PR is about the Relationships

January 18, 2011 by  
Filed under All, PR

When I worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, public relations professionals would occasionally ask me to meet for lunch or coffee. I truly didn’t mind meeting with them to put a face with the press release.  I also felt it would give me the opportunity to better explain our newsroom and our publication so the PR folks could better target their messages, rather than blanketing the entire newsroom with the same release or coverage request.

Now I’m on the other side of the desk, asking editors out on coffee dates so we can get to know each other. I find the majority are willing to sit down and chat, and I take the same approach I did as an editor myself – get to know more about the publication so we can better target our pitches.

I’ve also found developing these relationships is critical. I’ll admit when I worked in the newsroom, I would be more likely to take a call or respond to an e-mail from a PR professional I knew than from one I didn’t know. I had developed a relationship with that person and felt more confident that his or her pitch would be on target.

Understanding newsroom operations, such as who covers which beat, is even more important in today’s media world. Newsroom staffing has been cut … and cut … and cut, so fewer reporters are doing the same amount of work and they are stretched to their limits. Now is not a good time to send the same release to the entire editorial staff.

Be thoughtful in your approach, figuring out who on the staff writes on which issues and subjects. Then approach that reporter with an actual news story or a useful source. The can-you-do-a-story-on-my-client-just-because strategy will get you nowhere and will hurt your credibility.

Pay attention to what’s happening in the news and how it might impact your clients. Can they serve as thoughtful sources for a larger story? Do they have a unique story to tell? Find that news angle first and then approach the appropriate reporter. The reporter will appreciate your efforts and you’ll establish yourself as a PR person with some sense – and that can really set you apart.

Do you agree with this approach? Are you a PR professional who has modified your tactics from blanketed news releases to targeted pitching? As a journalist, what do you prefer?

Comments Closed


5 Responses to “PR is about the Relationships”
  1. Chele says:

    Great post Holly! Even though at the moment I am only a blogger, I have been paying attention to the businesses. I just said in my blog post yesterday that relationships include business. It’s anyone you are in contact with! I think this is common sense today… at least I would hope! As I am in the process of making a business myself (which I have not openly shared until now), I thank you that you shared this and confirmed my thoughts on it! You are awesome!

  2. Holly says:

    Thanks for the great comment, Chele! You are right in that all business really depends on relationships. Good luck with your new business ventures!

  3. I am neither a PR professional nor a journalist, and these kinds of posts always make me a little nervous.

    When a journalist agrees to meet with a PR pro to have lunch or coffee, I wonder “who is paying?” The SPJ code of ethics clearly explains that a journalist should avoid undue influence at all costs. (

    While I can see how it would be of benefit to a PR pro to have a relationship with a journalist, I don’t want them to have too much control over what becomes news. The reason I subscribe to the newspaper instead of just your company newsletter is that I want someone who doesn’t have a conflict of interest between the truth and stockholders.

    Where, in your opinion, is the line in a PR pro/journalist relationship? What should you and should you not do?

  4. Holly says:

    Robby – Great question! I have been a member of SPJ for 15 years since so much of my background is as a journalist so I completely agree with the Code of Ethics. As a journalist, I would politely decline a PR’s person’s offer to pay for a lunch or coffee. And now working in PR, I very much respect ethical codes and the need for the journalist to remain independent. Unfortunately, there are PR people (and others) out there who try to “buy” the news. But the majority of the time, I find PR folks can be helpful in offering up sources or story ideas, but in no way do reporters have to use those suggestions. We can only offer up the idea and then it’s up to the journalist to do the interviews and research to create a credible and objective article. Thanks so much for the great comment and for referencing the excellent SPJ Code of Ethics.

  5. Holly, thanks for your response!

    I understand that the journalist gets to decide whether or not they use your story. But the fact of the matter is that the incoming stream of tips is heavily weighted toward the relationships the journalists have with PR pros.

    This is an especially interesting problem in business news. If a journalist reports on company X and their new product ABC, there’s a good chance that a PR pro tipped them off about the story. **As a reader**, however, I want the journalist to do their homework and talk about company Y’s competing product, which to me is part of the news! However, it seems like this is rarely part of the story.

    That’s not to say that anybody is doing anything which is blatantly wrong in my example. Rather, it just illustrates why this topic makes me nervous. There’s so much room for influence and bias!