Little Secrets to Big Success:

Act Like a Journalist if You Want Their Attention

By Stephen Burkhart

The Hoffman Agency, San Jose

 About Public Relations: Act Like a Journalist

I have encountered a number of tech companies of late that have churned through a number of PR firms in the past year. 

“We pay them big bucks and they don’t give us the results we expect,” is a common refrain I hear. “We have to change that.”

Of course, a key part of the equation is to find the right agency in the first place.

If you find an agency that never challenges the status quo, relies on press releases and product news to drive mindshare, assigns a very junior staff that hasn’t developed the intellectual horsepower or experience yet, then the relationship is bound to fail.

But in every great communications success, there is partnership and responsibility on both sides of the table. 

In my mind there must be alignment around the following critical and interweaving imperatives: 

1)      We must be allowed to write stories like journalists would (or better).

Those companies that enforce a rigid corporate speak on PR communications are doomed to fail.  Even when there is a mandate to incorporate certain company boilerplate stuff in outbound communications, you can still spice it up with a phrase, a story, a moment of illumination on a broader initiative.

Pull out any major article in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times or TechCrunch.  They never start out a story with COMPANY A, a leading blah blah.

Journalists provide us with daily examples of how to write great content.   Deconstruct these stories and you’ll see that most of them:

   – Suck you deeper into the story with a vortex-like headline that screams at you until you read the narrative

   – Tell you why you should care and why the story is important to an industry or the world (vs. being all about the company)

   – Tell an untold story, or advance the conversation about a hot-trending story

   – Offer an anecdote (stories are how we are hardwired to process and remember information)

Without those flashes of humanity, a turning point, an industry-first point of view, a customer talking about how life is made anew (or more profitable), interest level will fall off, or never take off.

We must be allowed to write like journalists to win the day for our clients.

2)    We must have empathy for journalists and bloggers. 

According to CareerCast, newspaper reporters have the worst job in America. The report cites stress, shrinking newsrooms and dwindling budgets as justifications

Piled on top of this, journalists face a tsunami of self-serving pitches from companies who are trying to promote themselves and their products and don’t think for a moment about the plight of journalists and what they really want and need to cover the company.  

Ah, but if you turn it around and ask the question, what can I do to make journalists’ jobs easier?  How can I relieve their burden? How I can make them look good?  How can I give them information and visuals that are nicely packaged up and written in a way that doesn’t require any editing at all?  How can I give them a creative angle that no one else has considered or add to the conversation of a hot trending article?

Companies that enable us to create customized stories that are deeply aligned and valuable to journalists are heading to mindshare heaven. 

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