How To Rethink Traditional PR Channels

Ned Barnett
Ned Barnett

Once again, the pundits are wrong. Traditional PR is not dead—it’s alive, and more important than ever. The news media are drowning in a virtual tidal wave of unfocused and unsourced social media “content” churned out by millions of bloggers and tweeters. Giving the media the “straight dope” is exactly where traditional PR has always excelled. Too many PR pros feel that they’re being choked out even as the media choke on too much unfiltered input. They fear losing the ability to present a pitch, or to develop a campaign or PR program. They forget that we’ve got an ace in the hole. Facts.

In a universe of opinion, facts are more precious than gold. The media’s increasingly difficult job: filter out the clamor and give their audiences the facts. They need us now more than ever. But to meet their need, we must bring facts to the table—and put those facts on steroids.

Here are five steps to put PR back in the driver’s seat, using—as an example—the successful media launch of a Silicon Valley start-up that needed to play in the media big time, and fast. A new company in a new market, my client faced a huge, antagonistic and uninformed public railing against their unpopular business service. It’s an episode that many communicators can relate to, but the recipe for remedying the situation is universal.

Facts. In today’s 24/7 news cycle talking heads and bloggers spew opinions at warp speed. What editors need are facts. It’s your job to dig them out. Package facts for easy accessibility. Source them carefully. Present them honestly. My client pulled together national and state-by-state data about Internet business transactions, as well as relevant Supreme Court rulings and both Federal and State laws. We did their homework for them.

Research. The media love polling data—something almost no blogger can provide. We conducted in-depth online research among more than 13,000 SMB business CEOs and CFOs, then offered those facts to the media. We put this new business—and new issue—into perspective.

Sources. In a universe filled with self-proclaimed experts, line up legitimate specialists who have the credentials to present the facts meaningfully and effectively. The media’s audiences want to know what the news means. Our expert has consulted with 34 state legislatures and testified before Congress, giving him immediate credibility.

Presentation. Step back into the real world. Use dramatic and visual venues that enhance and frame your presentation. We launched at the National Press Club because our issue was both national and political. We spoke to 40 reporters and four TV crews, then followed our announcement with a media tour in Washington, D.C. and New York City, which, altogether, put our expert, facts and research in front of the editors we needed to reach.

We also appeared on cable business news, Sirius Satellite Radio, newspapers and magazines, and more than 500 news sources on the Internet.

Relationships. There is a world of difference between “friending” or “following” an editor and getting on the phone or walking through the office door. Social media is one reaching out to many, but in laying the groundwork for a news story PR is about one-to-one. We built our relationships before they were needed. Even before our announcement and media tour, we’d become a helpful source. When the opportunity arrived, we were not calling cold.

In making traditional PR happen, it’s critical to use the news media to leverage social media. Don’t let social media become a crutch, or a substitute, for traditional PR. When we launched our campaign, we published on the company’s website facts, research and written explanations from our expert.

We used this social media content as a touchpoint for the media. It was easy to land interviews and editorial board meetings when we said, “Here are our facts and here’s what we’re going to say.”

Social media has real value, but it also has created real chaos in editorial offices.

For editors, the thought of wading through the avalanche of unsourced opinions has made PR pros—those who are ready to give them what they need, all wrapped up in a traditional PR bow—all the more valuable.


Ned Barnett is founder of Barnett Marketing Communications. He can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the August 11, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.