Editors Should Pick PR Brains For A Change

Two Fridays ago, 13 colleagues from the Fleishman Johannesburg office visited the head office of Avusa Media, home to newspapers and magazines including Sunday Times, Sowetan, Business Day, Financial Mail, The Times, The Herald, Weekend Post, Daily Dispatch, Elle and Home Owner.

The idea behind the visits is to give our client service teams, especially juniors, a feel for the newsrooms, to get them to see first-hand how the news gathering process works. Understanding journalists’ needs and their deadlines increases our usefulness to them, further enabling us to better serve our clients.

It’s not always that you have PR people descend on a newsroom and being welcomed.  Journalists are, by their nature, sceptical and therefore, suspicious of us. So, for members of our tribe to have been welcomed so warmly, meant a lot to us, especially given the deadline pressures.

Business Times editor Marcia Klein, FM deputy editor Max Gebhardt, Sowetan editor Mpumelelo Mkhabela and his senior team were generous with their time. For especially Klein and Gebhardt to do so on their deadline day, speaks volumes for their appreciation of the role we play in the communication chain.

Now, if only the generosity of spirit shown by the editors could be cascaded down to the foot soldiers – the reporters who actually write the stories, their news editors and section editors. That, however, is a subject for another day.

Phindi Radebe, an account executive who joined the tour, said afterwards: “The visit offered us the opportunity to better understand the processes and structures . . . behind publishing some of the country’s biggest newspapers and weekly magazines, the editorial decisions made and how they come about.”

“Furthermore, we were all reminded of the importance of understanding the media the we deal with; such as having an in depth knowledge of their readership profile, demographic profile and editorial content in order to ensure that our clients’ stories are conveyed to the correct audiences.”

What if we reversed roles and, for a change, have the editors pick our brains about, for example, how their newspapers are perceived? That’s something we would not have to scratch our heads to find out. We already have the information at our finger tips.

They will not necessarily like what they hear but, hey, it will be honest feedback – the unpolished truth delivered without fear or favour – just the way the press likes to dish it out. It might even save them thousands of bucks on research.

Some of the niggling questions for editors – such as what makes their competitors the preferred media for breaking important corporate stories – could be answered by a simple phone call to even the most junior PR practitioner.

As media strategists, PR people are faced daily with the task of satisfying demanding – and even difficult clients –who can be particularly picky about which publications, radio or television stations they want their stories to be told.

It’s not just about publicity anywhere but in the right publication, radio or television station or other media. This forms part of the communications strategy on which the communications agency’s performance will be judged – and often reflects the views of the company management and even board members.

So, from very early on, the media strategist quickly forms an opinion of which media are valuable and which ones are not. Damned if yours is off the radar. If a company does not think of your medium for its news, it’s unlikely to think of it for its advertising spend – with consequences on revenue.

Now, that should be discomforting for both editor and advertising manager.  Although not directly responsible for profits and advertising performance, editors are expected to contribute to the bottom line by producing stories that make their media suitable vehicles for advertisers to reach their desired audiences.

It’s quite simple – companies that do not value your newspaper or show for communicating their news for free, are just as unlikely to find them attractive for their paid-for messages in advertisements and features.

Now, that’s sobering news.