PRs vs Journalists: Pitch your story rightly to the media, every time

Life is full of surprises, and journalists thrive on it. However, given the highly inquisitive nature of journalists and their perpetual quest for news and exclusives, it is often difficult to hold their attention and interest.

On the other hand, you have Public Relations (PR) professionals, a fraternity that needs to connect with journalists to get their clients, products or services featured in the media. Therefore, they always remain on their toes when dealing with journalists. No matter how much they claim to be a good friend of scribes, there is always something that PR professionals are unaware of. That becomes the significant difference between these two personalities.

For ages, a lot has been written and said about the love-hate relationship between PR professionals and journalists. Of course, from a larger perspective, it doesn’t exist! But at a micro-level, it is an issue. It’s a burning issue, which every PR consultancy should take seriously and work to bring about a solution.

The present pandemic has brought about seismic changes at the workplace and in homes. Even journalists have borne the brunt of it. Traditional media has now been overwhelmed by its digital avatar. The framework for media relations has also changed a lot due to this revolution, increasing communication channels and global communication demands. As a result, market dynamics within the media industry have seen significant changes. Journalists are no longer the same which PR professionals used to know during pre-covid days.

What remains unchanged in the PR/communication world is the “basics of understanding a journalist”.  It remains the same and intact. But unfortunately, these fundamental basics are missing within the PR profession or may be thrown out of the window (to some extent) in the race of winning more significant mandates in cut-throat competition or in the pressure of offering round-the-clock client servicing. As a result, the communication gap between the PR pros and journalists is widening with each passing day.

Today, a PR professional hardly knows (especially the junior and mid-level team) the pressures a journalist faces. Is he still working in the same organisation, or has he been terminated in the name of post-pandemic impact?

Let me illustrate this point with an example: In 2018, I exited the India Today Group, joined the “X” company, and later moved to the “Y” company. And now I have become a communication strategist (my complete details are available online). However, still, I get calls from one of India’s leading PR consultancies for a press invitation asking, “Am I speaking to a Journalist from Aajtak?”.

The above example shows the lackadaisical attitude that is permeating the PR profession today. No one cares to update their media list, or do seniors ever instruct their team to start their journey with the absolute basics – an updated media list? If the answer is NO, then there is a big problem in the PR business. The basics are getting ignored, and that’s lethal.

What are these basics?

Today, I am in a unique position of being an investigative journalist and now a PR strategist. Because I have been on both sides of the fence, it gives me an excellent perspective to understand the various dynamics of the PR and media universe. So, instead of imparting theoretical knowledge, it would be more sensible to discuss the ground realities. From my perspective, the basics are:

  • Know how Print Media / Broadcast Media and Digital News Websites operate?
  • How do journalists spend their entire day?
  • Analyse the work style of each journalist across beats (crime to the economy)
  • Understand the changing “media dynamics” (post-covid)
  • Know the “Dos and Don’ts” for PR professionals
  • Know what journalists Love or Hate about PR
  • Why Digital Media is indispensable for the PR business

Trust me, no book or individual can ever teach or train the PR professionals “the art of selling” the right content to the proper journalist at the right time. It comes from experience. But for that, their basic understanding needs to be precise, in place, and well-executed.

The grass is never greener on the other side. To begin with, it would be a great learning experience for PR professionals if they could put themselves in a journalist’s shoes for a day or two and explore the fascinating world of journalism.

Let’s start with knowing the different types of journalists who are ruling the media world. Those who:

  • Love filing “Exclusive” stories (a byline piece).
  • Love “Digging” stories (investigative)
  • Love “Sting Operations” (special member of SIT)
  • Love getting into “Details/Research” oriented stories
  • Love to just “Follow” stories (a follow-up piece)
  • Love to survive on “Press Conferences/Events”.
  • Depend only on “Press Releases”.
  • Are behind the scenes, like “Desk Job/Producers”.
  • Work on “Special Projects”
  • Have combat skills in “Ground-Zero Reporting” during calamities/attacks
  • Are specialised in “LIVE Chats”.
  • Search stories in “Press Clubs”.
  • Are “Corrupt” and believe in “Yellow Journalism”.
  • Are on “Payroll” of unknown entities.

For PR professionals, it is vital to know with whom they are communicating for their pitches, so that room for errors is reduced.

The day for a journalist begins and ends with the words “Day Plan”. The day plan defines the quality of journalists. Every journalist must give at least one-day plan in the evening, before packing up the day, in the set format (with visuals and sound-bytes/quotes in mind). In addition, one or two special/exclusive story ideas a week is a must for its forward planning team. These exclusive and special stories decide the fate of journalists in that organisation. In the last five years, even the digital metrics of journalists’ stories have become crucial in terms of performance parameters with red, orange and green colours against them.

Watch out for part 2 of this article next week. 

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Virendrasingh Ghunawat
Virendrasingh Ghunawat, Head Media Relations at Concept PR Ltd is a media professional with experience of 23 years in Print, Television and Digital Media. Viren has had his stints with Indian Express, India Today Group, Network18, TV9 Media, Rajasthan Patrika, Jagran Group, Business Newsweek, Fortune India to name a few, in various capacities. With strong interpersonal skills and network within state/central enforcement agencies, government departments, political parties, corporates, unorganised sectors, regional/national media, his strengths, and capabilities lie in strategising communication across verticals, media strategy, media relations, digital PR, crisis communication, corporate reputation management, brand protection and frauds/forensic analysis for clients, across various sectors.

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