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 one, we discuss the role of a publicist and how they benefit writers and publications.
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.
A few years ago, I finally decided it was time to have two inboxes…
My primary Gmail was overflowing: trying to finagle a night for happy hour with my best friends, responding to editors, replying kindly to my mother’s forwarded astrology reading, and sifting through pitches for a gift guide I was writing. I was losing track of deadlines and follow-ups, and realized just how vital publicists were to my everyday workflow.
Over countless assignments as a freelance journalist, I’ve worked with hundreds of publicists to provide everything from expert commentary and product information to media stays at dozens of resorts around the globe. In fact, my publicist-only email is my most active, as I’m always bouncing between one story to another, meeting deadlines and pitching stories on the go as a digital nomad.
With their unique skill set and access to any brand you can imagine, cultivating these professional relationships has been instrumental to my career. Having go-to contacts that not only provide the robust, detailed information required for my assignments, but in a timely manner I can trust, allows me to say “yes” to more work and have the confidence I can articulate quality work.
While undeniably beneficial, this dynamic hasn’t always come easy, and it has required a bit of compromise and finesse from both myself and publicists. Even so, I’m grateful for the role they play to elevate my stories and give them character, by providing access to the brands and experts I need.
If you’re new to the crafty — and at times, complicated — tango between writer and agency, consider how publicists define their part in journalism:
What does a publicist do?
If you believe what you see portrayed on the silver screen, publicists have one hand answering email and another on their phone, shouting advice and demanding another Starbucks from an assistant. Though, sure, they are busy like the rest of us, their role isn’t only damage control and crisis prevention, but much like a journalist, to tell a story.
From history to present and future, when a publicist takes on a client, it’s their responsibility, in an essence, to sell them. Female entrepreneur, president and owner of her own agency, Debra Locker, defines a publicist as the mouthpiece and storyteller for a brand. By working closely with the owners and executives at the forefront of a company, they create the right message to send to the right people, eventually placing products or experts into select media outlets.
Analyze what works, what doesn’t, and how to shift for the future
Laura Blank, founder and principal of Keylight Communications explains much of a publicist’s role when they sign a contract with a new client is to strategically carve a path to meet company goals — whether it’s traffic to an online store or exposure in a magazine or podcast.
“To develop this plan, PR pros conduct research to build and execute a tactical plan that aligns with the client’s business objectives. After each communications campaign, a publicist evaluates their plan to analyze what worked, what didn’t work, and how to revise it for the future,” she continues. “A pro should be able to help their client see how communications tactics are driving toward overall business objectives.”
This blueprint isn’t limited to pitching journalists or hosting events or desksides, but could also include invaluable input regarding social media tactics, website copy and more. But most importantly, a publicist thrives when their business is built on integrity, according to CEO of AHA Creative Strategies, Ruth Atherley. Whether it is setting expectations with their client or ensuring information provided to journalists is factual, publicist must adhere to similar ethical standards that writers do.
What part does a publicist play in journalism?
From pitch to submission, the writing process usually goes a little something like this: research and craft an idea tailored to a specific publication, wait for approval, secure assignment, connect with publicists who have access to information needed to write (including interviews, imagery, and more), take a stab at draft one, ask follow-up questions, submit story, await for publication, share story with all involved — and repeat.
Considering many freelance journalists write dozens of stories per month, managing all of the moving parts requires self-discipline, creativity, flexibility — and the help of a reputable publicist. As entrepreneur, founder, president and publicist Kris Ruby explains, a PR professional who knows their stuff makes the job of a journalist easier. And in the best of situations, actually further a writer’s career by providing resources that elevate their work.
They speak the language of deliverables, urgency and access.
“Publicists speak the same language as journalists more-so than clients, so they understand the sense of urgency that comes with deadlines and filing stories and are able to give them what they need fast,” she continues. “A good publicist can also provide access to interviews with certain clients that may otherwise be hard to reach. If the interview is great, it can help a journalist’s career because they are the ones who landed the interview and wrote it the story. Publicists provide access, and journalists provide the stories that the public relies on. The two must work hand in hand.”
Director of Communications and Public Relations for Wingard Natalie DeYoung is a former journalist who made the switch to publicity. Part of what attracted her to “the other side,” as it is often referred to, was previous positive experiences she had with PR professionals. Her past experiences enabled her to build healthy relationships with journalists, creating effective and worthwhile press for her company. It is in the benefit of a writer to understand the value of working with a publicist, according to DeYoung, for a much smoother experience for both parties. And what does that translate to? A paycheck for everyone.
“Publicists are the people who can get you follow-up information — and hopefully, pretty quickly. We are the people who can help you connect with a top-level executive,” she continues. “And when we can’t fulfill your request — perhaps because the CEO is unavailable, or the in-house expert on your topic is out of the country — we can work to find an alternative solution to help keep your story on track.”