Don’t Discount Traditional PR Outreach Just Yet

In these days of fast and furious communication, it’s easy to forget some basics of sound public relations practice that have evolved over the years. Today, we have to deal with so many more independent media than in the past that we forget a lot about what has put us in good stead with the press for decades (e.g., knowing reporters personally, meeting editors face-to-face with employer and client representatives and reading what the media we’re interested in actually cover). As a result, many of us have lost contact with journalists we should know like kissing cousins. IT’S JUST ONE TOOL Where not long ago the media was a relatively small group of print and broadcast outlets, we now have to address a far-flung network that includes blogs, podcasts and video sites and burgeoning “new” media powerhouses such as Twitter and Facebook or, if you work internationally, regional wannabes like Russia’s VKontakte and China’s Kaixin. Like it or not, social media, used as a tool for PR purposes has added to our workload and increased the hours and speed at which most of us must work. Every few weeks, another survey of these media tells us how important they’ve become. One survey of note is from myself, George Washington University and Cision covering how reporters and editors are using social media for research and reporting (see Quick Study on pg. 3 for highlights). The results are impressive. Bottom line, social media are on the march like Roman legions, and PR needs to engage these media in order to do their jobs. But between the lines, this data also underscores that social media are a long way from conquering the world. In fact, their attempts to do so are going to take a whole lot longer, despite what the pro-social media pundits have to say, especially those with a vested interest in the proposition. KEEP A BALANCE Most media studies indicate that currently the percentage of people in the U.S. who get news online is a few points ahead of those who get news offline; roughly 40% to 35%, respectively. So if you’re spending all of your time pitching social media, you’re effectively losing out on connecting with almost as many people who are offline. To put a sharper point on it, too many practitioners are discounting or downplaying traditional media for PR purposes when they should be giving them as much or more attention than online as social media’s march continues. It’s all about keeping a balance of media activities. The following are steps to consider when weighing this balance. • Continue to develop your staff’s skills to serve all media effectively. Just because they might be young, don’t let them fall in love with social media and miss other significant opportunities to deliver your messages. • Take advantage of the opportunity that offline media offers. They have become increasingly competitive when it comes to their coverage versus online coverage, so there is a greater receptivity among their editors and reporters to listen to the pitches of PR practitioners. And often what appears in offline media runs on its online property, so you can benefit from an occasional one-two punch. • Build stronger relationships with traditional journalists. Because you so often have to meet with them face-to-face, these are the people you’ll get to know best. Although not impossible, it’s harder to have the same relationships with online journalists. Politicians understand the need for balance. Yes, they’ve learned that social media are important to their election efforts, but they would never forget the greater importance of working the old-fashioned way by pounding the pavement—knocking on doors, shaking hands on street corners and kissing babies at the shopping mall. They also know the value of paid ads. They would never put all their chips into one medium or a limited set of social media: PR executives should take note. Social media are great; use them. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of traditional media and certainly not those that have enormous local impact, such as daily newspapers, evening TV news shows and talk radio. So don’t discount traditional PR outreach—at least for the foreseeable future. Doing so will do a disservice to your employer, your clients or the PR profession. PRN CONTACT: Don Bates is an instructor in writing and media relations at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management master’s degree program in strategic communications and senior public relations and public affairs consultant. He can be reached at

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