I read The Washington Post’s Steve Pearlstein’s column on the death of business reporting this past weekend with interest. So much interest, in fact, that I posted a comment on it. And, I’m devoting a blog post to it because he raised a subject that is increasingly misunderstood and requires exploration.

Based on Steve’s experiences and some research he conducted, he posits that owned media has replaced the need for earned media (hence, media relations has been dramatically reduced).

Pearlstein, a well-respected journalist at the Post, has been there for decades and has worked with probably hundreds of corporate PR folks – myself included – over the years. However, as he explains in his column, that’s changing. In his experience, media relations practitioners are increasingly denying interviews and access to company executives. Why? Fortune’s Alan Murray explains that “…they don’t trust us…or need us.” Yes, Mr. Murray. Yes, we do need you.

Help them help us.

Back in the dark ages when I started my PR career, I met with reporters for coffee and lunches with or without my clients in tow. Yes, that’s more difficult now for journalists. Newsrooms have been gutted, and as Pearlstein references in his column, reporters who historically wrote about a few companies are now often writing about multiple industries. They are massively busy and moving in too many directions. Does this mean we shut reporters out? No. We try harder. We accommodate their schedules. We provide thoughtful briefings to get them up to speed more quickly.

Risk versus reward.

In his column, Pearlstein also addresses the perceived risk of working with journalists. In my experience, it’s riskier to not work with them. If they are writing about your company or your client regardless, you have a golden opportunity to help them deliver your message and tell your story.

A bit about owned media.

Yes, owned media is valuable. You have control over the content and timing, and can share updates with a wide audience, which includes customers, prospects and potential endorsers. However, this does not replace feature coverage from credible, impartial news outlets; frankly, the message often means more coming from a renowned journalist rather than directly from a company representative.

No, but…

Can we accommodate every request from journalists? Of course not. There are a host of legitimate reasons companies may not be able to comment on a particular topic. However, if I’m forced to decline a request, I make every attempt to offer something equally newsworthy in its place.

This new reticence to speak with media is a mistake – for journalists and for the clients we are trying to promote and protect.

Corporate PR colleagues, journalists and others, what’s your take?

2 Comments

    • Thank you for your comment, Adam! I send most general briefings in email — that’s typically easiest for journalists to access. I try to keep it to maybe 5 paragraphs at most. A standard opener would be a bit about the company (the boilerplate/company description is a good starting point); of course if you are delivering timely news, that would also appear in an opener. Based on the reporter’s areas of interest or any questions he or she has posed, I’ll usually then add a few paragraphs with headers to provide additional detail. Rather than pasting a ton of text, I’ll link to relevant information, such as the “About Us” or “News” page on the website, maybe something like a company overview video, and attach a bio of a company representative who may be conducting an interview. I hope this helps, and I look forward to other questions and comments!

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