The advice I’d give to early-career PR professionals about interacting with reporters is not too different from the advice I would give to anyone in the field: Make yourself a resource and not a pain-in-the-neck who wastes their time.  

When you’re a “flack,” as many curmudgeonly journalists (some of whom clearly were not adequately cared for as small children) call us, the assumption is always going to be that you’re the latter until you prove otherwise. For fledgling PR pros, unfortunately, the bar will be that much higher, since their preconceptions about PR people will be piled atop their preconceptions about young people.  

Being a resource means making sure you have a basic understanding of what you are pitching. The good news is that there’s a grain of truth in the media’s preconceptions: too often, the PR people reaching out to reporters and editors—even the experienced ones—really don’t understand the underlying strategies and products they are pitching very well.  

Why is that good news? Because it’s not hard to distinguish yourself in this regard by doing a bit of homework. Find a friendly person at your firm—or maybe it’s a friend or relative who works in the industry—that you can talk to and make sure you understand what you are pitching and what makes it interesting/new/differentiated.   

You also want to make sure your pitch lines up with the reporter’s coverage beat. Have they written on this topic before? (And if they wrote about it just last week you definitely want to know that too, lest they infer that you don’t necessarily read the latest issue of their beloved Nuclear Decommisioning Trust Gazette cover to cover every week!) 

A more subtle nuance is making sure your pitch lines up with their organization’s editorial proposition. I started my career reporting for and then editing an egregiously expensive weekly covering the over-the-counter derivatives markets. The implicit bargain with our readers, who were paying several thousand dollars a year for a subscription, was that they would not already have seen our news anywhere else. That being the case, it was not terribly constructive when a flack (oh yes, I was fluent in the Fourth Estate’s vernacular) called me about the news release they just put out.  

Similarly, someone who writes about personal finance for a retail audience probably isn’t focused on breaking news and isn’t going to get very excited about your offer of an exclusive scoop on a new investment product.   

By demonstrating your understanding of a reporter’s market, the contours of their own beat and the editorial imperatives they are operating under—and tailoring your approach accordingly—you will build instant credibility.    

A few more words of advice: 

This is the fourth in a series of posts we’ve written to welcome the 2023 graduates fortunate enough to have scored a job working in public relations, digital marketing or content marketing for an asset manager, RIA or fintech firm.

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The series wraps up tomorrow with reflections from early career professionals.

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  • The phone is your friend. I get it. The notion of speaking to a live person by phone is foreign to many recent college grads—I’m a texting fan myself. And it is undeniable that it is getting harder all the time to even get a reporter on the phone, since many are working from home and treat their mobile number as top secret. But if you have that number, don’t be afraid to use it! These days, it’s almost a novelty for reporters when you call them; I get the feeling some of them miss the human connection now that they do so much of their work through email and highly structured Zoom calls. And they invariably say, “Oh yeah, I think I remember seeing your email, but can you send it again?” Now that they asked for it, they are on the spot to react.  
  • Nothing beats a face-to-face. Take any chance you get to meet with reporters. Join the local press club. Find them at a conference. Remind your boss how steamy Chicago is in the summer and suggest you can cover that client interview that just got scheduled. When you meet with a reporter, you establish a connection that will last for years.  
  • Just do it. It flies in the face of my previous entreaty to make sure you’ve got all the “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed (and, by all means, be prepared and maybe don’t start with the most important beat writer for the Journal or Times). But raise your hand when you think you are ready to pitch. It takes a lot of nerve to put yourself and your firm’s clients out there, but it’s the only way to go from fledgling to full-fledged flack.   
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 Our series concludes tomorrow as our junior team—themselves just a few years out of college—weighs in on their recommendations for incoming financial communicators.