There doesn’t have to be such tension between the two sides.


The tension between “hacks” and “flacks” is well documented: journalists and PR pros have a long history of criticizing each other. But this year seemed different. Media layoffs and closures drove PR-to-media ratios to new heights while reducing the number of outlets and potential placements. Meanwhile big stories — election! recession! Elon! FTX! — came in waves, dominating journalists’ time and attention, no matter their assigned beat.

 

 

 My takeaway? It’s really hard to be a journalist right now, and we PR pros need media friends more than ever. 2023 promises to be equally challenging, so with that in mind, I went back through numerous journalists’ Twitter feeds to review the tips and requests they’d shared this year. Thankfully, they were generous with advice. Here are 10 tips to up your PR game in 2023. 

  • Speed up
      • It’s really true — journalists are busier than ever and slow response times understandably drive them crazy. Ask about deadlines and try to meet them. And anything you can do to reduce back and forth (such as having exec availability on-hand  and including options when you first offer a briefing) will be appreciated.
  • Articulate your value
      • No one wants to be the journalist taken in by the next FTX. Media are looking for founders and PR folks to be able to explain what a company is doing, how it makes money, and how it differs from competitors, including those that are better funded and better known. And the explanation should also be clear and concise. 
  • Take exclusivity seriously
      • Original content means just that: content that’s original, that hasn’t been published elsewhere, and that’s unique to the publication. When pitching a byline, give editors time to respond and don’t submit the same byline to multiple publications. 
  • Hold the line on embargo times
      • This isn’t a moral issue, it’s just a practical one. Journalists get hundreds of emails. If they’ve agreed to an embargo time, and you change it, there’s no guarantee they’ll see the updated time. Make everyone’s life easier and stick to an embargo time once you’ve started pitching.
  • Ease up on protectionism
      • Asking for more context about the story or for questions in advance when the media inquiry is inbound is one thing. Asking for questions in advance when you’ve pitched a journalist won’t fly. If your exec is nervous enough that this is an issue, consider some practice sessions before putting them forward.
  • Exercise caution on trends
      • The trend is your friend if you’re first to the party, but within days — sometimes hours — it will be over. For example, the metaverse and quiet quitting were legit trends that turned into big stories this year, but journalists were overwhelmed with the number of pitches they received long after these trends were no longer new.
  • Focus on the new
      • A journalist can only write a story once, and isn’t going to write the same story that a rival journalist wrote, so offering commentary that could have fit into a story they or another journalist has already written is a non-starter. Instead offer something new, or something that genuinely builds on what they’ve done.
  • Know your journalist
      • Pitching someone who’s just been laid off or is on family or sick leave, pitching a journalist an “introduction” when they’ve already written about the company or executive, sending pitches to journalists no longer at publications, pitching a story to someone who never covers that topic (or did so only temporarily as a pinch-hitter) — these all signal to media that you haven’t done your homework. 
  • Choose your channel
      • “PR folks in my DMs on IG, you’ve gone too far. You’ve been led astray. Seek help.” With more journalists using multiple channels (Mastodon, Post, WhatsApp and Signal come to mind) be mindful of how they prefer to use these channels. Some journalists appreciate receiving messages on LinkedIn while others hate it. Mixing up personal and professional channels is a particular frustration, so don’t use a journalist’s personal email address or DM them on Instagram unless you’re positive that’s how they want to be contacted.
  • Slow down
    • The complaints are legion, the stories cringe-inducing:  the mass-merge email that still contains a placeholder (“with your coverage of X…”), the pitch on privacy and security that cc’d dozens of rival journalists on the same email, the pitch sent from an email address that blocked responses, the cold pitch with read receipts visible, the automated follow ups that continue despite the journalist having given you a clear yes (or no) — in 2023, take a breath. Slow down. Take the time to test a mass email, to double-check links and the spelling of names, to make sure your pitch is as concise and clear as it can possibly be. Your journalist friends (and your clients) will thank you.

If this sounds daunting, take heart. Many journalists appreciate the value of PR, if grudgingly. Some, like veteran journalist Alex Kantrowitz, occasionally even recognize common ground: “Me when a PR email comes in with its fourth follow-up: Take a hint!

Me trying to land an interview after five unanswered emails: sends a sixth”. In 2023, make it your goal to expand that common ground.

Beth Haiken is EVP, Method Communications.

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