Six ways PR professionals can (and should) ‘think like a journalist’

As a young kid, I felt I was destined to be a journalist. I wrote family newsletters and questionable short stories. I scored the editor-in-chief spot on the high school newspaper staff and eventually made my way to the college newsroom. But my career led me elsewhere, and I’ve spent nearly a decade working on the “dark side” of the media, as some (unfortunately) say.


While I may not be reporting or a big-time magazine editor, working with media is one of the primary responsibilities of my job. And, the truth is that media jobs and PR jobs are far more similar than we’re led to believe. From crafting captivating story ideas and writing compelling content to interviewing sources and maintaining a strong social media presence, the core skills of a journalist translate well onto the PR side of tracks (and vice versa).

So, let’s explore how basic journalistic practices apply to public relations.


Here are six ways we can “think like journalists” in our day-to-day roles as PR professionals:


Avoid selling and start (story)telling.

Journalists are quick to dismiss stories that seem too sales-y, and rightfully so. Similarly, as PR professionals, our first goal is storytelling, not selling. Sure, we need to include facts and figures, the “5 W’s,” and so on; however, these are just the building blocks and baselines to our content.


As storytellers, we must paint a picture, stir emotion and change behavior through words. Include extra details that weave in the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. How many people were at the event? What did the chef’s award-winning dish really taste like? What sights and sounds overtook the banquet hall at the convention?


Help the audience visualize. The best content is rich with details that will hook readers and give them more than just a compilation of facts and quotes.


Know what’s newsworthy.

Generally, there are five key elements to newsworthiness: timing, significance, proximity, prominence and human interest. These apply across all kinds of content, not just media stories.


Is there a timely element? What does the article do for your audience? Is the topic close enough (geographically or otherwise) to your readers to pique interest? Why should people care? And, how does the story appeal to the audience’s emotions?


If you don’t know the answer to any of those questions, you’re not ready to tell the story.


Understand your audience.

Who are your customers? Who are your clients? And, who are the ideal readers of the story you’re hoping to tell? Be it a media hit, customer case study, blog post or e-newsletter, you must always know your audience and why they will want to read what you have to say. Spend some time carefully defining who you want to reach and figuring out their interests and behaviors. Then, and only then, can you truly reach them.


Research and verify.

All good stories are based on facts, and citing data will build trust with audiences and reporters alike.

From writing a media pitch, a white paper or a thought leadership article to compiling a media list or competitive analysis, research is always the first and most important step.


Who are your sources? Is there a study that supports your claim? What is the reporter’s beat? Is the reporter still writing for that outlet? What articles have already been written on the topic?


Ask yourself question after question until you’ve exhausted your options. Then, once you’ve compiled the information you need, review it, digest it and verify it. Double-check your facts and vet your sources.


We can’t be lazy. Someone will always know.


Strategically structure your writing.

There are a lot of facts, but there is only one story. As storytellers, journalists and PR pros must guide our audiences to the story. It’s our job to sift through piles of information and find the true purpose of the story. It’s also our job to tell it.


The most common method of writing structure is using the pyramid model. Your most important and most interesting content belongs at the very top of the pyramid. Since we only have mere seconds before our audience moves on, it makes sense to arrange writing from most important to least important, in case the reader jumps ship halfway through.


In addition to the order of our writing, PR pros can take another page from a journalist’s book by always thinking about campaigns and content in a broader sense. How can we take this one step further? Does this inspire a graphic or video? How many ways can we repurpose this to create more compelling content and reach more people? The sky can be the limit.


Mind the details.

Details matter and not just the details of the story (refer back to “Avoid selling and start (story)telling”). Just as journalists are expected to do, PR professionals are expected to heavily proofread their work. Names, titles, punctuation, dates, capitalization, attributions, AP Style… even formatting matters. It’s our job to be precise and represent not only ourselves well, but our clients well.


Journalism and storytelling are as old as mankind, and the basics of both are the same for us PR pros no matter the objective or the audience. By honing some journalism skills, you can craft stories and PR campaigns that resonate with the right people.


