What PR Professionals Can Learn from Being Reporters First
November 1, 2017
Before I discovered PR, I was dead set on becoming a fashion journalist. Until I took my first college course on it, I didn’t even know what PR was. In my introductory journalism classes, my professors made it sound like PR professionals were magical fixtures at every event who could answer all of my questions. At the time, I probably equated the profession to an event planner more than anything else. My professors assumed every journalism student knew what PR was, so I never sought clarity on the job description, because I didn’t want to discredit my reporter title.
In college, I filled my time with journalism classes. My senior year, I signed up for a PR class as an elective when nothing else would fit my busy schedule. On the first day of class, what a relief it was when a fellow student asked the professor, “What exactly is PR?” The best adaptation of her description I can provide is that PR is like the communications liaison between business and media.
I quickly fell in love with the field, and started to build my PR resume, but I’m thankful I worked as a reporter first. Having experience on the media side equipped me with skills that make life as a PR professional so much easier.
You learn to tell stories about everything
As a reporter, I was often tasked with writing 1,500 words on a nonsense subject. If you can write that much on why army green complements horizontal stripes, you can spin a story out of anything. Give me a new product or a service and I’ll give you a press release and several different pitch angles.
You learn to value the art of the pitch (and subject line)
Reporters always say they receive hundreds of pitches a day, but they aren’t kidding. Even while working at small, local publications, I never had an empty inbox. Because of this volume, it’s critical to nail the pitch, because if a reporter doesn’t think he or she can write a feature on the subject, it goes right into the trash. An effective pitch has scope – Why is this relevant to the reporter’s audience on a narrow and broad level?
A surefire way to ensure a reporter never opens your pitch is to write an uninteresting subject line. Reporters are pressed for time as it is, and nobody wants to open an email about a “revolutionary new product.” Every PR professional thinks a client’s product is revolutionary – What makes yours stand out?
You learn to how to write for an audience
Most reporters target specific demographics based on their publication’s audience and their article’s topic. For instance, I wrote “Curvy Style Blogger Cayla Jean Advocates for Equality in Fashion” for 303 Magazine, a publication targeting Denver’s hip millennials. I wrote “Jeffco schools battle teacher shortage for gifted kids” for The Metropolitan, a newspaper that focuses on implications of local and national events on Denver’s community. Obviously, these publications target very different groups of people. PR professionals should pitch and write with the same mentality. If your press release is about a new service that allows people to save for retirement, for example, it’s probably best to avoid millennial jargon and stay away from an informal tone.
You understand the value of PR from a different perspective
At an average publication, reporters are responsible for writing four to six stories a week. While editors curate some story ideas, most reporters have to pitch story ideas themselves. As reporters are busy interviewing and writing, they barely have time to research story angles. If a perfect pitch lands in a reporter’s inbox, it’s like a godsend. The more PR professionals can help reporters, the better. Sending pristine pitches is one thing, but coordinating interviews, following up, providing graphics and thanking them for their stories goes a long way and puts you at the front of their list when they’re searching for new story angles.
Reporting is one of the most overlooked skills in a PR professional’s database. Understanding both sides of the industry gave me a greater understanding and appreciation for what I do.