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Jun 20, 2008

PR Interview: Influence Your Peers - Pitch PR News

SUMMARY: For more than 60 years, PR News has been providing public relations and marketing executives with articles that go well beyond PR 101, breaking news or agency wins and losses. PR News’ website describes their articles as “quick yet deeply researched.” PR and marketing pros can contribute their own columns and articles or become sources themselves. Here’s how to build a relationship with Editor Courtney Barnes and pitch articles or ideas to her.
Contact Information
Courtney Barnes
PR News
11 William Ave., 11th Fl.
New York, NY 10038

Barnes became editor of PR News about a year and a half after graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She started as a reporter, then left to help a startup consulting firm develop reports and marketing materials. Barnes returned to PR News about two years ago. She writes most of the content in PR News’ newsletters.

Circulation & Readership says the weekly publication goes out to 7,000 subscribers – primarily upper-level PR and marketing professionals in agencies, corporations and nonprofits and associations. The website gets 18,000 unique visitors a month. The PR News weekly and monthly newsletters are distributed to 60,000 readers.

“We write our lead stories toward the President, SVP, Vice President level or the Senior Account Executive,” says Barnes. “But we do have features. Our How-To feature on page two … is a little more tactical in what it offers; so, that speaks to middle managers.” Hence, PR News’ free Web content targets communications professionals at all levels.

Editorial Coverage
PR News is not a news source. It’s more of a resource to help communications professionals be successful at their jobs. “We write articles with the intent that people hold onto them and give them to their junior people to learn things,” says Barnes. “Everything that we write about … has to have a best practices, strategies, tactics or tips element to it.”

The newsletter is published weekly (48 times a year). Each issue consists of:
- Two lead stories (geared toward senior-level execs)
- Page-two story alternates between: How-To pieces (tactics for middle managers) and Charting the Industry pieces (results of a co-branded survey, with some analysis)
- Quick Study (brief summary of survey results)
- Case Study (a PR campaign with compelling results)
- Tip Sheet (regular columnist offers practical tips)

How to Pitch Ideas for Tip Sheet
The first rule for a columnist at PR News is – no self-promotion. You’re not going to impress Barnes by pitching an idea that comes from a book you wrote or by pitching a new service, if you’re a vendor.

Your pitches for Tips Sheet must:
- Target a senior-level reader
- Include strategies or best practices
- Not be written in the first person
- Be for thought-leadership pieces

If you are confused by the last requirement, here is an example. Let’s say that you’re an expert in crisis communications. You want to contribute insight on strategies and best practices that can be gained from the controversy surrounding former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s book: “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.” Content of that sort would appeal to Barnes.

How to Pitch a Case Study
The PR News staff writes the Case Studies, but that doesn’t mean they won’t publish one you’ve written. When Barnes gets a Case Study she likes, she forwards it to a reporter who will contact you for more details.

Case Studies must contain:
- Past campaign (or one that is nearing completion)
- Tactical strategies (you must share secrets or your pitch will get rejected)
- Actual results

How to Form a Relationship with PR News: 5 Tips
Barnes relies on a group of writers to produce columns every couple of months. Here are some tips on how to become one of them.

-> Tip #1. Understand their mission and audience

To write for PR News, you need to understand the challenges that communications professionals face and what they need to do to be successful. These include complying with legal guidelines and integrating corporate social responsibility messages into business communication plans. Part of the PR News mission is to build a bridge between public relations and the bottom line.

-> Tip #2. Send relevant story pitches

The best contributors “offer really valuable insight for readers, and they really understand who we’re speaking to and how we want to speak to them,” Barnes says. They know not to get on a soapbox about a new product or a new hire. That’s not what PR News is about.

-> Tip #3. Be dependable

Her best contributors send in their articles on time, Barnes says. Also, they’re the people she can rely on to call her back when she’s on deadline and needs a comment for the feature she’s writing. Many of the contributors are regulars at industry conferences and trade shows.

-> Tip #4. Pitch yourself as a source

Her sources usually have a lot of expertise in a certain area, Barnes says. She places them in a database that links them to their specialties. “Maybe that week I’m not writing a story that’s relevant, but in three weeks I am and I need somebody to call,” she says. Being available as a source will increase your chances of getting on Barnes’ good side and help develop your relationship with her.

-> Tip #5. Pitch to the Site

It’s much easier to get an article on the website than into the print publications. Barnes is always seeking people to contribute free content. “That’s where I get more mid-level and junior-level best practices and how-tos, so I do have a lot of outside contributors that do go on the website,” she says. The only rule is that your pitch or written piece must be exclusive to PR News.

The website is also a good way to break in if you want to become a regular PR News contributor. If the content you pitch is appropriate for the weekly or another newsletter, Barnes will use it there.

Three don’ts
Here are some behaviors to avoid, if you would like to be on good terms with Barnes:

#1. Calling to ask her if she received your press release is a guaranteed way to miff Barnes. She will respond to a press release if she’s interested in it.

#2. Calling on a Thursday or Friday morning is not the best idea since Barnes closes the weekly during that time. She is very busy and can’t have a meaningful conversation with you. Contact her on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays instead.

#3. Making your pitch via phone is not the best way to build a relationship with Barnes. She much prefers to receive email inquiries, pitches and press releases first. “It’s just easier with email because if I’m on deadline or not at my desk, I can look and see [what] works and [what] doesn’t,” she says.

Where to Meet Barnes
Barnes attends several industry and networking events in the New York City area. She will consider setting up an appointment with you. Or, if you want to plan to grab a coffee at a conference, Barnes says she will do that.

Useful links related to this article
PR News:

See Also:

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