A great many journalists I deal with are, well, just like you and me. They’ve a different job to do, but they are just trying to do it to a good standard – to make the right judgements, get the facts right and communicate events that matter clearly.
They’ll also have a sense of humour, like a gossip, and a good complain about their work, competitors or their relatives. Journalists see a lot, and many are clever, knowledgeable and interesting.
Then there’s the odd ‘one’ – the reporter no one in the PR office likes dealing with. They are a small minority, but I wouldn’t quite call them ‘rare’.
What makes them hard to deal with? Well, there’s a lack of respect, though you just sort of swallow that. Mostly, there’s a feeling they’ve already decided what the story is, and are just trying to shoe-horn your client’s information and quotes into that story – the fear they’ll come out looking worse than they deserve, just because it made a more lurid story. You sense they’ve got an agenda from the line of questioning.
But deal with them you must.
There’s no foolproof approach here, but the following points are good advice I’ve been given down the years and try to apply:
- Appreciate the pressure the journalist is under from editors to produce something that grabs the attention – gruff urgency can feel abrasive, but to a degree they are probably just transmitting the stress that’s on them. Not everyone can show grace under fire.
- Think very carefully before treating them differently when it comes to stories – cutting them out of the loop, when you’re talking to someone else, gives them a grievance against you and your client. To be fair to them, they are probably justified in being a bit narked.
- Read their past stuff – you should get a feel for where they ‘come from’ on certain issues, and the themes that interest them. Maybe there is a way to make them look ‘good’ while also getting your message across.
- Don’t delegate calling them. Their contempt levels increase when faced with a junior PR who might struggle with their manner.
- Thank them when they get it right. Follow them on social media and share a bit of their stuff. Journalists notice that these days.
- Brief your clients honestly on the person who’s about to interview them, and have a practice session. They should be confident, unevasive, helpful and to the point. The wider the range in an interview, the more extraneous stuff can be picked up and misused. Field a senior, confident person.
- Then straight after work, treat yourself to a large glass of wine with a journalist you like.
If you’ve had a bad experience with a reporter, I hope you’ll get in touch – we can talk about how it might be a bit better next time around.
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