PR Is Not Dead, But It’s a Crap Shoot. 10 Tips for Success

Feb 03

A former colleague has extended an invitation to speak to her public relations students at the University of South Carolina this spring. I’m flattered, but a little apprehensive. Public relations is not dead, but it’s much different than it used to be. Gone are many of the traditional media outlets. There are fewer reporters (and more bloggers) than there used to be. How you measure success is also different.

The one thing that hasn’t changed: There are plenty of people and companies with their hands up for attention. And when pitching a story, sometimes you pull a rabbit out of the hat and other times you fall flat.

If you work for a company that counts public relations as an important part of your marketing strategy or if you’re a student looking to enter the field, here are 10 tips for success:

Tip One: Create your media list.
Your media list is based on your company, the product or service you’re pitching. One of the easiest ways to build your media list is with a paid media database/search tool called Cision. It’s the quickest and easiest way I’ve found to build a custom media list based on any number of criteria: outlet name, type, location, subject, journalist/producer/news director/talent booker names, and more. Each media outlet as well as journalist or blogger is completely profiled with contact information and their pitch preferences. Once you’ve researched your media list, Cision archives it so you can use it whenever. The only downside of Cision is that it’s quite expensive for a sole practitioner ($4,000+ a year), but if you have an active PR practice, it’s worth every penny. You can also build a media list the old fashioned way (Google searches), but some media outlets, particularly national broadcast outlets, do not publish contact information.

Tip Two: Know your media targets.
Once you’ve developed your media list, take a deep dive into the media outlets as well as the journalists. Media outlets, particularly trade journals and special interest magazines, publish editorial calendars that include the feature content as well as monthly columns. Journalists also publicize what they write about and also preferences like “Never, ever call me.” “Reach me on Twitter. “I prefer email.” Take these suggestions seriously. Also realize that turnover at media outlets is high so your media list has to be maintained.

Tip Two: Don’t overlook professional associations.
A great way to improve your odds of getting stories published is to target professional associations, many of which have e-newsletters and/or blogs. They typically have small staffs and as such are open to well-written, topical content. I had a client that provided software to the urgent care industry. Their national trade association greatly appreciated our content and my client’s CEO enjoyed seeing his byline and photo in front of potential clients.

Tip Three: Be respectful and interested in the editor, reporter or producer you’re pitching.
These folks are super busy. Use their time wisely. Don’t send them crap. Send real stories and pitches that are on point. If you’re working with a particular media outlet on a regular basis, get to know who you’re working with and what helps them get their job done. You’ll earn bonus points for being knowledgeable and friendly. Building relationships takes time, but it will pay off in spades.

Tip Four: Invest in your media outlets.
PR is typically called “earned media” – as if it were free or something. The one thing we all need to recognize is the media are in it to make money. If possible, have your client or your company invest in your media outlets through paid ads (preferably digital) or participate in “special issues.” One of my clients 48forty, a recycled pallet company, participated (read invested) in a special issue of Modern Materials Handling last fall. In addition to a full-page ad, 48forty got a full page of editorial content, which was then included in two eblasts. We ended up with more than 1,000 qualified leads and great editorial content we then shared on social media.

Tip Five: Knew when to spend on a wire service.
Wire services like BusinessWire can be very expensive; they charge by the word count in your release, by the city/state/country where the release is sent, and whether or not you include photos. It’s not uncommon to spend $1,000-$1,500 on a press release. Fortunately, I have a little trick. If your story is national, target New York City only and keep your press release to 500 words. You’ll reach all of the major wire services, get freebies in the form of industry specific media outlets, benefit from the Twitterverse, and it will only cost you $685.00.

Tip Six: Be creative in how you generate stories.
You don’t always have to pitch multiple media outlets. In fact, depending on your news, it’s better to pitch your best stories to one media outlet. Case in point, if I had a big industry story, I contact an editor a couple of months ahead of the announcement, give them a heads up (off the record) and offer an exclusive. This approach landed cover story after cover story in the packaging press. Another tactic that worked well for a pharmaceutical industry client was to send an e-news with the company’s latest blog posts to major editors. Because our topic was so newsworthy, we succeeded in garnering feature stories in global pharma publications this way. 

Tip Seven: Identify and prepare your subject matter experts.
Before offering interviews to the media, have your subject matter experts identified and well prepared so they can hit on key messages and avoid superfluous/non helpful answers. I have coached CEOs and entire sales teams for interviews to ensure they are on point, don’t share the wrong information, and speak knowledgeably and with confidence.

Tip Eight: Be responsive to media requests.
When editors, producers, or bloggers request an interview, photo, b-roll or additional information, don’t make them wait. Get them what they need for the story. When media folks learn how quickly you deliver, they’re more likely to call you again in the future.

Tip Nine: Don’t rely entirely on traditional PR.
I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that PR is not dead. However, if you rely totally on PR, you client or your company will be dead in the water. What you need to do is leverage the heck out of your content. Send the press release. Post it on your website. Post links to the press release and/or resulting stories on your social media. Encourage people on your team to share links on their social media outlets. Send your news to a carefully maintained database of clients, colleagues and influencers. Re-purpose good content into blogs, realizing you can be more editorial when you do so. It’s not traditional PR – it’s PR on steroids and so much more effective.

Tip Ten: Don’t hesitate in calling in a pro.
There’s a lot to be said for hiring an experienced PR professionals who know how to get the job done. Don’t be afraid to use one. Especially if you want someone focused on getting the results you want and working at it every day.

I hope this Lux-Writes post has been helpful! It sure has helped me. I think I’ve just written my presentation for those Carolina students. If you’d like more insight into effective public relations, please don’t hesitate in reaching out.


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