What makes a good PR person?

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By Linda Forrest

In my last post, I wrote about how PR practitioners annoy journalists. It’s ironic that many of the issues come down to a failure to implement the fundamentals of successful communication. So, in an effort to clear up exactly what it is that reporters want from PR people, this post aims to list the traits of a good PR practitioner, with a healthy dose of anecdotes from PR agency executives and reporters sounding off on what they think are essential attributes. While some posts I came across while researching this post were downright effusive about how wonderful PR people are, others contained language that might be deemed unfit for work.

The reporter’s view

I’ll start off by referring back to the very informative blog post by Matt Hartley, the editor of the Financial Post’s Tech Desk, wherein he demonstrated a learned understanding of the symbiotic nature of the relationship between reporters and PR professionals:

When I was in journalism school, I never realized just how much of my day as a working reporter would be spent sifting through press releases and dealing with public relations professionals.

It’s true, some reporters have no time for PR people. Reporters are busy, so sometimes it’s understandable that they might get a little impatient with someone who is pitching a story in which the reporter clearly has no interest. Personally, I do my best to be polite to PR folks and give them my full attention.

Unless of course they’re calling me on deadline, then all bets are off.

Most reporters understand that PR professionals are in a tough spot and that they’ve got a job to do, just like us. They’ve got clients on one side with their own set of demands, and reporters on the other side, who often couldn’t care less about your company … that is, until something goes wrong, then that same reporter’s demands for more information can never be satiated.

This understanding and respect is crucial to successful PR. We need reporters but they also need us. Things always run more smoothly when that’s understood on both sides of the fence. Be respectful.

Some reporters playfully communicate their frustrations about what not to do as a PR person, like veteran technology reporter Rafe Needleman does on his blog Pro PR Tips. For example, his Tip #185:

If, on the marketing site you want me to see, you have “As seen in…” graphics pointing to other coverage you’ve gotten, make sure you link to the coverage you seem to be so proud of. Otherwise, for all I know, the coverage was glancing, negative, or perhaps nonexistent.

Fair to say that he’s stressing the importance of transparency.

The PR executives’ view

From a PR Newswire blog post about the role of PR in the news cycle:

Victoria Harres, PR Newswire’s director of audience development, noted the role public relations plays in surfacing stories, and reminded us that non-profits and NGOs also make use of PR.

“Public relations people play an important role in bringing things to the attention of journalists. There are not enough journalists in the world to make sure that every story worth telling is told,” she said. “A good PR person will understand individual journalists’ beats and provide relevant information that helps journalists do their jobs without spending significant amounts of time finding out when events are happening, when products are launching, or if there is a coordinated effort to send money and aid to some part of the world where tragedy has struck. Let’s not forget non-profits also use PR professionals to make sure their stories are told.”

Victoria has hit the nail on the head by stressing the importance of understanding individual journalists’ beats. This is essential and depends on the PR person’s research skills. Be informed.

Earlier this year, James Crawford of CustomerThink did a roundup of why he feels that the renaissance PR person needs to be a jack of all trades: a risk-taker, a creative artist, content marketer, door buster and technician.

The challenge: being all those things at once.

The takeaway? Be flexible, be a multi-tasker.

In the aptly named post “What it takes to be a PR person,” the author rounded up the traits they saw as being essential to success in this field. Dividing the list into human skills, which included attributes like patience, congeniality, critical thinking, and ethics, and professional skills, which covers off writing and multi-tasking, the post is peppered with insight from PR execs:

“Writing skills are the most difficult thing to find. Once people can write, I feel that pretty much everything else we can teach.” – Jeffrey Sharlach, Chairman and CEO, The Jeffrey Group

“The people have to come to the standard that I value, and draw that ethical line in the sand and never cross it. Be a straight shooter, don’t lie. Anyone that is devious in public relations is going to be found out, and will fail.” – Howard Rubenstein, President, Rubenstein Associates

“If you are not knowledgeable on what is going on today, how do you advise clients or companies on what to do tomorrow?” – Al Golin, Chairman, GolinHarris

Be informed. Be ethical. Be a good writer. Exhibit patience.

This post only scratches the surface, but gives an introduction to some of the traits that together make up good PR practitioners according to both reporters and executives. Given that your next story or your next job might come from these folks, best to take heed.

Image: Mobile App Testing



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