Matter Chatter

Act Like a Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to listen to Bob Woodward, of Woodward and Bernstein Watergate scandal fame, speak on his career and his thoughts on politics.

Woodward shared stories about his journey to become such a recognized investigative journalist, highlighting his methods and techniques for getting information from sources and getting a solid story. But what could a public relations professional possibly learn from this Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, you ask? Great question.

Sometimes, PR and journalism feel like they are two ends of the media spectrum, but there are a lot of qualities both PR professionals and journalists share. Through his stories, Woodward illustrated the qualities that both professionals need to have in order to get the story they want. Here’s what I learned during this presentation:

  • Be ambitious – When Woodward first applied for an internship with the Washington Post, they didn’t hire him after a two-week trial. But he wasn’t deterred – he worked for a weekly paper for a year, after which he was hired by the Post.

Get internships and put yourself in a position where you can learn and grow as a professional. Be ambitious to move yourself ahead.

  • Be tenacious – Part of what makes Woodward a great investigative journalist is his ability to track down contacts and get them to open up. He lives by words from his former editor: “Never? Don’t tell me never.” He has remained tenacious in consistently reaching out to contacts until they eventually answer – even if it means showing up at someone’s house at 8:15 in the evening.

While Woodward hunts down contacts, PR professionals hunt down journalists. It may not be the best idea to show up on someone’s doorstep to get a response, but it is absolutely necessary to reach out as often as possible until you get an answer. It’s more than making an effort; it’s being tenacious enough to get a response.

  • Think critically – Since his early career, Woodward has gone on to author several best-selling books on politics. What he’s demonstrated through this writing is his critical thinking. It’s not just about pulling together sources and information; it’s about using information in a meaningful way.

In PR, it is our job to think critically every day. Be strategic in how you approach media and craft pitches. Know which media you want to target and in which topic they are likely to have an interest. See all the angles before putting out one idea so you know where else you can take a pitch.

These traits apply to both journalism and PR. Practice the habits of an investigative journalist and you’ll start to see more coverage for your clients and stronger relationships with your media contacts. And maybe you’ll even have a movie made about you one day.