The dreaded media panel luncheon: How to respond to journalists’ gripes

December 8, 2009

Somewhere between lunch and dessert, I concluded that PR professionals must be masochists. I was at one of those luncheons where a panel of reporters and editors are invited to speak and tell the audience — mostly of communicators — what’s wrong with them.

These events seem to always draw a large audience No matter how often we talk to reporters during work each day it seems that giving PR pros access to journalists in person is like dangling red meat in front of a pack of wolves or something.

I suspect that the main reason that PR people are willing to withstand the verbal abuse of jaded reporters is because we believe that by letting them take their best shots, we will ingratiate ourselves and get the placements we want in the end. Perhaps this feedback — no matter how critical — is a small price to pay for placement, we rationalize.

Still, I’ve sat in one too many of these events, and now believe that a response to counter some of reporters’ most common complaints about PR people is warranted. The following are some points I would love to bring up to a media panel if I weren’t so busy biting my tongue — all in the interest of constructive dialogue.

Journalist gripe No. 1: Don’t send me press releases that I don’t want or need.
Response: Believe it or not, it’s not all about you. Chances are, your name is on a large list of media people who receive these releases. Some days, news releases like this may be important to you, and some days they may not. But enough people on the list will be interested in this news release today, which is why we sent it. Keeping you on the distribution list for all news releases helps us remind you that we’re here, and we’re committed to keeping you informed.

Journalist gripe No. 2: I never use press releases.
Response: You must be new to the profession or you must be lying. Every experienced reporter uses or has used a press release in his or her work — at least has written about a topic that was originated by a news release. Journalists use news releases for background, reference material, titles, spellings and names, as source documents for quotes and attribution, and to obtain story ideas. Serious journalists who cover publicly traded firms get information from public disclosures in the form of press releases, and that just scratches the surface. Regardless of what a journalist says, press releases are useful, universal and relevant tools for both PR professionals and journalists.

Journalist gripe No. 3: After you send a news release, don’t call me — I’ll call you.
Response: We have to call you in order to find out if you received the release. We certainly understand that you may be busy when we call, which is why before launching into a breathless pitch, we should ask you if this is a good time to talk. But, by calling, we can find out if there were problems with the transmission of the release or whether you had time to review the document we sent. The personal nature of a telephone call is a priceless means to build a real relationship with you, so a follow-up call is nothing less than the first step in building a relationship that could ultimately prove valuable to everyone.

Journalist gripe No. 4: Take the time to learn about my organization.
Response: This time, you are right. Too many practitioners don’t take the time to learn about a publication, program or Web site’s audience before adding it to a distribution list. PR people must do their homework and study each media outlet and reporter before picking up the phone. If they do, they may ultimately reduce the number of articles that slam the PR profession for not attempting to learn about what journalists do, when their deadlines are, what they cover and how they cover it.

Of course, that’s what I’d like to say when sitting in the crowd at a media panel luncheon. But instead of voicing this from the crowd during the luncheon, I just ask the person next to me to pass the cream and sugar for my coffee. I’ve learned that there are times when dialogue is best achieved when one side does all of the talking. 

Tim O'Brien, APR

Tim O’Brien, APR, owns O’Brien Communications, an independent corporate communications practice in Pittsburgh, and hosts the “Shaping Opinion” podcast. Email: Twitter: @OBrienPR.


Ed Barks says:

Tim, these are valid points of view. The next time you attend one of these panels, take the leap. Put down the cream and sugar and speak up. Rest assured you will stimulate a lively discussion and establish a leadership role for yourself from the audience. Ed Barks Barks Communications Media Training Workshops that Show You How to Connect with Reporters

Dec. 10, 2009

TDMJ says:

Hi there Tim - first time reader - and you're spot on with these Tom, great post. As a PR professional of some 10 years experience, the imbalance of power between the PR profession and the media is one of my biggest gripes... I guess the one I struggle with a little is "Take the time to learn about my organization." I agree with you, it's a great idea in theory, but as a consultant, I work with many different clients who have many different target audiences when it comes to media - community, local, regional, national, international ... magazines, TV, radio, newspapers, and everything in between ... Of course, I don't under-estimate my GENERAL knowledge of what these outlets require, their timeframes etc - but when it comes to researching each one individually - eek! x TDMJ

Dec. 10, 2009

Tim O'Brien says:

Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated. I tend to voice my gripes in private so that I don't put the media panel on the spot, which is not to say I don't ask questions. I just don't seek to create controversy at these sorts of things. Just me. TDMJ, one thing I wanted to clear up is that actually, I do agree with those who think PR needs to know more about the targets. It may not be practical to read and study every publication, but as we assemble our media lists, someone needs to actually dig a little deeper to know something about the editorial tone, direction and readership/viewership. I consider this process an important research step that blends into solid client counsel. Have a great holiday season!

Dec. 11, 2009

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