National Public Radio’s gleaming new headquarters was the appropriate setting for the recent Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) panel discussion, “Meet the Multimedia Journalists.”
Why? NPR gets nearly as many eyeballs on its rich website as it does ears to its signature programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Five top journalists, including an NPR reporter, told a crowd of over 150 PR professionals what it is like to work with them in a media world where filing a story fifteen minutes after it breaks may be too late, and where reporters are expected to Tweet, shoot video and…oh…write crisp copy with a great deal of accuracy.
The one foolproof method to avoid having your calls go to voicemail and your emails to spam folders is to be trustworthy, knowledgeable, responsive and realistic about what is – and what is not – news.
The speakers, Scott Hensley of the NPR Shots Blog, Jayne O’Donnell of USA Today, Noam Levey of the Los Angeles Times, Greg Otto of the Washington Business Journal and James Politi of the Financial Times were frank in their description of their increasing responsibilities in the multimedia journalism universe.
Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:
Timing is everything: Reporters only have eight to fifteen minutes to get a breaking news story published, and will update it frequently throughout the day. If you have a source or information, help the reporter right away. The next day is too late.
Email (not phone) is the way: PR pros can and should be part of the solution for journalists who often perform two jobs at once. Send tailored, succinct individual emails and don’t beat around the bush. Reporters generally like talking with some PR reps on the phone (and it’s lamentable that others don’t) but their schedules frequently prevent it. Hensley noted that he gets 100-200 pitches a day and usually doesn’t answer the phone unless he knows the caller. He checks voicemail only about once a month.
Peg your pitch to current events: If you have a health care story, for instance, draw a direct connection to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Levey expects to be busy with the uneven rollout of the health exchanges for another six months, but reporters like O’Donnell may have room for other pitches.
Infographics? No thanks: The five panelists were unanimous on this point: they don’t want your art department’s beautiful infographics. Instead, they prefer raw data from which they can build their own charts, graphs and tables. That said, NPR’s Shots Blog might be able to tweet an infographic or post it on his Tumblr page.
National Peach Month is not news: The calendar is littered with commemoratives, and some, like Breast Cancer Awareness Month or Black History Month, have legs. But Politi and the others said stories need to stand on their own.
Be cautious with embargoes: Embargoes level the playing field and allow newsmakers to pitch large numbers of news organizations simultaneously. While our panelists are grudgingly accepting of their utility for articles in medical journals, reporters are wary of them because they inevitably get broken. Reporters like Otto recommend cutting a deal with a reporter on the embargo’s terms before you pitch to protect yourself and your organization.
Don’t Tweet a pitch: Use Twitter to research what reporters are reading and thinking about; you might discover a great conversation starter, and a winning pitch angle. Pitching over Twitter, however, is a no-no. Many reporters (not all) treat Twitter like their own personal whiteboard and don’t want it used to make transactions with PR pros.
What has your experience been working with journalists today versus a year or so ago? Leave a comment below or tweet me at @aaroncohenpr.
Aaron Cohen has over thirty years of communications experience and provides strategic counsel and tactical support to some of MSLGROUP’s largest clients. He is the incoming co-chairman of PRSA-NCC’s Professional Development Committee for which he moderates panel discussions on traditional media relations and social media. You can also find him on Twitter, where he’s @aaroncohenpr.
Colleen Johnson contributed to this post.
This first appeared on the MSL Group’s Beltway and Beyond blog. To see the original post please click here.