The PR-Reporter Tango
As much as I want to tout the thick skin I'm proud to have developed by working in public relations, there are some things that can get under my skin when it comes to some of the realities of my job. Like when a reporter is less than pleasant in saying no to a pitch that you worked diligently to ensure it is on point with his/her coverage. It had been quite awhile since I've had one of these experiences and a recent experience with this took me off guard.
I found comfort in reflecting on an article I read recently in The Atlantic that zeroed in on the relationship between reporters and PR professionals. For anyone who had a tough pitch this week, this might help put your experience into perspective like it did for me.
The author, Olga Khazan, reflects on the PR professional-reporter dynamic saying that, "I myself have wondered about this tension between reporters and publicists. I had an internship at a PR firm once, and I loved it. I liked being a 21-year-old who wrote speeches for major CEOs. (They were heavily edited, but still.) I liked the challenge of trying to make a company that makes the vacuums that suck the ooze out of diabetic wounds seem sexy."
Having experienced the challenging demands required from public relations professionals, Khazan goes on to reference the stereotypes that reporters—and others generally speaking—hold about the profession. For example, she shares that one reason journalists belittle public relations professionals is essentially because they don't have a full understanding of what it is the PR job requires, having only interacted with PR pros either "by rejecting their pitches, pumping them for information, or by grabbing a name tag from them at conferences." I was happy to see that Khazan went on to describe the effort that goes into the day-to-day of being in the public relations field, from new business prospecting to "mollifying a client with marathon conference calls, or arranging the seating for an event such that dignitaries from two at-war countries don't accidentally bump elbows over panna cotta."
In a second example, the author references Ann Friedman's article in New York Magazine's blog, The Cut, which quoted one publicist who says she walks "the line every day between persistent and obnoxious." We can relate to that, certainly. It truly is a fine line and it's a delicate dance. We learn and understand the reporter's audience; we create a timely news angle; and we ensure a credible source is available.
However, to think we're never going to miss a step is probably overly ambitious. The last "no" we heard is likely ringing louder in our heads than the last placement we landed. Not every phone call is going to be a hit and that's alright as long as we pivot—work on those moves—and finish off the dance with a perfect dip. Ultimately, we do the best we can in research and execution to perfect our dance with the reporters. As Friedman writes, "Perhaps it's time for us all to recognize that walking [that line] isn't easy."