Relationships between public relations practitioners and the media should be straightforward and based on mutual trust and goals, but like every relationship, these are as good or as bad as the individuals involved. Additionally, what is considered proper in another country may be considered unthinkable in the United States. Ideally, the two camps work toward a common goal and do so in a manner considered ethical by their professions and the public.

The Pitch

The public relations pitch -- attempting to persuade a reporter to write on a topic -- is the cornerstone of media relations in the PR profession. If you work in PR, a pitch may be the first contact between you and a reporter, and if it’s done well -- meaning it's newsworthy and you've contacted the correct individual -- it can be a promising start to a productive relationship. If, on the other hand, you are wasting the reporter’s time trying to get him to cover a “non-story,” the relationship can get off to a very rocky start.

From Research to Relationship

The foundation of a strong relationship between PR practitioners and the media is research. PR professionals need to research publications and broadcasts to ensure they benefit their clients, and then research the reporters and editors so they approach the correct individuals with pitches and information. This may mean working with several individuals at the same media outlet. For example, if you, as a PR person, want a reporter to write about your client’s product one week, but the following week your CEO won an award, those are two very different angles that may be covered by different reporters. It’s insulting to a reporter if you don’t take the time to learn more about his job.

Gatekeeper Roles

Both PR practitioners and the media play gatekeeper roles. As a PR person, you can allow or deny a reporter access to your client, and an editor can allow or deny you a story. The key is to control that access without tainting the process. For example, if there is a rumor about your client and a reporter calls to interview your CEO, you can legitimately say that you need more time to research facts, but promise to get back to him before his deadline. Conversely, a competent reporter won’t take an important story on face value without verifying it. Respecting these roles is important in ongoing relationships between the two camps.

Ethical Considerations

Integrity is the cornerstone of both the PR and media professions. Journalists should never accept money or favors from PR people in exchange for publicity, nor be influenced by gifts or meals. This line can sometimes be hazy, as PR practitioners often host events for the media at trade shows or conferences where food and drink are plentiful. Another example is if a PR professional gets wind that a reporter is going to print an unsavory story about her client and tries to stop it. If you encounter this in your PR work, remember there are different ways to handle the situation, such as offering an interview to present your side of the story.

Both PR practitioners and the media must always respect confidentiality.