PR and the Multimedia Journalist

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.

media_relationsFive 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.

It’s About the Clients, Stupid

MonsterBy Peter V. Stanton

With the announcement of the Publicis-Omnicom merger, the first thought that comes to mind is “What about the clients?”

That does not seem to be the first thought in the minds of either CEO.  Maurice Levy of Publicis stated blandly that “…size will matter.” Omnicom chief executive John Wren said the merger would enable the new behemoth to “…leverage [my emphasis] a tremendous roster of global and local clients.”

What neither said was that the two-headed monster would be better able to “serve” its clients, or that the resulting conflicts were in any way beneficial to those clients.  Fundamentally, this is a bad deal for clients of both firms and a breach of the faith they entrusted in the individual firms at the time each was retained.

Whether it is advertising, marketing, public relations or anything else that falls within the broad definition of communications these days, what really occurs when a client engages a firm is that a relationship of trust is established.  The client trusts that the agency will share its business objectives and apply its best talent, creativity and energy to the realization of those goals.  After more than 30 years in the agency business, I have never known a client relationship to be about anything else.

Sure, clients want the work done economically and they want to know their firm has the resources to do the job in an efficient and creative fashion.  And surely on the ad side, there is the imperative to secure the best rates.  But in the end, it inevitably comes down to whether the client and the agency share the same priorities.

With Coke and Pepsi now under the same roof, how can that be so?  Of course: the new firm will claim that separate account teams and firewalls will ensure the integrity of the work.  Were this the merger of two law firms, one representing a plaintiff and the other a defendant, would that claim hold water?  It will not in this case either. That has been the fundamental flaw in the holding company model since its inception.  Not everyone has turned a blind eye.

At a recent meeting in Cracow of public relations agency heads from more than a dozen different nations, the common emphasis was on the importance of independence.   At a time in our industry when it seems every firm is somehow owned or allied with one of the global holding companies, there remains a strong commitment to independence and a view of its inherent value for clients.

The independents care about one thing – clients.  They mount fierce battles to win business against the global monoliths that increasingly are chasing smaller budgets in their desperate pursuit of growth.  Once independents win those clients, the quality of the work and the integrity of the service take over.  Within the independents, you still hear professionals discuss the “craft” of public relations or communications.  The independents dedicate senior professionals to every client engagement and not just to the sales presentation.  A firm president I admire stated recently that he has no interest in growing his business above a certain level because he believes only at a fairly modest scale can he assure clients the attention and care that is his hallmark.  Imagine the wrath that would befall a mega-agency head who set the firm’s business model at “small and client-centric” versus “growth-oriented.”

The requirement to meet shareholder forecasts leads to another major problem the global one-stops prefer you ignore.  Clients that have used the multi-nationals report an innate tension between their priorities and those of holding company shareholders.   The latter seek strong quarterly returns, while the former require a longer-term horizon.  Independents understand the periodic need to accept budget limitations or reductions from clients even as programs for those clients continue apace.  The emphasis in the independent firms is on long-term partnerships rather than short-term budget achievements.

In a field whose very name references relations, it is the relationships of trust between clients and agencies that matter most and produce the best results.  When those relationships are fostered, great things happen.  When they are subsumed to the interests of “size” and “leverage,” clients lose.

A presidential campaign was won in recent history on the basic statement, “It’s about the economy stupid.”  The campaign for the future of the communication profession might easily paraphrase that slogan in light of the Publicis-Omnicom merger.

Peter V. Stanton is the President and CEO of Washington, DC-based Stanton Communications. This blog entry originally appeared in his firm’s The Strategy Room Blog . Peter is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America and its distinguished Counselors Academy. He has served on PRSA’s continuing education faculty. He is published on the practice and principles of effective communications. He is a member of The National Press Club and holds graduate and undergraduate degrees from Loyola University in Baltimore. You can reach him though the Stanton Communications website and through Twitter.