In this five-part series, we navigate the importance of publicity in content creation, and illustrate how these two powerhouses can better work together to create captivating, timely and impactful stories. In part two, we discuss the areas publicists and journalists could improve their working dynamic.
Whether it is a product, a destination, a property or a person, every brand wants to share their unique proposition with the masses. Or more specifically, with the media. This makes a publicist an indispensable part of reporting and journalism, since individuals and agencies are responsible with sharing trends, updates and news for their clients. The connection between a journalist and a publicist is a give-and-take type of tug-of-war, but one that can be mutually beneficial for each professional.
Consider your most significant relationship or friendship: to create a harmonious connection, both parties have to be willing to compromise and make adjustments. For interpersonal dynamics, this is a given, considering our emotions are tied to the people we invest our time, energy and heart in. But in the professional landscape, exercising this same mentality can be a bit trickier, since even more feelings and experiences are at play: ego, pride and of course, greed.
In the world of journalists and publicists, the job descriptions are not always crystal clear: While one party is trying to do the best for their client, another is often at the mercy of their editor and charged with the ethical responsibility to provide truthful, honest information and recommendations. It can be a slippery plank to tread across, since there are ways that publicists fall short, and journalists miss the mark.
For any writer — regardless if they’re in the travel industry, food and beverage or even business or finance — fostering a healthy working relationship with reliable publicists can aid in their success. And in the best case scenarios, make their job that much easier. On the other token, publicists need to remain up to date with writers who quote, feature, review or promote their client in lust-worthy publications, which requires attention and dependability. In many ways, they’re indispensable to each other’s careers.
Or as freelance lifestyle reporter, Wendy Rose Gould explains, “We both rely on the other heavily to get our job done, so it’s important to cultivate a healthy relationship so that you’re in the know regarding important events, product launches, and otherwise breaking information. My digital Rolodex is a prized possession, and having a large roster of experts and contacts is vital to my success as a reporter. I would imagine that PR feels the same way about their list of media contacts!”
Ways publicists and journalists can both improve their working relationships
1. Publicists shouldn’t spam incessantly.
On average as a freelance journalist, I probably receive upwards of 150 emails from publicists a day. This could be everything from cold pitching and responding to previous requests to following up or checking in. Try as I might to keep up with every last little note that’s sent to me, there is always a backlog. It’s a point of contention and strain in my workflow, since I aim to be consistent and kind, but I frankly run out of time and prioritize deadlines over emails.
Gould relates, saying publicists can get on her bad sign when they spam her inbox with the same press release repeatedly… and then check in incessantly. “While I do expect to receive follow up emails, it starts to get a little ridiculous when it turns into three, four, five follow-ups in a matter of weeks,” she continues. “I read every single email, prioritizing my responses because my time is limited.” Gould still appreciates publicists providing information on the latest-and-greatest — since she often comes back to emails if they are relevant to a new assignment — but that once is enough for a “touching base.”
2. A journalist needs to be accurate.
As one of the fundamentals of a journalist’s job, providing thorough and accurate information to readers is arguably the most important and non-negotiable. Though freelance writers do not have control over the final edit of a story by their editor, double-checking info before submission might avoid some unintentional errors.
For a publicist, correcting a misspelled name, an incorrect link or any other falsehood is a pressure-heavy task, since the client is eager to remedy their contributions ASAP. As president of her own publicity firm, Terri Slater shares, it can be a major headache for all parties involved. With heavier freelancer staffs and fewer fact-checkers, the role often falls on the shoulder of a writer and an editor to weed through materials to ensure authenticity. Even in the fast-paced nature of media, this consistency is vital: “We have to work together under tight and constant deadlines and follow the unspoken rules which we all know,” Slater shares.
President of OFD Consulting, Meghan Ely shares she’ll actually stop working with a journalist if their writing comes across as shady. “One deal-breaker for our firm is if we provide quotes to a journalist and then it’s used verbatim within the article without being credited, and is instead passed off as the expertise of the writer,” she explains. “We’ll always, of course, approach the writer and ask for an update but there have been times when we’ve simply been ghosted.”
3. Publicists shouldn’t make promises they can’t keep…
When a journalist receives an offer from a publicist — say the invite to a press trip, the offer to send a sample of a new moisturizer, or the opportunity to interview an expert — they expect there to be no strings attached. Or rather, that a publicist doesn’t backpedal on their promise, and put a freelancer in a tricky situation with their editor.