Can we help tell your story? Contact Lauryn Gray at to explore what Dittoe PR could do for you.

Three Questions to Ask Before Pitching a Reporter

Stop right there. Before you even think about clicking send, ask yourself these three questions about your pitch.

#1 Would I click on this story?

The subject line of your email pitch can really make or break the entire story idea. Get inspiration by looking at the titles of previous stories or blog posts from the media outlet (and especially the reporter) you’re pitching. Looking at the list of the most emailed or most read stories on the publication’s website can spark good ideas too.

#2 Would their readers care about this story?

When creating your pitch, ask yourself if this is the type of story the media outlet’s readers would care about. If it’s even remotely a stretch, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and think of a different angle to take. In addition to thinking about the readers, make sure you’re thorough in your research so that you’re not pitching a type of story the writer would never cover. For example, you’d never want to pitch an entrepreneur profile story to someone who only writes advice-based columns for entrepreneurs.

#3 Would I read this pitch?

Time for a reality check. If you’re bored reading your own pitch, then the reporter will definitely be bored. Make it relevant to them, interesting and engaging from subject line to the final sentence. Consider using examples to illustrate what the company, service or product does to breathe more life into the pitch and make it sound less like a press release. Above all, make it as short as possible. No one has time to read a one page email pitch.

What’s the one question you always ask yourself before sending an email pitch? Is there one thing your most successful pitches have all had in common?

6 Reasons Your Pitch Isn’t Working

It’s no secret that journalists don’t love the stereotypical PR pro (hence Twitter handles like this), but the reality is public relations helps keep the news flowing. This is only the case, however, if you’re doing it right. Nobody appreciates a stale email, inappropriately addressed email, mass email … the list goes on. News and magazine staffs are declining year after year, which means a decrease in available journalists to share your pitch with and an increase in how annoying a pitch can be. Don’t ruin a relationship with a reporter before it starts because it will only make your job harder.

More often than not, 75 percent of the time they aren’t responding because of deadlines, not enough time or they just aren’t interested, but what about the other 25 percent? It’s your pitch, folks.

  1. There is a person at the other end. One of the biggest things journalists tend to notice is a personalized pitch vs. e-blast. They appreciate knowing you researched their beats and stories, read them and found a way to present your idea based on those findings. They have names, too, so be sure it’s the right name in your intro. Personalize every time!
  2. Wrong, try again. With shrinking newsrooms, it’s not always easy to figure out exactly who is covering what beats. But pitching the wrong person is a PR pro’s worst enemy. If you’re not sure, call the news desk and ask. They’ll appreciate the research more than the apology when you realize you pitched a food drive story to a tech reporter.
  3. “So what?” Pitching a story that has very little (or none at all) newsworthiness will get it sent to the trash. If your pitch has them saying “so what?” then forget it. Just forget it.
  4. Local, local, local! Even if a broad-angle story has relevance in a small market, they aren’t going to jump on the bandwagon unless there is a (very) strong local tie. This can also go both ways – a very local angle won’t make it on national media outlets without a bazaar element to the story or something to bulk it up.
  5. Third time isn’t always a charm. PR is about building relationships. If one story pitch doesn’t work, it’s good to go back with more compelling news or a new angle. However, if you’re second (third, fourth, fifth …) pitch is just as lame as the first, good luck getting a response … ever. Don’t constantly share irrelevant or uninteresting story ideas, because writers will start to write you off completely.
  6. Timing. If you’re working with a national client, chances are you’re pitching to people in different time zones. This rule is simple, don’t pitch a writer on the west coast at 5 a.m. his/her time and expect an answer. By the time they check email, your pitch will be long gone and buried in the depths of their inbox. Plan it out accordingly and know where each writer is based before you pitch.

PR pros can’t fear rejection. It’s just part of the business. But, why make it easy for a reporter to say no? Take your time with each pitch, because one bad pitch could haunt you for much longer than it would take to do it right the first time.

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