Friday, December 13, 2013

My Favorite PR People

Whether you're a journalist or a PR professional, you already know about the unspoken tension between the two camps. I've been doing my job now for 24 1/2 years, and I can tell you that there are times when I shake my fist and curse the existence of PR people and others when I thank God in Heaven for putting them on planet Earth.

And how do I show thanks to those who make my life easier?

Well take this morning as an example: I had a new story assignment. Rather than put it up on to the masses of PR professionals, I contacted one who keeps in touch with me regularly. This person follows me on Twitter, takes time to ask how I'm doing and this week had lined up a stellar source for two of my stories. I gave him first dibs on this new assignment for one of his clients. If they pass and don't have anyone who fits the bill, then I put the story up on Profnet for everybody else's consideration.

I do this regularly with about a half-dozen favorite PR people.

How does a PR professional gain become a journalist's "favorite?"

It's really very simple: Stay in touch. Be human. OK, here's another example: The week before Thanksgiving, I had a highly unusual story for one of my military publications. I had to write about jobs in a specific technology career and how military service people find opportunities in the civilian market place for that niche. I have to admit, I was daunted. So I went on LinkedIn and typed in a search for that specific job ... and voila! A list of opportunities showed up! With that, I could see which companies had the most prominent needs. I contacted those companies to find interviewees.

One of the responders called after Thanksgiving, and by then, I'd actually completed all of my interviews. I explained to the PR person that because of the holiday and the tight deadline, I'd already finished the story, but I told him other opportunities might come up for other stories. Most PR people at that point would say thank you and hang up, but this person pressed me: What types of stories?

Well, as a matter of fact, I had a new assignment that day. This one covered initiatives to recruit and retain wounded warriors. Would his company like to comment on anything they were doing in that arena? He said he'd get back to me.

Yesterday, he called again ... and it turned out that he was shocked to discover that his company didn't have anything organized. He was chagrined and very apologetic.

I tell ya what: This guy immediately goes to the top of my "favorites" list, because even though he couldn't help me with two stories, he tried so hard to be accommodating! From now on, every time I get an assignment that is related to job hunting, guess who I'm going to hit first to see if they want to participate?

There's a third example: I've interviewed one particular expert for three different magazines in the past month. The reason is that he called one day just to discuss ways he could help me come up with story pitches. He wanted to find out about all of the magazines that use me regularly, and he wanted to be available to help develop ideas that would interest them. He had great suggestions, and if any of those pitches turn into assignments .... guess who gets the first call?

Most people want a quick-and-easy way to form relationships with reporters. As you can see from these examples, they happen organically. In the age of social media, we don't necessarily cavort over cocktails at 5 or coffee klatches at the Chamber. We connect via Web portals, phone texts, emails, Facebook and LinkedIn posts and Twitter. That said, the importance of the quality of the connection can never be over-stated.

Once the barrier is broken with me, I have no qualms about sharing personal stories with PR professionals about my child, my yoga practice, even my dog. Some people may say to me that it's inappropriate to be so open and friendly. But I'd assert that being this way leads to an enriching give-and-take and leads me to wonderful people who have amazing stories to share.

And in this age of connectivity, isn't this type of connection what our work is all about?

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