In media relations respect and relevance matter more than relationships. Many clients believe the key to success in media relations is who the PR person knows. My experience has proved that successful PR is less about how many relationships I have with media and more about how deeply I respect and understand reporters’ needs and their time.
More than going out for coffee or schmoozing at an event, what opens the most emails and gets phone calls returned is a well thought out story tailored to that publication with images and visuals and sources who are available to be interviewed. Having a reputation as a solid professional who doesn’t waste a reporter’s time will open just as many doors.
Key Skills Your PR Pro Should Have That Matter More than Contacts
1) Does your PR pro start with questions? Do they ask why you are seeking coverage for this story or angle? Can they frame if or why the reader/viewer/listener would care? Can they determine if the story is truly relevant now? Did they ask where you would most like to see the story run? Can they tell you if your desired publication is likely to cover your story? Do they know if the targeted media has covered anything similar recently? Do they know news is breaking right now and will that make it more difficult to pitch? How do they determine who is the best journalist to contact about the story?
2) How does your PR pro do research? Contrary to what you may believe research is needed no matter how many contacts a PR person may have because they all are not right for your story. You don’t want them spraying out a pitch to a standard list, you want them to give it to reporters who may have real interest. To do that they need to find the right journalist at each outlet. Every journalist is different. However, they all expect a PR person to know what they write about, what they have done in the past, and what is appropriate for the publication. They expect us to relate your story to what they are interested in and to what their audience would find worth consuming.
3) How well does your PR person get the story? If a pitch takes more than 4-5 lines to outline, then it needs to be tightened up. Do they have the facts and figures at hand? Are they prepared for questions the reporter may ask and how will they prepare you for the interview?
4) How do they prepare your story for multiple mediums? It used to be that a newspaper was in print and a radio station was over airwaves. With the internet, that is no longer the case. Print, television, radio, and digital media must include the story in written, digital, and visual forms. And often one reporter is tasked with creating stories for multiple mediums. A plain text-heavy press release or media pitch won’t cut it anymore. If you can offer photos, graphics, and videos you have a better chance of getting pick up.
5) Are they professionally persistent? Your PR pro likely will not get a hit the first time reaching out, but a good pro will keep trying. They may have to reshape the story to have a better appeal or offer different aspects of the story to different media. IThey should be able to keep the dialogue relevant, sharp, and smart, and eventually, they will get that email returned, get that call answered, or get that coffee date.
When choosing a PR partner, give more priority to how well they can identify and shape a story, versus how many media relationships they claim. We all have ways of building media lists and identifying good contacts, but we obviously cannot build a relationship with every journalist in every beat for every industry in which we serve clients. We can build a solid reputation as a smart professional who respects the role of the journalist. True, when you are regularly working on stories together, relationships are built. But it is upon mutual respect instead of a desire to get covered. There are no shortcuts here.