Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed a dramatic shift in the public relations realm. It used to be that PR pros were engaged to reach journalists and win their unbiased approval, simply convincing them to write favorably about clients. The cost here was in the man-hours. Companies paid for seasoned counsel, looking to them to identify the right reporters and to invest the appropriate amount of time familiarizing those targets with carefully curated messaging. The strategy here was that the right people could get the right reporters to write the right things.
Indeed this is still the foundation of a good public relations strategy, but these days, it requires so much more.
It has become increasingly more difficult to get these messages in front of the right reporters. Newsrooms are cutting back on staff, and suddenly, one journalist might be responsible for three different beats. They receive hundreds of phone calls and emails each day. Unless you hold a relationship with these writers (or you’re a Fortune 50 company making a big announcement … ), the odds of your news getting picked up drops significantly.
So how are companies shifting the odds in their favor? They’re paying to play.
I suspect the average person would be shocked to hear how much of their news is actually sponsored content.
Now, we see companies securing advertising deals that include editorial placements.
Things like advertorials, where ads are framed to look like editorial pieces, are becoming more popular. We’re seeing stories sneak into the pages of our papers and magazines through the sales staff.
When budgets permit, we definitely recommend a robust paid media strategy. Paid media is about the only way you can guarantee your messaging will be served to your target audience(s) packaged exactly the way you like. You maintain all of the control while still reaching your desired markets.
However, traditional public relations is not dead. In fact, we argue that although the field is changing, it’s still totally and completely relevant.
There is still something to be said for validation from a journalist. Consumers still view the opinions of reporters as unbiased. So, to best influence the decision chain of your target audience, you have to make sure that your paid media strategy (and your social strategy … and your search strategy … ) is supported by quality, organic media placements. We tell all of our clients — no one service area can really stand on its own. Paid media is the equivalent of the super cool new girl in high school, but even she will eventually need a posse to maintain her status.
Here are our top three pieces of advice for securing organic placements in a world where no one is reading your emails:
1. Build relationships.
Our approach to public relations is rooted in relationship building. We work to ensure that reporters recognize our names. Even though we may not have a story to pitch, we’re scheduling meetings when we’re in their neighborhood, we’re sending emails to see what they’re working on and, most importantly, we’re interacting with their work. We take the time to read their stories to better understand what it is they are looking for.
And when we think they’ve done an exceptional job on something, we make sure to tell them.
2. Don’t pitch everything.
Part of relationship building is understanding what it is that a reporter wants. What is going to make them drop everything to write about your client? We counsel clients to think carefully about what they’re reaching out to reporters with. Sometimes it’s difficult to be objective, but before you send something to a journalist, ask yourself if it’s truly newsworthy. If you pitch anything and everything to your entire contact list all the time, eventually you’ll become the boy who cried wolf — but when you do finally have an exciting story to tell, they’ll probably just gloss over your emails because you have yet to be relevant.
3. Your writing matters.
How you tell your story to reporters matters. On the phone, I estimate that you have sixty seconds to convince a reporter to cover your story. Over email, I give you three lines. Make them count. Agonize over them if you have to. A pitch is meant to help frame a potential story. With these three lines, you should be inspiring a journalist to write an article. Before you hit send ask yourself — would I be inspired if I read this?