The Impact on PR Pros When a Journalist Exits an Organization

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Word PR on newspaperAlthough the elimination of top editor Jill Abramson from The New York Times has little impact on the PR world in terms of relationships lost, the general flux of journalists does have an impact. PR professionals who have built relationships feel the effects when reporters and editors leave news organizations, get fired or laid off, or exit the industry altogether. inVocus spoke with a few PR pros who shared both how they were affected when a journalist they had established a relationship with left a specific organization, as well as how to move forward.

Ann Hatch, district director of media relations at Dallas County Community College District

As everyone in public relations and media relations knows, our working relationships with editors and reporters are critical to the success of our jobs and our organizations. We often spend months — sometimes even years — cultivating those ties and cooperative relationships, so when an editor or reporter leaves, we usually have to start from scratch once again with that outlet to bridge from one person to the next for our organization.

In Dallas, for example, we work among journalists in the country’s fourth-largest media market. Reporters and editors come and go constantly. Losing the higher education reporter at the Dallas Morning News, for example, is a blow, especially when you’ve worked with that person to share ideas and stories about your college or university as well as provide feedback on higher education issues in general at the state and national levels. That kind of exchange and knowledge builds trust and a solid working relationship, as well as a foundation of background information. I feel that the burden is heavier when a reporter/editor leaves in the print medium because I then must recreate that foundation with the new higher education reporter/editor here, more so than with a television reporter. Granted, in this market, higher education reporters are experienced veterans, and I would not insult them by assuming they don’t know the basics about colleges and universities. It’s up to me to share with them the importance of my own institution (our community colleges) and how we support students, the economy and the community in very substantive ways.

I usually work with a variety of TV reporters at our stations over time — often not the same one from the same station twice in a row because most are general assignment reporters (with one or two fortunate exceptions). When a TV reporter I’ve worked with for a while leaves, building another relationship sometimes isn’t quite as difficult to rebuild in one sense because they are generalists. It simply means that I usually spend extra time on each story educating general assignment TV reporters about what the program/project is and why community colleges are important…

It’s never easy, but it’s a fact of life in our profession. You start over, cultivate, rebuild and keep moving.

Doug Bailey, president of DBMediaStrategies Inc.

I had a good, close working relationship with a Boston Globe business columnist, Steve Bailey (no relation). He wrote two columns a week, and I don’t believe he would think it’s an exaggeration to say I was involved in maybe one or two or month. They weren’t always client-related (note to budding PR people: call reporters with some non-client related news tips and they’ll be more likely to take your call when they are). We shared a similar perspective on what is newsworthy and how to tell the story. When he left (for an editor job at Bloomberg in London) it was a huge hit. Although I enjoy good relationships with other reporters and editors, it’s harder to get through to them when I think I’m sitting on a good story. With Steve, it seemed like I could sell the story in a sentence or two, or have it rejected. Now it takes more persistence, explanation and backgrounding. Yes, I miss him, but I think the paper does as well.

Fran Bosecker, account director of Vantage PR

I tend to find a reporter leaving a media outlet less impactful. Not always, but quite often the reporter/editor ends up at another (and usually better) outlet, so the relationship has the opportunity to be continued. Also, if the reporter has been replaced with a new reporter, it provides that opportunity to begin a relationship from the ground up. Sometimes the new reporter might be new to the beat or not as familiar to their assigned beat that having resources to provide technical details or background in the space is a bonus. Thinking back over the years, I recall more positive results than negative when an editor leaves. The impact I have experienced is when you’ve had that wonderful interview and the reporter lets you know that they are writing an article and then loses their job. Then, there is an impact. The time spent to coordinate schedules and provide a good story and the excitement with knowing this was a good outcome on both sides. There is disappointment for sure, but on the flip side there is still that opportunity to garner interest at another media outlet with your unpublished story. Overall, not a negative impact.

Glenn Gillen, senior account manager at S&A Cherokee

If you’ve developed a good relationship with a journalist, their leaving usually evokes mixed feelings in you. On the one hand, you wish them the best, but on the other, you realize you’ve taken a step back and will need to develop a relationship with their replacement.

For years I had a good working relationship with the retail reporter for our major daily newspaper. A few years ago, she and her husband relocated to a different part of the country. I’ve tried establishing a relationship with her replacement but have found it difficult to do so. My former contact would always reply to my calls and emails, even if to say no, but her replacement is not as responsive. I will keep knocking on that door in hopes of providing good information to the journalist to pass along to her readers, but it has been difficult getting to know her interests and personality.

Jacob Markieiwcz, head of public relations at Joyce Co.

I am still in my first year of PR, but I have already had this experience happen to me. I contacted the editor of At Home Tennessee in October and sent her a sample of my company’s product. She asked me to follow up with her in a couple months because her end of the year issues were already set. I followed up with her several months later only to find out that she was no longer the editor.

At first I was surprised, but I was lucky in the sense that the new editor worked under the former. As a result, she was more inclined to feature my company because she trusted the opinion of the former editor. It did not take long to rebuild the relationship because she was already predisposed to listen to what I had to say. I can only hope that as this happens in the future, the transition will be as smooth as this one was.

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