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. A publicist can be 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.
In this 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 four, we explain the responsibility of a journalist working with a publicist.
The moment a story idea an editor accepts or assigns an article — I get moving. It’s my own self-defense against procrastination, and it helps me to juggle many deadlines across various publications. Because I’ve been around this freelancing-hustle block quite a few times, I also know the more time I give publicists to reach out to their clients — especially those that are difficult to secure a quote from — the better my stories will inevitably be. Or more to the point: the less I’ll be sweating when my deadline rolls around and it’s time to deliver quality work.
After the initial inquiry, interview and sign off, many journalists might believe their work is done. But in reality, the dynamic between a writer and public relations executives requires investment on both sides. Remaining in contact, being truthful and maintaining a high level of ethical standards are among the many responsibilities a wordsmith has when managing their time and stories with various publicists. Through many years of navigating this fine art, I’ve developed strategies that help regulate my workflow and avoid interrupting my creative process. Trust me, being bombarded by follow-ups isn’t always a fun part of my gig, but when reporters try to be more empathetic toward a publicist’s job, the process can be smoother.
Here, publicists — and writers themselves — shed insight on what a journalist should contribute in the working relationship with the many men and women who represent big brands, names, places and more.
1. Journalists should be specific.
During any given week I’m writing about a destination I recently visited, a new health care study or a review of a dating app. Publicists are doing much of the same: writing a press release for this launch, handling an upset client in another industry, and perhaps doing damage control for a quote that was misinterpreted. In other words: journalists and public relations pros lead busy lives that require multitasking and plenty of emailing, nudging, compiling and sorting. Specifics are vital for publicists to fulfill a journalist’s needs.
As PR strategist and founder of Press for Success PR Prep School Sabina Hitchen says, she really respects clarity when it comes to a story’s needs and deadlines from the get-go. Be communicative with questions that need to be answered, timelines that need to be met, and information on the story subject. With this information, a publicist can approach their client with the opportunity, and hopefully, get the writer in front of the source, product or brand. Shooting off an email with vague insight isn’t helpful — and often raises more injuries than it answers. “At the end of the day, we are all on the same team trying to create valuable stories, and the most important part of this, to me, is clear and consistent communication,” she adds.
2. Journalists should never guarantee anything.
It’s a question freelance lifestyle journalist Aly Walansky probably answers at least a handful of times every day, but one she’ll repeat until she’s blue in the face: as a contractor, she can’t guarantee anything. For her responsibility when working with public relations executives, her steadfast rule is to manage expectations.
“I never guarantee placement. Not just a product, but expert input as well. I can’t guarantee what an expert will give me will answer the question or be quotable,” she explains. Since the cornerstone of reporting is ethics, no writer can even promise a glowing review of a resort before they’ve gone, or of a psychologist they’ve never worked with before. Especially when a writer is contracted by a publication, the editor has the final say. So once a story is submitted, it’s out of their hands.
To avoid any confusion, Walansky is clear and concise about what she needs, and how she wants information delivered, and tries to keep her contacts updated on the progress of a story. Often times though? A publicist will see a story before she realizes its live!
3. Journalists should manage publicists in a way that’s effective for them.
Once I made the move from editorial director to a freelance consultant, I knew I needed to organize myself to maintain consistency and never miss one of those all-too-important deadlines. Though not the solution for everyone, I developed various lists across the topics I frequently pen about—from hospitality to career development — and I let trusted publicists know when I’m writing a story they might have a fit for.
Public relations pro Staci Torgeson at Orca Communications is a fan of this e-blast method, since it doesn’t waste time on pitches that a journalist may or may not be interested in. “I would assume that this method of working with publicists makes their lives easier as they likely receive fewer off-topic pitches clogging their in-box, and gives them the specific resources they need for the articles they’re working on,” she explains. “For us, it is wonderful to know exactly what is needed at any given time and be able to pitch these contacts appropriately.”
4. Journalists should provide feedback.
Even if the answer is “my editor changed this and I’m not sure why,” something is better than nothing when it comes to perspective on a story. Much like a writer evolves their skill set to feature bolder topics and more investigate reporting, independent publicist Rebecca Reinbold explains her industry always aims to improve how they work and reach writers.
“Feedback allows us to more effectively pitch writers and ensure that whatever content, ideas, releases and announcements are sent, that they are meaningful and relevant to the journalist,” she explains. “By taking the time to give feedback to publicists (even a ‘Not a fit for me,’ or ‘This isn’t my market,’ ‘On my radar, thanks’), it allows us publicists to have a better sense of what to pitch you, so as to pitch you more effectively and not jam your inbox with things that aren’t relevant, or follow up too many times.”
5. Journalists should be mindful of requests and emails.
If a journalist said “yes” to every invite, interview request, press trip and product sample, they’d truly do nothing else. It can be tempting to sign up for all of the fun, but freelance journalist Kate Winick says she feels an obligation to represent herself and her client (aka, whatever assigning publication she’s penning for) accurately and consistently. She doesn’t ask for products when they aren’t required and avoids even the appearance of a quid-pro-quo, should she be sent something in the mail.
“Ideally that would also mean replying to queries or pitches in which I am not interested. But with the volume of email that involves, that’s sometimes not possible and something I feel should not necessarily be expected,” she continues. She also stresses the importance of a writer’s role in fact-checking, especially in the age of “fake news,” which sometimes requires enlisting the publicist to provide the most up-to-date information.
Once a story is completed though? Winick says her gig is finished, which is a fact some publicists aren’t not cognizant of. “I cannot hold or resubmit a story with additional information or quotes to accommodate a publicist who misses the deadline I set for them,” she continues. “While staff editors can provide information about things like publication dates, and make post-publication corrections, I cannot. In general I always act in good faith, and try to underpromise and overdeliver when it comes to what I promise a publicist.”