“A publicist offered a CEO/founder interview. Then, after I confirmed I was interested, tried to switch it to just attending an event that the client would be at, but no interview,” explained freelance writer Marni Eth. “She wanted that event covered instead, which I was not interested in doing without the interview.” This forces Eth to return to her assigning boss and relay the bad news, which could force editorial calendars to shift and ultimately cost her income.
In general, Eth says respect should be maintained one each side of the relationship. “Everything goes so much smoother when they both respect deadlines, boundaries and genuinely try to be helpful to each other,” she continues. “I always offer adding new projects they want to plug in my pieces and hyperlink to websites and send links when they go live. In return it makes me want to work with a publicist again when they are very responsive, get things back to me ahead of schedule, and push out links on social media once it’s live.”
4. …And journalists shouldn’t either.
Though publicists might fall short on their deliveries, founder of NB Talent Services Nicole Pomije says journalists can be notorious for promising the moon without any guarantee of the spaceship. “Please don’t tell me that my client is being included in a story and then I have to find out on my own that the outlet dropped them at the last minute,” she explains. “As a publicist, I understand that nothing is guaranteed placement until it’s live. But when you tell me something is confirmed when it’s not, I tell my clients and we all get excited for a big let down.”
Seasoned writers will shy away from ensuring any type of inclusion, since editors always have the publishing power, and Pomije values this honesty. Because her clients hire her to land earned media in an honest way, instead of paying for advertising, giving them hope can put a wedge in their client-publicist relationship.
5. Publicists shouldn’t ask for favors — or be unprofessional.
When a publicist and journalist grow close, and even become friends, a favor here and there might be warranted: Introduce me to the publicist you know who reps that fancy hotel downtown? Take a look at this press release for me and let me know your thoughts before I send?
These are all normal business interactions, but freelance journalist Zlata Faerman recommends publicists tread lightly when it comes to asking for something that could discount a journalist’s ethics. “Publicists don’t always understand that as freelance journalists, we’re either pitching stories to our editors for approval, or getting assigned them. It’s very rare that a story can be just about your client,” she explains.
And on the note or professionalism: Email is always better than any other social media medium. “Facebook Messenger pitching is the worst. You cannot pitch me here. This is more for your benefit than mine: Messages get lost, become cluttered, and don’t allow me to properly file the topic/pitch,” she explains.
6. Publicists shouldn’t miss a deadline — or ignore instructions.
Ask any writer who has had an hour to go until their deadline and a publicist breaks the bad news they won’t be able to provide a quote… and everything turns to a panic. This has happened many times in freelance lifestyle writer Aly Walansky’s career, but recently one incident stood out.
“I had an episode last month where I needed a source to comment by 9 a.m. for a story. At 1 a.m. the night before the publicist emailed to say they weren’t going to be able to comment. She then told me she had actually known earlier in the day but had been too busy to tell me,” she shared. “Meanwhile I had to scramble for a backup in the middle of the night. I’ll never work with her again.”
For Walansky, it’s much more helpful to articulate you aren’t going to make a deadline (or you haven’t heard from your client, so you can’t promise) than to bail in the eleventh hour — or even worse, ghost. Many journalists who are juggling an endless pool of articles will give themselves some buffer room, or make sure their requests are super-specific so they have exactly what they need. To Walansky’s second point, following instructions makes her job that much smoother, and improves the likelihood a client will be included. “If you give me three-word answers or answers that don’t answer the question, I can’t use your quote. Same for if I tell you I need a high-res image or current retail info and you don’t supply it,” she adds.
7. Journalists shouldn’t be rude.
No matter the industry, being thoughtful and understanding separates an empathetic professional from one that’s often classified as a diva. Though journalists might be in a rush or frustrated with a deadline or a story, PR account manager at myWHY Agency Elana Cohen says there’s never a reason to be harsh or vulgar. “I find it extremely unprofessional to speak that way to anyone ever in response to an email and I do not feel that I need to work with someone who treats others with such disrespect,” she explains. “This is a business where we rely on our relationships and you cannot act that way towards an individual just because you think your work is more important than theirs. This is a collaborative work environment.”
While Cohen understands journalists likely get more emails than she can imagine 24/7, she hopes they keep in mind publicists aren’t trying to irritate you. “Publicists are real people trying to do our job just like you,” she urges.