Lessons from the “other side” of the story

I must admit, when I started working for Metis Communications, one of the hardest things to overcome was being intimidated by editors and reporters. Of course, that’s not meant negatively; they have a job to do and work on pretty tight deadlines, as do those of us in public relations (PR).

As you may know from my earlier blog posts, my family is in agriculture and I live on a farm. I am truly passionate about educating people on the challenges farmers routinely face and overcome, how the rest of the country benefits from family run operations and more. So, when the editor of Growing America reached out on LinkedIn and asked if I would be interested in writing a few stories, I couldn’t say no. 

When I realized I was going to be the reporter this time, I was excited. However, my first writing assignment involved working with a PR representative; they were the gatekeeper of information. Ironically, I have to admit I sighed when I thought about going through an intermediary. Why couldn’t I just speak directly to the source and get what I needed on my own?

I couldn’t but help laugh as I recalled being on the receiving end of such sighs before. Thankfully, most reporters understand what I was about to relearn.

As it turns out, it was a very positive experience. I was grateful for her help and it enabled me to write a piece I was proud of. Being on the “other side” of the story enabled me to recall the real value PR people can offer. In fact, here are a few basic tips – fundamentals that should be ingrained in all PR reps – of which I was reminded.

Research the reporter and publication before you pitch.

Her pitch caught the editor’s attention and I understand why it cut through the clutter. She understood the publication, how her client could advance the story and the value of their credentials.

Prior to getting on the phone with her client, we had a conversation. She had already checked out my LinkedIn page, gone to the Metis site and read my blogs. She knew how passionate I was about the agricultural industry. She is based in a big city, and asked me some questions about living on the farm to break the ice.

It seemed natural, very conversational, and this made me comfortable with her almost immediately.

Provide relevant information straight out of the gate.

In addition to providing a qualified client, the best way to become part of a story is to make the process as easy as possible for the publication. Newsrooms today are understaffed, yet with digital media, deadlines have become even more aggressive. Before I even spoke with her, she had sent along a press release, photos, other background info, even possible questions to ask for my story.

She was not only helpful, working with her would allow me to focus on writing the story, not chasing resources and loose ends. And, when a PR person does this well, they are more likely to influence the overall tone and direction of a story. 

Be respectful of time.

No one likes rushing, particularly when they want to make sure a task is done right. It was a great relief when she asked me about my timeline and made sure her client met mine. 

A client can be a wildcard for a PR rep. Good ones ensure that when one of their executives is being interviewed, they understand how a positive story will benefit their organization. Consequently, they make sure the writer gets what they need. And most of all, a reporter needs time with that source.

The last thing you want is a reporter feeling disrespected by a client they’re about to interview.

These points may seem like no-brainers, but they’re worth repeating and sharing, particularly with those getting into PR and clients new to the process. The value of dealing with a PR pro really hit home when I was on the other side of this story – and it was one that turned out well for her client as well.

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