Journalists play a significant role in the life of a public relations professional. PR professionals and reporters work closely every day. PR people identify stories on behalf of their clients and pitch them to reporters. The old saying is that PR pros have to build relationships with reporters to be successful, but how does one go about building a mutually-beneficial relationship with reporters?
Ron Fournier, TR’s senior advisor, has had to navigate these relationships as a reporter and PR practitioner. Before joining the TR team, Ron built a storied career in journalism working for The Associated Press, National Journal and Crain’s Detroit Business.
Through his experience, Ron found that a key first step to making connections is to understand the value of journalists, the PR industry, and how they work together.
“The most valuable lesson I learned as a reporter was how important it was for me to build relationships with PR professionals,” Ron said.
And the value works both ways. Reporters want to get to know you as much as you want to get to know them. In the PR industry, we work daily with reporters whether it is pitching stories, gathering information or keeping up on current events – get to know the people you work with on a regular basis.
Know what value you provide when trying to build connections too. One-sided relationships rarely succeed. Like any other relationship, know there must be a mutual understanding between counterparts.
PR professionals and journalists must share trust and respect for one another to have any chance of success in the industry. But they also have to know the difference between a professional relationship and a friendship.
“A relationship is a social contract developed by human beings,” said Ron. “But my relationships in the industry are extremely different than my friends outside of work.”
Professional relationships must be able to withstand negative stories, differing opinions and competition. In order to separate work from personal life, do not invite this relationship into your personal life. Separating work and personal will allow you to achieve a work-life balance that will be sustainable for your career in the long run.
A key value of creating connecting is getting the benefit of the doubt from reporters. This can come in the form of story negotiations, embargos and corrections, but it can also be the benefit of waiting to publish a story until you can get a quote from your client. Reporters will not negotiate with someone they do not know or have respect for. This is where building trust between reporters and PR people is critical.
Pitching a story to someone you know is going to be much more successful than pitching a story to someone you do not have a connection with. Over thirty years in the industry, Ron never once opened a pitch from someone he did not know or have some kind of connection to. Once you know a reporter and have a relationship with them, you start to know how to pitch stories to them.
Pitching a story is like selling a product. You can’t sell the same product to everyone the same way. Some people want to see the product, whereas other people want to hear all the logistics behind the product to know if it is something they are interested in. By getting to know a journalist you begin to know how to sell them your product. In the end, you become a better pitcher and professional.