The idea was insane enough. “The Archie Show” DVD had just come out and as a syndicated DVD columnist for the Chicago Tribune, I was always trying to top myself. So when publicist Corina Galdamez of B/HI (and now with Apple) pitched a story, I pitched her right back:
“Why don’t I play a reporter in an Archie cartoon interviewing Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead about the release?”
Now really. She should’ve hung up the phone. Or asked Reggie Mantle to short sheet my bed. But to her immense credit, Corina ran with the idea. But for how long? When the inbred hillbillies who then ran the Archie empire imposed about 200 restrictions on the idea, I quit in disgust. Or tried to.
Corina refused to let me give up. She calmed down the Archie mafia, then talked me off the ledge. And even though I still had to deal with the idiocy of Jughead eating a banana instead of a hamburger in the final product, I pulled it off.
Actually, no: We pulled it off. Or maybe Corina did. At any rate, she gave me a career highlight and forever after made my PR A-list. Since then, I have come to realize just how much value PRs deliver — even if some nasty, get-a-life reporters try to make them feel otherwise.
Here I’ll share what it takes to stand out as a public relations star from the reporter side of the fence. And if you’re getting ready to pitch me anyway, feel free to use these techniques on yours truly. I truly I hope they help.
The four Ps of successful PR people
Simple as this list may seem, I’m constantly surprised by the number of PRs who fall short in one or more areas. There’s no reason to. The four Ps are:
- Be POLITE. This may represent my most important tip of all, as all the others flow from it. I love publicists who begin the conversation with, “Did I catch you at a good time?” or acknowledge that I’m one busy camper. There are countless ways to show your manners with a journalist.
- Be PROFESSIONAL. The same attributes that make a journalist professional apply to the PR person’s best traits. Always deliver what you promise. Be on time, every time. Do your homework and learn whatever you can about the writer or editor you’re about to pitch. Here’s a big hint: Writers are used to getting little or no reinforcement from colleagues. They love it when you express a familiarity with and genuine affection for their writing.
- Be PERSONAL. Here empathy marks the crucial starting point. Before you call, email, Zoom or pitch, think on what the reporter or editor may otherwise be up against that day. Joe and Jane Reporter are not androids. They do not want to be treated like marks on a scorecard.
Mostly, we as reporters and editors do not exist to serve your PR whims. Shocking, right? Well, you’d be surprised how many PRs forget this. Your goal is not to extract press coverage for short-term gain alone. And please do not ramrod your presentation down my throat. It doesn’t leave a good taste in my mouth.
- Be PERSISTENT. This could easily include a fifth “P”: Be persistent without being a pest. You don’t want to badger a reporter to the point where they dread hearing your voice. Yet a good reporter understands the value of persistence; it’s what gets stories and your pitches online. Be as clear with the reporter about what you need and expect as they’ll be with you.
And the R: Public Relationships
Many times in my career, PR people put me in touch with great sources — even though they didn’t represent them. One, Ruthann Bowen, introduced me to the man who would became my mentor, the late Bob Briner. Another, Jennifer Robinson, sent regular notes of encouragement while I battled a serious health condition. Dawn Wotapka became such a positive and energized presence that I took her on as a freelance writer. Most recently, Sarah Johnson reached out to me and offered help when I lost my job last April. How is all this possible?
In each case, the depth of concern, of going way above and beyond, boils down to one word: relationships. What made these consummate pros travel beyond the distance for me extended from having true hearts of service. That is what the best media representatives understand. The best reporters, too.
Yes, growing relationships is tough work, especially when a client expects you to deliver the goods. Some days, your to-do list will be reduced to that. A lot of journalists get it. But the instant you get out from behind that, show a sense of humor, embody grace under the gun — and begin to understand the person on the other end — something special starts to happen.
Let ethics wonks pounce on me like a bunch of flatulent sea slugs. But solid-gold relationships in the end mean that I put the pitches of my most trusted and valued PR peeps at the top of the pile. And if I couldn’t cover it, I sent them to someone who could or might. Simple stuff but profound in its circle of righteousness.
Relationships matter. I’ve heard that enough times in my life. But it is so, so true.
That is, it’s not always about the story. Grow the trusted relationship. The unsophisticated PR person more resembles an oily used-car salesman. The one who nurtures the relationship over time will come over and, metaphorically speaking, help you fix a flat and then call you an Uber.
To this list, I add a gentleman named Scott Mills. When I gave up my podcast at a banking non-profit in November 2019, Scott encouraged me to get back on the air. I resisted. Scott reminded me how much value I brought to the banking world. I still resisted. Then he talked me up about guitars and Vox amps. That helped. He knew me too well.
And finally, he offered a sponsorship from his company, the William Mills Agency. Sure, money talks. But his above-and-beyond concern spoke louder. I don’t know how many publicists Scott has at WMA — it seems like dozens — but I can’t imagine a better group of people to have on my side. They make me laugh. We work as a team. They are all four Ps, the R and something else altogether: the rescuers and revivers of a podcast that today is closing in on 5,000 listens.
I am a star reporter, podcaster, editor, award winner, bragger and tireless worker. But I have my unrealized dreams, too. If you can get to know several journalists that well, or even just one, it will open untold doors for you. And you’ll in turn open some for them.
Yeah, I know. Mushy stuff. But I’ve lived it. And hey, it’s also great for business. And if all else fails, invite the Fourth Estate plugger out for dinner. Reporters never turn down free food, and the ones who protest the most usually eat the most.
Lou Carlozo is Qwoted’s Editor In Chief. All opinions expressed are in the pursuit of PR bribery via Starbucks gift cards, which you can email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or harass him with your pitches via LinkedIn.
February 14, 2023