If you claim to be in the PR business and do media relations, chances are you’re forgetting your most important clients – the journalists you purport to understand and with whom you’re supposed to maintain relationships. That’s what we’re hearing more of these days, anyway.
We believe that at least on the agency side of this business, you have multiple sets of customers that include the clients who pay you and journalists, the clients you also need to serve to be successful. We’ll leave other roles out of this, as we see how those can so often boil down to “protect the boss to protect your job.” But here, we have learned that on the agency side, it is incumbent upon us to balance the communications needs of our clients with a fast-changing media environment, in order serve the needs of both and achieve a successful outcome for all.
While we must always in the best interest of our paying clients, it has become more imperative than ever to understand and act appropriately based on what’s happening inside continually shrinking and changing news organizations and among their audiences. We must not overload them with pitches that we know won’t fit. We must empathize with what is expected of them on a daily basis in a multi-platform environment. We must listen when they instruct us as to what interests them and fits their strategy to win audience and what doesn’t. We must work within their deadlines and criteria. We must do legwork when it would be helpful to them, especially when they don’t have time and resources and we do. We must respond when asked. If we haven’t worked with an individual journalist before, we must ask them the right questions in an effort to meet their needs. We aren’t gatekeepers, we are conduits and connectors. In other words, it should be like any other sound customer service relationship.
We have a saying in our office that “no one client is more important than our media relationships.” From what we hear in the marketplace, that is a different approach. But from what we hear inside newsrooms, it is appreciated and pays off for us in ways that spreadsheets could never calculate.
We operate in an era when anyone can get a message out to an audience. Essentially, anyone can be a publicist. But the traditional media still, more often that not, holds its rightful place. As the ranks of journalists sadly continue to thin, understanding how they have to work and treating that with the highest level of respect will allow them to be customers we will have the privilege to serve into the future.