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One of the most difficult things about media relations is that you, the PR person, never have full control of the process and outcome. This can be a hard lesson for young people starting their careers.

A reporter may get your name wrong, misspell your website, decide to ignore your embargo, or frame the story in a negative light. It’s been this way since the first interactions between flaks and journalists. Even though we have all sorts of new ways to communicate, the same problem in PR persists and always will: unpaid = uncertain.

Here are a couple of tips on managing the biz’s predominant equation:

  • Beware the embargo: Old and new media outlets alike have instituted actual or defacto policies about ignoring embargoes, so be careful if you use this tool. We don’t. Instead, we provide advanced exclusives to print, TV and radio outlets. Under this system, selected outlets are pitched a story, given a TV, print or radio exclusive and then told when they can release it. No outlet has ever published or aired a report before we said they could, largely due to the fact that they are given exclusive rights for their medium. This approach means there may be less total coverage, but it does more to build relationships and generates higher quality stories. Have people who got advanced offers produced bad work? You bet they have. But this method is still better than an embargo that some idiot reporter breaks so they can be a hero. Have fun cleaning up that mess.
  • The amount of materials you give a reporter is a delicate balance: In an era of newsroom cutbacks reporters need PR’s help. However, you have to develop a sense of how much information to give a journalist. If you give too much the key points may get lost and a reporter may begin to feel as though they’re being spun. We generally pitch very soft news and so try not to overload. Typically this means sending a one page backgrounder after someone has shown interest in the initial story suggestion. We also send a link to our online newsroom which has a wealth of info in it. By sending the backgrounder we provide concise, to the point info. The link to the newsroom gives the journalist the choice to find out more about us if they so desire. What amount of info you provide is going to vary based on what and who you’re pitching, so just remember to avoid a cookie cutter approach.
  • If you have a choice and a lot on the line, go with who you know: In a relationship based game like PR you must  constantly look to expand your network. However, when the chips are down, go with a journalist you know well. I’ve got three reporters (yes, only 3) that I know will get my stuff right and report the story in fair and balanced way. Unsurprisingly, they’re all very detail oriented. If my boss or client indicates that something is of the highest importance and the story fits with any of these 3 people’s beat, I know who I’m going to first.

Are there other ways you try to manage the predominant equation in PR? If you are in school now, how do you plan to deal with this ever present problem?

Need more info on unpaid media? Check out this post by Melanie Wilt.

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