Last Wednesday (election day) while scrolling through my Twitter account, I came across this tweet below from Nick Nehamas, business reporter with The Miami Herald and it brought me both instant amusement and amazement.
I was somewhat shocked that Nick was having to fend off real estate pitches on election day because our agency had pretty much put a moratorium on media outreach, especially with the local media because it just seemed like the smart thing to do. I also found it funny because being a PR professional myself, I know sometimes we can get, ahem, tunnel vision, when it comes to obtaining coverage for our clients.
The subject of properly timing PR pitches and the election got me thinking and I was curious to hear more from Nick on this topic. I contacted him with some follow up questions and he was gracious enough to share some of his additional perspective on this topic, as well as some overall PR best practices.
Josh: With PR people oftentimes there is a mentality of “let me give it a shot”, but if you get a pitch on a day when there is obvious breaking news or big local news i.e. the election, does that put a permanent bad taste in your mouth about that PR person/agency? Does that make us seem totally tone deaf?
Nick: I’m always happy to hear good pitches, those with news value and relevance for our readers. If the pitch comes on a bad day for me, it comes on a bad day. I would never hold that against you. Just remind me to take a look after the big news is over. But if major breaking news is happening, it’s always a good idea to ask if the reporter is covering it and then back away slowly if the answer is yes.
Josh: If we know you are working on a breaking news/big local news story, what are the best ways for PR people to try and insert their clients into your coverage/conversation?
Nick: Make sure you’re not trying to shoehorn your clients into the story just for the sake of saying you did. If they have real expertise or relevance to what I’m writing about and can provide engaging commentary, I’ll be grateful. Let me know specifically if they’ve worked on similar cases or done similar projects, or been quoted in the past when we covered a similar issue. If you’re just trying to get their name in the paper, my eyes will glaze over and I may be less likely to call them in the future. Please don’t be the boy who cried wolf.
Josh: The election is over so does that mean you and other Miami Herald reporters will go back to your beats, if not right away, soon? What are the rest of your election coverage plans?
Nick: Our beats are fluid and I get pulled into other projects as needed. You can expect to see me continue political coverage as we learn more about President-elect Donald Trump’s policies and how they will affect South Florida, especially real estate.
Josh: From your recent experiences getting pitched incessantly from PR people, any other key takeaways or best advice you’d offer?
Nick: a) Think like a reader! It may seem like big news to a client, but would the average reader care? We serve our community, not your clients. So when you write a pitch, your first thought should be: What is the news value? What is the headline? Would I read this story if I saw it in the paper or online? How can I make this interesting? What is the bigger context around the story? Reporters need people to read their work and PR people need reporters to read their pitches.
b) Write like a journalist! I delete 95 percent of the pitches I get. Be original. Think local. We do hard news, not puff pieces. When you write a pitch, ask yourself: If I were a journalist, what details would I want to include in a story? Give me those facts in an engaging, brief way. Save the corporate jargon and buzzwords for someone with the time to read empty words. And tell your clients to do the same during interviews. It’s agonizing for everyone when I have to poke and prod sources like a surgeon to extract a usable quote. Tell them to be interesting! Human! Funny!
c) Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call me if you have a good story: 305-376-3745.
d) Manage your clients’ expectations. I am a reporter, not an extension of their PR team. We do not slant, spin or adjust our coverage in any way to make sources happy. We don’t do favors. If your clients are having a tough time getting into the paper, tell them to do something newsworthy.
e) The relationship between journalists and the people we cover is supposed to be adversarial. That doesn’t mean it can’t be professional, positive and productive. But our job is to be skeptical of your clients and ask them tough questions. We are the public’s watchdog and we take that responsibility seriously.
f) Return my calls as fast as you can. Have your clients do the same. There is nothing more frustrating to a journalist than being stonewalled. Our natural attitude is that we deserve the truth and we’re going to get it. Heaven help those who stand in our way. If your client isn’t ready to talk, you can still pick up the phone and give me a call. I respect off-the-record conversations, although they are a last resort. And I don’t forget when people obstruct my stories or spin me. If you really can’t help me, tell me why. I will understand.
g) Don’t be afraid to push back. If you think, I’m ignoring a good pitch, tell me why our readers will care about the story. If you think our coverage is unfair to your client, tell me what we’re getting wrong. Don’t suck up. Journalists respect people who speak their minds.
Josh: What is the one or two things that will make you never respond to a PR person’s emails/phone calls?
Nick: Lying to me. Don’t do it. Once the trust between us is broken, it’s impossible to repair. Same goes for your clients. And please don’t give exclusives to our competitors. The Miami Herald is the best-read news source in South Florida. Why would you go anywhere else?
Working with journalists can sometimes be a complicated, challenging and prickly process, but it can also be simple, cordial and mutually beneficial. Recognize that different personalities require different approaches, but overall common sense, courtesy and honestly are still the hallmarks of a healthy PR/media relationship.