Thursday, May 9, 2024

Both Sides of the Equation: Insight on What’s Good for the Story

Posted by Elena del Valle on May 8, 2015

By Edward M. Bury, APR
Coordinator of Public Information
Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Edward M. Bury, APR

Edward M. Bury, APR, coordinator, Public Information, Urban Transportation Center University of Illinois at Chicago

Photo: Edward M. Bury

Professionals who work in the public relations industry and members of the news media share this in common: Both sides want to tell a story, and both sides want to deliver fresh, compelling and accurate information.

In late April, I had the privilege to get a first-hand perspective on how public relations professionals and journalists can better work together. How? I moderated a panel discussion, “PR Pros and Journalists Working Together for the Good of the Story.” The noontime event was sponsored by the Chicago chapters of the Hispanic Public Relations Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

From the media side, the panelists were Stacey Baca, ABC Channel 7 anchor and reporter, and Carly Luque, an assignment editor from CBS Channel 2. The public relations profession was represented by Cristina Alfaro, Director of External Diverse Partnerships at McDonald’s Corporation, and Luis Agostini, Senior Media Executive with Edelman.

Here are four takeaways that resonated during the 90-minute conversation and Q&A with participants. Some topics here reflect practices I’ve followed over my career, others were refreshingly new.

Human Interest Stories Still Have Value

The media panelists concurred that their editors will let them pursue a good human interest story. How to determine if your story idea has the right stuff? Ask yourself: “Is this a story I just can’t stop thinking about?” An example cited: A profile of a World War II veteran who was despondent after losing his “best friend” – a neighbor child who’s family was forced to move away.

Stop Calling if a “Stop-the-Presses” Story is Breaking

Broadcast and print media thrive on breaking news. It’s news that has to be covered. That’s why public relations professionals should monitor what’s happening in their market, nationally and even around the world on the day they plan to make a pitch. Hold off if a big story is unfolding.

Be Judicious, Know the Reporter, Understand Deadlines

Both media panelists said their handhelds contained more than 300 messages — emails, direct messages, texts – the day of the event. That’s an “average” amount. What to remember: Reporters and assignment editors are busier and receive more messages today than before digital communications, so only pitch solid, valid story ideas. You must grab their attention with the Subject line content in an email. Also, monitor a reporter’s beat or area of interest and deliver your pitch message to the right source. And, know when news organizations plan their program or next edition. For example, television news planning meetings take place at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Finally, if you say you can deliver a source to appear on camera, deliver; otherwise, don’t expect another opportunity.

Defining and Presenting the Hispanic Demographic

This was perhaps the most compelling aspect, for me, during the panel discussion and interaction from the crowd of some 40-plus Hispanic Public Relations Association (HPRA) and National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) members. I learned companies and organizations need to bring forward more Hispanic professionals to comment as experts on issues involving the Hispanic community. I learned some Hispanic professionals, from a cultural perspective, “don’t like to brag,” as one participant noted. I learned there’s still confusion as to who is “Hispanic” and how those meeting the demographic are acknowledged in the media. And, I learned some members of the broad Hispanic demographic prefer to be recognized as Chicano, Puerto Rican or Colombian – by the land where they or their ancestors were born.

A final thought: The professionals I met and interacted with were passionate and accomplished communicators. I’d welcome the opportunity to moderate their next panel discussion. After all, we all should be learning from each other for the good of the story.

Edward M. Bury, APR, is a senior Chicago-based communications professional/strategic thinker with proven experience in marketing, public relations and related disciplines.  He currently manages all internal and external communications for the Urban Transportation Center, a transportation research unit at University of Illinois at Chicago.