Journalists, Not Aliens

ImageHave you ever heard the term “frozen rope” before? If you are a true fan of baseball, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Frozen rope refers to the perfect pitch. It should go exactly where the pitcher intended and do exactly what the pitcher wanted. It is like an imaginary frozen rope in the air: straight and perfectly placed. Yes, I am about to use the cheesy correlation between baseball pitches and media pitches, but in all reality, we should want our pitches to be like frozen ropes.

When pitching to the media, the information we send should go exactly where it should and do exactly what we intended. We want it to get to the right journalists and for them to act on it. Acting on information is my fancy way for saying “use the information to make a story.” In order to have this kind of media pitch, there are a couple of things we need to remember.

Before I start, I warn you that this is not a list of tips for the perfect subject line, how to SEO optimize your press releases, or even how many words to use. I think you could substitute “journalists” with a lot of other professions. This advice tears everything away and reveals that, like Ted Ives reminded us, journalists are human beings, not aliens, which brings me to the first point.

1. Remember that journalists are human beings, not aliens.

When writing a pitch to a journalist, remember that on the other side of the computer screen is a living, breathing human being. They are people, just like you and me. Don’t let an irrational fear of journalists hinder you from doing your best. Yes, they have a job to do, but they are not any different than you and me.

2. Treat them how you’d want to be treated.

Cheryl Conner, a Forbes contributing writer, had excellent guidelines for pitches. Some of them were not being pushy, not being annoying and being respectful. Hers is some of my favorite advice because it comes back to what I am trying to say. Journalists are people. We should treat them as such. If we were in their shoes, would we appreciate being pushed and prodded, annoyed and disrespected? The answer is an unequivocal “no.”

I mentioned Ted Ives above. He wrote that, “journalists are human beings – try to put yourself in their place to understand where they are coming from.” He had an excellent start. However, he immediately contradicted himself. He went from this, to saying, “Second, you have one goal and one goal only: to get the journalist on the phone. This requires calling over, and over, and over again until you get lucky enough to catch them at their desk.” I wanted to include the entire quote in hopes that you would be looking at the computer in a confused manner because it makes no sense. Calling incessantly does not line up with putting yourself in their shoes. Do not do this.

3. Get to know them.

Although you may not be able to get to know them in their personal life, you can get to know their work. Conner also suggested reading the writer’s work. Look at what they’ve done over the years. Make sure to pay close attention to what these journalists write about currently. My internship boss, Loren Bolton, had a conversation with me today about this topic. He suggested understanding a journalist’s passion. Know what they enjoy or what gets them fired up.

4. Build a relationship with them.

This one might seem a lot like the third point, but it’s slightly different. You can know things about someone and not have a relationship with them. I know things about actors and actresses when I check their biographies on IMDB. That doesn’t mean I have a relationship with them. How much more do you read emails from people you know than emails from random strangers? I agree with Miranda Miller when she explained it’s vital to form a relationship with journalists. She goes so far as to say “it just makes sense.”

In searching for advice, I found a company called Pitch Public Relations. On the website, it states, “When it comes to public relations, just remember this: ‘It’s all about the Pitch.” While I agree that pitching is vital, I would argue that it is only one part of a multifaceted career in public relations. What advice has helped you succeed in pitching to media?


To Be Taken Seriously

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetI strongly dislike it when people ask about my major. Sometimes I simply say, “I’m a journalism major,” but that isn’t the whole truth. Why do I shy away from telling people I’m going to school for public relations? I hate the question because of the look people give when I answer, or even worse, the many questions and comments made after. No, I will not lie about things for my company because I’m on the payroll. No, I will not “spin” everything. Please don’t talk about BP.

I don’t believe this is just a problem I face. There are a lot of public relations professionals and students alike getting a bad reputation simply because of their job title. An article from BBC News touched on the irony of public relations having this sort of problem. As I’ve heard countless times, public relations has a public relations problem and this problem is making it hard for people to take it seriously as a profession.

This is not just a recent issue stemming from the various stunts and terrible mistakes PR professionals have made in the recent past. This problem stems all the way back to when public relations was in its infancy. Edward Bernays, the first man to teach classes on PR, published a book in 1928 titled “Propaganda.” In it he expounds on his idea that people who manipulate the masses are the true government.

What word keeps occurring? Manipulation. Let us take a moment and understand this word. The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives definitions that don’t give this word a good connotation. The definitions include words like “insidious” and “unfair.” Exploit is a synonym. No wonder public relations isn’t seen in the best light.

Not to mention the nickname. Public relations professionals are often referred to as “Spin Doctors.” I found an article online and the title said it all: “Public Relations (Spin Doctors) Deliberately Deceived Public About Global Warming and Climate Change.”

Sure, public relations professionals dress in business clothes. The profession has its own terminology, its own major and its own organizations. In some cases, the PR professionals have a management function. This is all good, but why is the profession still not respected? I’d be so bold as to say public relations has an honesty problem. The only way public relations practitioners can be taken seriously is by first, gaining the trust of the public. How does one do that? Through honesty. PR Web suggested, “Honesty shouldn’t be your best policy, it should be your only one.”

Simply having a code of ethics doesn’t make you ethical. We need to actually be committed to honesty and truth in all public relations endeavors. I guess this means I’ll have to start being more specific when people ask me about my major.