I remember the day it occurred to me that being a broadcast journalist in the 21st century wasn’t quite how I dreamed it would be. It was during my first job out of college at a local TV station in Charlottesville, Virginia where I was a “one-man-band” reporter. That meant I needed to master filming (often times filming myself, talking to myself), editing, and lugging around camera equipment that weighed dozens of pounds (in heels).
I had been assigned my second story of the day which took me about an hour out of town to an abandoned property to cover several vicious dogs being taken away by animal control. When I showed up it appeared I had missed the story. The authorities had already come and gone. Little did I know, one dog remained on the property because it was too dangerous to be removed at the time. As I approached the house, the animal came tearing out after me—and I learned that I needed to master filming, editing, carrying heavy equipment—and running!—in heels.
I outran the dog—and headed on to my next story…
Being a journalist has drastically changed over the years—and continues to do so. Giant news teams and in-depth features pieces used to be the norm but now are anomalies. Today newsroom staffs are thin and journalists are forced to cover multiple stories at a time. Advances in technology and the proliferation of media platforms has transformed the news media into a never-satiated beast—and the competition to feed it is fierce. Because of this environment, journalists today are often overwhelmed, overworked, and hard-pressed to find unique angles.
The profession of public relations has needed to keep pace with this constantly evolving landscape. No longer can public relations professionals send out a one-way communication to journalists and target audiences and ensure their message is received. They must be interactive, engaging, and accommodating to journalists who don’t have the time or resources to delve deep into a story. Today, PR professionals must be innovative, or be ignored.
I left the news business more than six years ago to work in public relations. Since then, I’ve noticed an evolution of innovative practices. Here are 5 that PR professionals are doing today:
1. Being a storyteller. PR has always been about telling a great story but a rising practice in the profession is something called “brand journalism” in which PR professionals tell a story related to a brand’s expertise. In effect, the PR professional is acting like a reporter themselves, engaging the audience who then become more interested in the brand.
2. Creating a blog nation. The importance of social media in the journalism and PR world cannot be overstated. Thus, some groups have built their own networks of social influencers to help share news. #TeamBuzzBuilder, anyone?
3. Hitting the road. Some PR professionals have even gone so far as to put together “Twitter billboards” to help build followers. For example, accounting firm Freed Maxick launched a digital billboard in Buffalo, New York, that displayed updates from the firm’s Twitter account in real-time, promoting the firm’s expertise, services and experience.
4. Being a sleuth. The advent of social and digital media has introduced very specialized beats within the media. No longer can PR professionals rely on pitching to general assignment reporters. They must act like investigative reporters themselves to find the right editor, contributor, producer, even freelance writer, that would have an interest in their pitch.
5. Making it easy. Media professionals are overworked. Most of the time, they’re covering or writing multiple stories a day. Thus, PR professionals have to make it easy on them by having all the elements in place for a story. They need to have the right people available for interviews, ready-made quotes, images, video, and research where applicable. Sometimes, PR professionals may even have to put together the story themselves for the journalist.
While PR professionals are getting increasingly more progressive, some practices still remain effective:
1. Hitting send. Email is still journalists’ preferred method of communication. According to Muck Rack, 92 percent like to be pitched this way. But the emails must be short and to the point—otherwise journalists won’t read them.
2. Pitching “man bites dog” over “dog bites man (or TV reporter).” The 5 factors of newsworthiness (timing, significance, proximity, prominence, and human interest) are still relevant when pitching stories today.
3. Using data. Data is king. Research and statistics that support statements can instantly give credibility to a story. If you have an infographic, even better.
4. Being fast. Media personnel have almost always been in a hurry—now more so than ever. Often, they interview or quote the person who got back to them first. This is especially true for HARO and ProfNet queries.
5. Treating them like humans. Journalists are people, so circling back to compliment them on a story (and sharing the story socially) helps build relationships.
Today, if I were called out to the country to cover vicious dogs, I’d most likely be doing more than just shooting video. I’d be doing a live report using my cell phone to carry a video signal while giving minute-by-minute social media updates. Media is constantly changing and PR professionals must be innovative to keep pace—or else be left behind.
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