My CPRE (Continuing PR Education) involves reading numerous news sites, industry blogs and trade newsletters as well as following influencers via social media to gain knowledge about PR trends such as content creation, distributing it through social media and rethinking strategies for measuring our successes. But, the one constant of what we do is media relations and it remains one of the most important aspects of the practice of public relations.

I reached out to Brent Lang, a senior film and media reporter at Variety Magazine to talk about his experience working with PR pros. In this Q&A, Brent gives us insights into why he won’t open your emails, what makes a good source, preparing for an interview and gossip v. fact-based stories.

CB: You must received hundred of story ideas a day. Which ones stand out to you and what details are in that pitch that gets your attention?

BL: I have to admit I don’t write many stories off of cold pitches. Usually, I have to have a relationship with a publicist before I really read a pitch, because so many of the pitches I receive have nothing to do with what I cover. I’m mostly likely receiving a note that is being sent to dozens of journalists. But PR people I talk to frequently know the kinds of stories I like and what I’m not interested in writing about. They work quickly. They’re responsive. They’re helpful without being overly aggressive.

CB: Who are your best sources and why?

BL:  Most of my best sources are studio executives and producers. They’re people who think analytically about the media business and they’re able to look beyond the daily grind of who’s up and who’s down to see the big picture. Yes, they have an agenda. We all do. But they offer perspectives that are unique and deeply informed.

CB: Do you find that most of your sources come prepared to an interview? What tips can you offer PR professionals to help prepare their clients?

BL: They definitely know the kinds of questions that I will be asking. I usually give publicists a few broad details about my piece. However, the best interviews unfold more like a conversation. They don’t necessarily end up in a preordained destination.

CB: What are the top reasons a source or PR professional has broken your trust?

BL: I’ve had sources or PR people leak information to rivals after I’ve gone to them to get a comment or get confirmation. That’s a big red flag to me. It means they can’t be trusted. I’ve also had sources and publicists lie to me. That’s upsetting. I respect it when people say they can’t answer a question. I hate it when they lie. It’s a very hard thing to earn a person’s trust back.

CB: Do you find that since you cover the entertainment industry that it is more challenging to get people to go on the record?

BL: It’s one of my great frustrations. People are perfectly happy, even eager, to bash people or dish about something when their name isn’t attached to it, but they clam up when they know it’s on the record. In some cases, I do use anonymous sourcing. I wish I didn’t have to, but those stories are often more illuminating than the ones where everyone is on the record.

CB:It seems that the entertainment industry media has a fascination with gossip. How do you distinguish between gossip and fact?

BL: I don’t really think about it in those terms. My job is to report on what is truthful. Period. I find that “gossip” is a term that publicists will throw in your face when they don’t want you to print something.

CB: Anything else to add?

BL: Just don’t take it personally if I don’t respond to an email. We all get so many that I often miss them, so don’t be afraid to send a follow up note. I don’t mind. Really.

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It always amuses me when people make the argument that native advertising is a threat to PR. Arik Hanson‘s piece today in Ragan’s PR Daily claims paid content in the form of reporter-written articles will replace the role traditional public relations professionals play for their clients. What his piece fails to acknowledge is how public relations has evolved. Getting client quotes and features in publications like the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal are valuable and necessary to keeping a client happy, but that is a tiny part of the value delivered by a PR professional. Our value comes from not just being a “placement maker” but being a broad public relations advisor and strategist.  A similar argument was made back in 2008 by burgeoning social media “experts” who claimed that social media sites like Twitter would take over traditional PR. They were wrong then, just as Hanson is wrong now.

The PR industry shifts and changes just as other industries do. When PR supports business development it becomes a valuable asset of a larger communications and marketing team. Not in place of, but alongside, social media and native advertising. And it will continue to do so when the next ad craze comes along.

Clients will continue to use, value and need public relations partners to provide strategic counsel on activities far beyond just media placements. Those of us who are PR professionals develop message points when the media seeks an interview about a potentially controversial issue impacting an organization, secure speaking engagements for an attorney and advise them on which nominations to pursue and which fly by night nominations to ignore. We develop content for a firm’s website and educate firm leaders about not just the value of social media but how to truly leverage social media for tangible benefit. We train company executives in how to work with the media before reporter interviews and shape newsletters and client alerts to ensure they are reader friendly.

There is room for both native advertising and traditional public relations, and the former obviously does not replace the later.  That’s like saying LegalZoom.com will handle your high-value legal work.

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How Fresh is Your Content?

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