There is a lot of pressure on PR professionals to get media coverage for clients. Often times, this is difficult
because a product or service is not newsworthy. Many times, clients also do not understand the forms that PR can take, relegating a campaign’s success to press agentry.This means that while PR pros use various metrics to measure campaign success (read: PRSA – Measuring PR’s Value), clients may look solely at media hits. Couple this with the fact that the media landscape has significantly changed due to shorter news cycles and stronger social media and you know we need to look at media relations with a fresh eye.
So what is media relations? How do you figure out newsworthiness? Is media relations more difficult or easier to conduct now than it was five years ago? What about the social media context? To answer some of these questions, I spoke to a few colleagues in the PR industry for their gleanings and conducted a bit of research.
What is Media Relations?
Media relations is exactly what the name suggests. The field of activity whereby an organization develops on-going relationships with various media, including – but not limited to – journalists, reporters, bloggers, and editors. The keyword is “on-going.” While you can approach a journalist with a cold call, this isn’t likely to yield a favourable response. In fact, in my experience, in the absence of a strong pitch (yes, I’ve made weak pitches before) due to a lacklustre product or service, it may be the equivalent of shouting into a blackhole, hoping someone will hear your voice.
Media Relations is Part of the Larger Communications Campaign
My friend – and in many ways, my inspiration – Jason Mollica, founder of JRM Comms is a PR strategist and a marketing pro. If anyone knows about building relationships, it’s Jason.
When I spoke to Jason to shed some light on the topic, he said, “When we develop strategies for clients, it’s important that we explain exactly what a specific campaign will entail. Media relations is only a small part of a particular campaign. Unless your campaign is to get story placement in a newspaper, blog, or other electronic media, PR can not just be media outreach.
Developing Relationships With Media – Some Things Will Stay the Same
Instead, developing relationships with media requires dedication and passion. Following journalists’ beats and keeping a track of what interests them is the first element of developing relationships. The second element is to keep a watchful eye on whats happening in a field that’s within their beat and helping them out with their assignments.
Look, we’ve all been there before. Sometimes work can get overwhelming. Whether we’re professionals or students, we’ve all been grateful for any help we’ve gotten, especially if someone offered when we didn’t ask. This is a great way to appear in the media’s viewfinder.
Magic happens when one of your clients has something one of your journalist or blogger friends can use to complete their assignment or story (SEE: Help a Journalist). The idea that something is mutually beneficial isn’t one that is utopic. It’s just that when people forget good things can happen for everyone when we put a little work into it, it happens less and that pushes it away into the realm of endangerment.
Your firm focuses on consumer PR and one of your strengths is fashion. Imagine there’s a fashion blogger with whom you’ve already built a relationship. Your client has recently developed a new line of athletic clothing that is unique because it meets at the fashion and technical clothing cross roads.
You know just who to call. You’ve been following a fashion journalist for a while, commented on their posts, tweeted some of their work and maybe exchanged an email or two. This is the perfect person to whom you can pitch your client’s new line of clothing. Your client gets media coverage and the blogger gets some great content that will interest their subscribers.
Pitching Something Newsworthy
On Everything PR, Archie Obrien tells us that the goal of media relations “is to communicate a client’s newsworthy message, story, or information using the appropriate media outlets.” The key operator here is newsworthy. If you’re pitching a service that is irrelevant to a journalist, a product that isn’t a game changer, or information that doesn’t impact people’s lives, you’re not likely to get media coverage (SEE: Why Journalists are Ignoring Your Press Releases).
Pickering Communications founder, Victoria Pickering, has quite the portfolio when it comes to media relations and pitching. It was a conversation with her once that inspired this blog post. In a lecture she was delivering in a class for McGill University’s PR and Communications Management program, she expressed that clients sometimes don’t understand that not everything can be pitched to the media because it just wont’t be covered.
So I recently reverted to Victoria to get some more insight. She shared a quick story about one of her experiences.
One such case involved a client who asked me to pitch a story about a cancer awareness campaign that had been running for two years. There wasn’t anything new or remotely newsworthy about the campaign. To make matters worse, the client wanted coverage at the peak of a competing ‘cancer awareness month’. Time to review what constitutes a newsworthy story with them!
