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The changing PR/journalist relationship

In only a few short years, the media landscape has undergone drastic changes that include a growing number of social media platforms and the frequency in which they’re used, as well as an increasing focus on digital. Newsrooms have dwindled because of economic woes, while the traditional news industry searches to remain relevant and cutting edge. Like all aspects of the industry, the old relationship between public relations professionals and journalists has changed as well. Several PR professionals weighed in on what’s different and the greatest influencers in the evolution of the PR/Media relationship.

Adam Grunwerg, managing director,

I think what’s changed most is the shift away from targeting broadsheet newspaper journalists towards authority bloggers and freelance writers. As a PR professional, I find myself using more and more tools to measure the authority, influence and background of a blogger/journalist before contacting him/her, rather than just reaching out to someone who writes for a national newspaper. The PR industry has also become more much digitalized and scientific too. The art of reaching out to journalists on the phone, meeting them or inviting them into the office for a cup of coffee has been replaced by real-time PR tools, search queries and email/instant messaging. The other overriding factor in the change has been the increase in independent bloggers and editors who publish content on their blogs rather than a mainstream media outlet. Overall, I find that communication is much easier now than it used to be.

Jeanne C. Zepp, director of PR, DPR Group Inc.

I think one of the biggest relationship changes I’ve noticed is journalists’ receptivity to bylined articles, opinion pieces and case studies. Previously, publications seemed to have a bias against publishing material not developed by in-house staff. However, staff cutbacks in concert with ever-increasing content requirements (i.e., refreshing websites and filling e-newsletters, blogs, magazines, etc.) has changed that dynamic. “Content is king,” and overworked journalists embrace the notion of guest writers. In fact, PR pitches frequently elicit a request for the PR professional to translate the concept into a manuscript because today’s journalists simply don’t have the time and resources to do so themselves.

John Goodman, John Goodman PR

My relationships with reporters today are almost totally virtual. I’m in constant contact with reporters and producers by email, Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn. I only speak to reporters if they call me. The changing media landscape, sadly, has forced this. Handcuffed by cutbacks and layoffs, reporters today simply do not have the time to hear a pitch over the phone, regardless of how smart and timely it might be. If there were 10 reporters covering a beat in the past, now there are two or three. They are under amazing pressure to simply do their jobs, covering their beats. Reporters and producers are tied to their computers, smart phone and tablets so it only makes sense to contact them online. So while communicating with them via the Internet has removed any one-to-one personal contact, it’s played a huge role in successfully getting my clients mentioned or featured in stories.

Nicole Yelland, director of marketing and communications, LivioConnect

In my role as director of marketing and communications with technology start-up, Livio, I can sum it up pretty quickly with a word: faster. Not only do I get regular reminders about journalists being real people from their social media feed, but I also know if they’re traveling or working on breaking media. Communication isn’t necessarily easier or harder, but we have more tools to frame the context of a conversation before even starting it. We also have great backups for when our email or phone is acting up to reach each other. I’m thankful every day for the arrival of digital tools as a PR person, particularly for my new pro counterparts.

Marifran Manzo-Ritchie, director, Corporate Communications

With most journalists tweeting out their own stories and commenting or retweeting articles they consider important, PR pros have no excuse to not understand a reporter’s beat or area of interest ; PR pros using Twitter the right way can pitch with precision in a truly helpful way and find better engagement with journalists who appreciate the attention to their beat. The immediate nature of Twitter gives PR pros a real-time view of what is on a given journalist’s mind. In the past, we were reliant on monthly editorial calendars and past articles, but with Twitter, we can see what is important to a journalist in-the-moment, and with that information, pitch something relevant and timely based on what we know, not guesswork.  Social media has made the PR/journalist relationship more of a two-way street. Journalists, like everyone else, appreciate engagement and interaction, especially when it comes to their own pieces. With Twitter and ubiquitous comments sections, PR pros can help journalists by being interactive and fueling discussions around their pieces at any time, not just when the piece involves the PR pro’s company or client. Twitter still has novelty to it; I’ve found that journalists who might not open or respond to an email are quick to reply.

Rod Hughes, vice president, Kimball Communications

As a former journalist and PR pro for more than a decade now, I’ve seen the relationship dramatically change in just the last five or six years through shrinking newsroom staff and increased technology tools… Journalists are multitasking more than ever. They have to blog, create video in many cases, cross promote their work and that of their colleagues through social media—all while still doing the essentials of the job, which is reporting. There’s less time for interviews and insightful dialogue. As PR professionals, we’ve got to serve up accurate, timely and succinct information faster and more efficiently than ever. Email is, especially in the last year, one of the least effective tools through which to engage journalists…The communication is more scattered across more mediums with more journalists expressing a greater diversity of preferences for how and when to engage them. Some only want to be messaged on Twitter to keep pitches brief. Some say never through email. Some say through email but only with PDFs with supporting material. Some say never send attachments. Some prefer text messages. The field of communication vehicles is richer, more diverse and more complicated.

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