Building Bridges Between PR and Reporters: Insights From Our Media Panel

Hunter Stuart headshot

Recently, I moderated a virtual panel with national reporters from leading outlets including Barron’s, Axios, The Wall Street Journal and CNBC. The panel covered topics ranging from how the participating reporters find their stories and how they like to communicate with PR professionals to changes they’ve seen in journalism recently. 

The event surfaced valuable insights for PR professionals in the B2B space. Let’s dive into some of the key insights.

How Do Reporters Find Their Stories?

I started the conversation by asking our panelists how they find their stories. Do they rely on email pitches? Social media? Word of mouth?

“It is very much just monitoring what people are talking about online, going to coffees with folks in the industry as much as I possibly can,” said Sam Sabin, a cybersecurity reporter at Axios and author of the twice-weekly Codebook newsletter. Others on the panel echoed this sentiment, highlighting a preference for using current news stories as a jumping-off point. 

Although the panelists noted that they don’t often rely on email pitches when searching for their next stories, they mentioned that email pitches can help them develop a larger theme or track down reliable sources. “Getting pitches for sources can be really helpful,” noted Dominique Mosbergen, a medical science reporter in The Wall Street Journal’s Health and Science bureau.  “Sometimes I’ll just search in my email for a keyword if I’m looking for an endocrinologist or something and my sources aren’t picking up the phone.” 

The Relationship Between PR Professionals and Reporters

Navigating the relationship between PR professionals and reporters is tricky, said Ellen Sheng, a freelance contributor to CNBC and other outlets who focuses on business, finance, fintech and sustainability. “I don’t like when [PR professionals] ask to see the entire article before it goes out … I cannot give you the entire article and I will not do that because it’s journalism.” On the other hand, Sheng noted that she likes when PR professionals prep their sources on what they can and can’t say.

All of our panelists expressed appreciation for PR professionals who are knowledgeable about the space or have taken the time to research a specific topic. For example, Sabin mentioned that a relationship with a knowledgeable PR person can be extremely helpful in a technical industry like cybersecurity. “They’re very good at figuring out which experts know about [the subject] rather than just pushing a client who maybe wants to be interviewed but isn’t as knowledgeable.”

I asked our reporters if they are more likely to respond to a PR professional whose name they’re familiar with. Al Root, a senior writer at Barron’s, explained that it doesn’t matter whether he has a pre-existing relationship with a PR person or not. “It is an absolute grab bag whether something caught my eye and I don’t know the person or whether I have a good relationship with the person,” he said. 

Root also mentioned that once he establishes a relationship with someone, he encourages texts to avoid communication getting lost in his email inbox. Mosbergen also indicated she has found in-person or Zoom meetings with PR professionals helpful. “If I can share what I’m working on and they can share the kinds of clients they have, often that has led to more specific pitches, which I have appreciated.”

The conversation then turned to an audience question about whether the panelists prefer PR pitches to be formal or informal. “Maybe this goes without saying, I want a reasonable pitch,” Root said. “I don’t care if it’s formal.” Sheng mostly agreed:  “Ultimately it’s really about whether it’s interesting or not and how it’s presented is kind of secondary.” However, she noted that she often sees pitches that seem to rely on sensational language and slang to grab attention and feels that tactic is a “little overboard.”

Navigating Changes in the Journalism Industry

When it came to audience questions about how journalism has changed over the last few years, the panelists pointed to financial pressures like shrinking budgets and job security. Mosbergen explained, “I think people are always nervous about layoffs. That’s a reality that every journalist has to grapple with, the idea that there’s just not enough work in general. And it’s shrinking.” From a freelancer perspective, Sheng weighed in that she has also seen budgets declining or pausing, which can be very difficult. 

Sabin noted that to counter the shrinking of the newsroom, more emphasis is being placed on ensuring reporters position themselves as experts in their subject matter and as go-to thought leaders. “How do you stand out among the pack when the pack is shrinking?”

Another significant factor involves the ongoing changes implemented by Google. SEO is a critical aspect of writing and reporting, so staying up to date with the latest search developments is key to ensuring your content is optimized. “It’s just this endless grind of satisfying the great and all-powerful Google. That’s it,” Root noted.

We wrapped up the panel by asking our panelists for one thing they wanted the 200+ PR and marketing professionals in attendance to walk away with. The common thread in each of our panelist’s answers? Just keep pitching! Mosbergen said pitching “can be really helpful,” while Sheng highlighted that follow-ups are okay, too. 

Sabin closed out our panel with the advice to prioritize targeted messaging with reporters. “If you personalize your message, if you know the reporter well enough, especially what they cover well enough … I am way more likely to respond and be captivated by that email than a mass [email].” 

At Walker Sands, we have deep expertise in navigating the evolving media landscape to ensure our clients earn coverage that drives brand awareness and credibility. Contact us today to learn how our media relations experts can help your company reach its public relations goals.


Share This

Read Next

Want to know more? Let’s talk.