4 PR Tips from a Journalist’s Playbook

  • Categories:

    Public Relations

  • Date:

    December 28, 2015

4 PR Tips from a Journalist’s Playbook

Public Relations

Public Relations Lead Michael Cable is a University of Alabama graduate and spent the first 10 years of his career in broadcast media. As a reporter and producer for NBC, CBS and FOX news affiliates, he won 11 EMMYs, the Edward R. Murrow Award, the National Headliner Award and the Society of Professional Journalists' highest honor. He took his storytelling skills and knowledge of how the media works to the corporate world, where for 10 years he served as director of PR, media relations and strategy with product development agency Enventys, which produces the PBS series "Everyday Edisons."

I stepped into public relations after a long stint as a reporter. And knowing the media’s playbook inside and out has helped me get more than a few wins in my second career. 

Good journalists, producers, bloggers and content creators pride themselves on being enterprise-oriented, which means they like to find, craft and tell stories on their own. Understanding and respecting the delicate nature of feeding story ideas to journalists – whose job it is to find exclusive, compelling, relevant stories – is essential to building trust-based relationships and placing great stories.

The fact that I spent many years in the news trenches has helped me tremendously as a PR pro. Career camaraderie can break the ice and start a dialogue – but that’s as far as I’ll get without a great hook.

Because it’s all about the hook.

Even as the media landscape and PR best practices continue to evolve, one thing remains unchanged: the story (or content) is king. Over the years, I’ve molded a methodology for uncovering the story and getting it into the hands of the right journalist – whether that’s a reporter at The New York Times or the Newport Daily Press:

  1. Do your homework. Blasting a press release to a list of contacts culled from a database is a waste of time. It takes solid research to determine the right media outlets, the best contacts on the inside and the personalized angle you’ll use for your pitch.
  2. Know exactly who you’re pitching. Journalists hate nothing more than having their time wasted with a story idea that doesn’t match their beat or a pitch that has vague details. As a PR pro, I like reading all of the recent stories my target contacts have written or broadcast so I’ll know exactly what they’re covering, and if there’s any common ground between what they’re sharing and what I’m proposing.
  3. Craft a story, not a sales sheet. Cut through the noise. Tell your story, don’t sell your story. A news release with a catchy headline and well-written copy won’t suffice. Journalists create and disseminate stories for a living, so they’re looking for a compelling story (pitch) with human interest characteristics, drama and a beginning, middle and end.
  4. Short and sweet isn’t the only way. Early in my PR career, I was often reminded that journalists are short on time, so I needed to keep my pitches brief if I wanted responses. But sometimes this business is a marathon, not a sprint. I once had a Boston-based client who needed positive press for a make-or-break event. I did my homework on a Boston Globe reporter, and our introductory call lasted for two hours; the resulting front-page story in the Globe’s business section helped make the event a success. Later, one of the most meaningful placements of my career, a cover story in Inc Magazine, grew out of a 1,000-word email pitch to the editor.

Good PR is time-intensive. When research leads to dead ends – as it often does – it can be frustrating. There just isn’t enough space for all of the good stories out there. But these tips can help you land coverage for yours.