not alone in the coronavirus furloughs that are occurring since the outbreak began. Cutbacks in the journalist workforce have been far too frequent in recent years in both traditional and online media. The importance of quality media outreach is more important than ever because fewer reporters means fewer professionals to cover major crises, not to mention newsworthy stories for our clients,

In this environment, it is more important than ever for companies and organizations to be even more strategic about the ways in which they reach out to the media if they hope to have success. Here are four recommendations to consider:

1. The Press Release Is Not Dead

The untimely demise of the press release has been greatly exaggerated, as evidenced by the 2020 State of Media Report released on April 21st by Cision, the global media monitoring and research provider. Cision surveyed more than 3,200 journalists for the 11th annual edition of the report and respondents said the most useful company information sources are: press releases, 36%; spokesperson, 19%; email pitches, 12.5%; website, 12.4%; PR agency representative, 11.2%; social media channels, 6.7%; and blog, 2.4%. According to the survey, “72% of journalists said press releases and news announcements were one of the kinds of content they wanted to receive.” A professionally written press release that conforms to Associated Press Style and is optimized for online use is still the best first step because anything less is likely to be discarded quickly. But what you do with your release from there is just as, if not more important: carefully select the media you want to consider your story.

2. Know Your Audience

Placing a press release on a wire service is a great way to get your content online, but it’s more important to get your release in front of the right journalist at the right time. In the Cision survey, 37% of the respondents said we should understand their target audience, and what they find relevant before hitting the send button. Makes sense to me: their audience is your audience.

Obviously, it is important to research the journalists you are pitching and their media outlets before you contact them. Do not pitch a real estate story to a fashion reporter. Even for companies without PR agency help, spending some time on a media outlet’s website and social media pages should be a given. I utilize a media database for my research, but social media, particularly Twitter, has become very useful for understanding the interests of individual writers.

3. Put Yourself in Your Customer’s Shoes

Whether your press release gets printed or not, or whether a reporter requests an interview with your expert often will come down to how relevant your PR topic is to your customers. Think about the end user of your product or service and the story they would tell about their experience. Blog posts and press releases should resonate with your customers first and foremost.

Blog posts should be a part of your public relations announcements as well. Press releases generally have to be succinct and to the point to fit media outlet needs, but consider blogging about new services, product announcements, etc. as well because your website allows you to dive deeper. Get creative. Be a storyteller.

4. Get Social

Based on the survey results noted above, reporters do not appear to be turning to brand social pages enough for information for their stories. However, reporters are definitely putting content they are generating on social pages at an increasing rate so it is important to share blogs, press releases and media coverage on your social pages, both for the benefit of potential customers and journalists. Be thoughtful in the way you share on social – use hashtags your audience is using, create multiple posts for each account by pulling a sentence or two from your content, possibly quotes from people in the stories, to use in your social posts. Finally, be sure to include social sharing buttons in your online content to make it easy for journalists and others to quickly share your content and drive visitors to your website.

If you would like to brainstorm media opportunities for your organization or have questions on how best to tell your story with the press, please contact me at fred@yankeepr.com or (908) 425-4878.

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