What Wikipedia Can’t Tell You About Old-School Public Relations — Part Two


The relationship between PR professionals and journalists is vital to the function of the communications industry.

We sat down with The Agency’s own Arleigh Vasconcellos and her journalist friend Shelley Arnusch, writer and associate editor at Avenue Magazine, for a chat about how public relations and journalism have evolved over the course of their careers.

Read part one of the interview and part three

How has media relations changed compared to when you were first starting out?

A: I guess it depends on the journalist you’re contacting, but on the media relations side I think that email is still my strongest tool. It’s where you can condense a lot of information into one place. I know a lot of people don’t like it and don’t like the attachments, but I still include them, even if they’re not necessarily relevant to the actual pitch. The bulk of what I want to talk about is in the message, but the attachments are there for extra information and saves the journalist time searching for it elsewhere. I search and follow journalists on social media to see what they’re interested in, but I don’t feel comfortable reaching out to them on Twitter or messaging them on LinkedIn. I like to maintain the professional/personal divide, too.

S: It’s true though. I think when you don’t know someone and you’re reaching out, your first step is to see if they have a professional website and a professional email address. That’s what I do. But there are certain people out there that have established themselves as being active on social media and I think in those cases, it’s okay to reach out to them that way.

A: Yes, totally. We were in a similar situation with Content Saloon, our social media event we hosted back in 2013. We wanted Kelly Oxford to come and speak, so we created a bunch of unique memes based on her interests. We used those to catch her attention on social media. However we also emailed her publisher a formal request to actually invite Kelly to speak. Note that it was through the formal email invite that we made the arrangements to get Kelly to Calgary.

S: It’s interesting what you said about attachments earlier. As someone who is on the receiving end, my pet peeve is when you get incomplete information. I love it when I get the full release and the image I need all in one from a PR, because I don’t have to reach out again asking for a high-res image and photo credit. Put it out there the first time — eliminate that step. Then, if you want to find out if your pitch amounted to anything, follow up.

A: I agree. I’m all about providing a journo with complete information and then following up if I need to.  I think a lot of new PRs get intimidated when they send a pitch and don’t get a reply.  Either your pitch was no good, or the journalist is busy. The industry continues to see cuts, and journalists are being forced to take on more responsibility than ever before.

S: In terms of the workload — yes, journalists are taking on more and more. But they’re also having to take on a more diverse workload. Journalists used to be one thing — a writer or a photographer, for example — but now we have to be everything. There’s too much going on for me as a journalist to reply to every pitch asking for more details or letting the PR know what I’m going to do with the information, if anything. And you never know when things might pop up again! Your pitch may not have had any resonance when I first got it, but it could have resonance down the road. When that happens, it’s great that the PR person made the effort and provided all the information and background/photo details.

Can you point to a time when you thought that there was a marked change in your industry or when you started to notice that things were changing?

S: When I realized that the web was not just an extra job that I had to do after my ‘real’ work — that it was actually part of my overall job. This has happened within the last couple of years. Contributing to the web — and the additional work that came with it — became just as important as contributing to print. Before, I would pass my piece on to the ‘web person’ and they would put it online. Now, I have to log into the back-end of the site, upload the article and the photos, and push it live. The web has grown to be a serious component.

A: I think I had two turning points. I remember doing the media accreditation for the Ski and Snowboard Festival where we had mainly mainstream publications covering the event, but we also had a few bloggers applying. I had to do a lot of research on the bloggers to make sure that they were legitimate, because blogging was in its infancy at the time. I think during that year we only gave accreditation to five bloggers. The number of legitimate bloggers has grown exponentially over the years. Now, being included on a blog or a web-only publication is in some ways just as big a win, if not bigger, than a feature on Global News or other major outlets. It depends where your target audience is.

The second big shift on the PR side is the content element. PRs are still expected to do the strategic thinking behind the scenes, but we’re also being forced to put on our journalist hats. It started with social media — creating those accounts and posting to them. Then it was blogs — building the blogs and actually writing interesting content to position clients as thought leaders in their industry. There are people who have become very good at this, but there’s a lot of people doing a very bad job because they only focus on sales, or they’re shoving poor content down their readers’ throats.

S: Exclusivity and ‘scoops’ are also changing. In the past, you kept your story to yourself until the article appeared in print because you didn’t want someone cribbing your idea. But now it’s more important to promote what you’re working on and publicize yourself rather than to maintain a wall of secrecy.

A: Unless you’re someone like the Kardashians, for example. They have the followers and the publicity to scoop themselves.

To be continued… 

Do you have any insights on how the PR and journalism industries have changed? Let us know in the comments below or on twitter at @PRTheAgency!