Would you look at that! So much of newsworthiness can be about timing!
A PR pro has an ethical and professional obligation to their clients. This means that you protect the client from unnecessarily spending resources (time and money) when it is of no benefit. Say you advise a client that their product is not likely to get covered by a journalist because it’s been done before and adds nothing of value. Instead, you suggest a different avenue for message amplification. But the client insists that you call up journalists and pitch them. What do you do? Frankly, this would become a matter of my credibility, ability, and reputation.
From Victoria’s experience, a story is considered newsworthy when one can answer the following questions in the affirmative:
- Is the story timely?
- Is there something new, uncommon or controversial to the story that this particular media’s audience would be interested in?
- Is there a human interest or local angle?
If not, its back to the drawing board to give the media and my client what they want: A newsworthy story and media coverage, respectively. Victoria asserts that going to the media when a story is not newsworthy is professional suicide. Why would she risk it?
The Changing Landscape of Media Relations and Media Impressions
A decade ago, developing and maintaining relationships with journalists was difficult. Today, they’re looking for their stories online. They’re open to being approached on the metaphorical Twitter Lounge. In addition, media relations isn’t just an impression on the radio, tv, or newspaper anymore. It’s blogs, websites, mentions, and share, and retweets. With search engine tracking and algorithm ranking, message amplification can be exponentially greater than the first couple of hits.
Media Relations in a Social Media Context
Deirdre Breakenridge is the author of Social Media and PR, and CEO of Pure Performance Communications. If anyone knows anything about PR in a social media context, it’s Deirdre, who I ‘met’ several years ago on Twitter. So, I reverted to her about my question.
According to Deirdre, social media has changed the way we approach media relations. Thanks to the data and insights that we now have at our fingertips, we can be more creative and innovative in our pitches. With the right tools, we can analyze facts and figures to draw insights about our customers and the market.
Her experience connecting with media online coincides with mine when it comes to building new relationships or making pre-existing relationships stronger via social communities such as Twitter and the blogosphere. Thanks to this, we are much more in tune with what our media partners need.
Is Media Relations More Difficult Than Before? Let’s Sum it Up
During my research, I came across a blog post that is titled, “Should we stop doing media relations because it’s hard?”
“Nothing made a client’s eyes bug out of their head more than the slam of a giant clipbook filled with feature stories and pictures featuring their boss, their company and/or their product.” – Jon Newman
The quote about is a problem that I highlighted at the beginning of this article. Jon Newman says that the days where we could get that done as media relations pros are “few and far between.” But at the same time, he says that we now have tools we didn’t have before to take the swing that can help us find the right reporters.
“In today’s world, your clients need to understand that an integrated strategy is best. That means, speaking (online) to your brand champions and potential customers. If you only go down one small road, it will narrow very quickly, until you are at a dead end. And that doesn’t make any client happy.” – Jason Mollica
In a social media context, Deirdre made a very salient point. When asked if media relations was more difficult or easier in the social media context. While we have data and insights at our fingertips, allowing us to make better decisions and being more in tune with what our media partners need, that same information is available to every other company, competitor, and their PR teams.
“The amount of pitches and noise that the journalist encounters makes it extremely difficult for your pitch to stand out. Your creative or innovative approach to getting attention is part of the equation, but, in the long run, you also want to have a strong relationship to be recognized as a valuable resource.” – Deirdre Breakenridge
So we’re looking at quite a shift in landscape here. There are many new and seasoned operators. Technology has changed the way we approach our media partners, but the same values and principles will continue to apply. Relationships are at the heart of any successful coverage, but success itself has changed. It is no longer about broadcast or print media. It’s about the local stories. It’s also about the amplification those local stories receive on a national or even international scale.
As PR practitioners, we need to learn about social communities, delve into them and see if they’re to our advantage. But you need to keep in mind that your PR plan will need to identify both your client’s audiences and media partners and where they are. That should inform with which sort of media you partner up.