How to be a Media Expert

I Feel the Need, the Need to Read.

Clients expect us to be media experts. The only way to deliver on this is to actually ingest the news on a daily basis.

When I’m interviewing a prospective candidate for a junior-PR position, my go-to question every time is “what do you read?” It’s a simple question, really, but often it’s the question that trips folks up the most. When I get a standard answer like “the Wall Street Journal” or “The New York Times”, my follow up is “Who at those pubs do you follow?” If they are not reading the news, this is when the wheels generally fall off the wagon.

I don’t ask “what do you read/who do you follow?” as gotcha questions, because they shouldn’t be for someone interviewing for a PR position. Reading the news is one of the most fundamental skills a PR professional should have.

Let’s be fair. PR quite often is a mad dash to some sort of bizarre finish line on a seemingly daily basis. Honestly, time to read is the first thing to be cast off to save time.  Like working out, reading is a discipline. It needs to be incorporated into a daily routine. In order to have any concept of what is happening in the media (and in turn, make it actionable to the needs of a client), stories and post need to be read daily.

So where do we stand? As many library posters have taught us, reading is fundamental, but the average day in the life of a PR professional is hectic at best. How do we carve in reading time? Here’s a couple of ways:

Develop a schedule:

When I was first entering PR, someone taught me to schedule my day to echo a reporter’s day. Reporters will source and interview for the first half of the day and write for the second. So, a junior PR professional’s day would roughly be e-mail and reading for the first hour, pitch until lunch, writing/admin after lunch. By reading in the a.m., you’re informed for the day. Now that scenario exists in a vacuum, and of course that’s going to be blown out of the water weekly, but it you have the framework there, it’s easy to snap into. If that framework doesn’t work (maybe you have a lot of early morning meetings) find one that does.

Share the load:

The entire media landscape shouldn’t fall on your shoulders – use your team. One of the methods we employ on my team is assigning publications to a specific owner. This way, reading is broken up and less time consuming. It also gives you the added bonus of becoming a subject matter expert on a key publication. So when a client says they want to be in Fast Company, and you’re in charge of reading FC, you can immediately show your value by being well-versed in FC’s house style, who covers certain beats, etc.

Actually go to the publication and read it:

One of the problems with the current news distribution model is that our feeders are by and large social platforms. You see an interesting Mashable article on Twitter, you click, read, and get out. You’ll get credit for reading a story on Mashable, but not for actually reading Mashable – you’re bound to miss something. So, if you own a publication on your team, take a moment on a weekly basis to actually read everything on its site (or go old-school and pick up the print version). Quite often, we get stuck in a rut of reading the same beats and reporters. If a pub isn’t responding to your pitch, think about how your pitch might fit other sections of the publication. By having command of the entire publication, you’ll find additional ways to punch through.

Justin Finnegan
Senior Account Manager

Posted on March 1, 2016 in Media, Strategy

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