I hate the term “PR flack” that journalists and others often use to refer to public relations professionals, or publicists. It conjures up a visual of the exact opposite of how I view the demeanor and results that my colleagues and I present to our clients. To me, it’s a negative term that implies a lack of ethics, a lack of credibility. I expect a corporate lawyer to bristle at being called an “ambulance chaser” in the same way. Nevertheless, I suspect that the continued reference is because PR folks still have a hard time getting it.

This endless love-hate relationship between reporters and PR consultants keeps us all going in circles. But face it; we need each other. Like the rhino and the little bird, and bees and flowers, we are symbiotic.

Still, we always need to learn from each other to make our codependency work. PR professionals have to remember that what is best for one reporter might be completely different for another reporter. And, while it seems difficult to keep up, it’s not impossible.

Let a Reporter Be Your Teacher

In the ever-rippling wake of changes in the journalism industry, such as newspaper shrinkage (full-time newsroom staffing is at the lowest ever, down 30% since 2000), increasing online opportunities and the days of long relationship-building lunches being long gone, there is no shortage of learned reporters who have tips for PR newbies that help bring it all into perspective.

One of the latest pleas comes from Forbes reporter Deborah Jacobs in her article “Why – and How – Flacks Need to Change Their Business Model.” Despite the disparaging title, it offers direct approaches and solid advice to today’s PR professionals.

SpinSucks editor Gini Dietrich, a PR pro herself, penned a recent posting that addressed how social media has changed the way that PR pros do their jobs and what is most effective. She reminds us that the more it changes, the more it stays the same.

Vocus similarly provides education about best practices for working with the media. The company recently prepared a “State of the Media” research report that offers insights about how reporters want to get pitched and how the latest media industry changes have affected reporters.

Use Technology and Your Brain

What comes across in these articles, and many others, is the need for baseline, traditional strategies that can incorporate social media and other technologies – but not depend on them.

For example, databases like MyMediaInfo and Gorkana provide profiles about reporters and their preferred methods of contact. But these databases aren’t exhaustive, particularly as more publications begin relying on larger pools of freelance writers and outside content contributors. That’s when you can use your skills to source a writer’s email address from an online news article or, at the very least, locate a Twitter handle and send a direct message. 

Additionally, the technology doesn’t always accurately describe what a particular reporter covers, which speaks to reporters’ huge pet peeve that too many PR people send pitches blindly without doing their research to determine that the pitch is a good fit for the reporter’s beat. It’s like shooting 100 arrows in the general direction of the target with the hopes that one might actually stick somewhere, anywhere.

For example, the database might list an individual as a “tech reporter.” This means he or she could cover the latest trends in consumer technology, review newly released video games or write about developments in digital privacy law. Once again, this is where investigative PR skills come in. We have to do some additional digging to ensure that we are reaching the right target with the right information, or we risk doing a disservice to our client, the reporter and ourselves.

Always Room for Improvement

Connecting with a reporter and getting his or her attention are only half the battle. Once you reach the reporter, you have to make sure you provide meaningful content and so far, there isn’t any special software or mobile application that can automate that. I could also write a whole book about how our clients get frustrated over their experiences with reporters. How many times have I heard, “I didn’t say that to the reporter; he/she misquoted me and now it’s out of context and wrong!” But that’s for another day.

For now, it’s best that law firm media relations professionals be reminded to constantly stay on top of their game and learn not only their law firm’s PR needs but also the best ways to work with reporters to achieve their desired results. I really don’t want any more flak about being a flack!

What are some of your best ways of engaging a reporter? If you need help increasing visibility or have other legal PR needs for your firm, we at Jaffe PR have many tricks up our sleeves. Contact me to learn more at vhood@jaffepr.com or 904-220-1915.