“You couldn’t pay me enough to get back into pitching again. There’s just way too much noise out there—it’s too hard to break through,” said a former colleague of mine, who left PR for blogging a few years back.
But here’s the thing that just doesn’t add up with this popular complaint: It’s not new. In fact, PR pros have been kvetching about the “rising noise” and dwindling newsrooms since at least 1999, when I covered the PR industry.
These days—as back in the late 1990s—the whole issue is a bit of malarkey. While today there may be fewer daily newspapers and beat reporters, there are also infinitely more online outlets, blogs and syndicated content than ever before, let alone cable TV, radio and satellite outlets.
Ironically, it’s probably easier than it’s ever been to track down and research contacts, given the combined firepower of Google and all the online database tools.
Maybe just a few of us remember the days of combing through the huge green "Bacon’s Directories" or poring over the mastheads of magazines looking for an editorial phone number and staff members to attach to the bylines, but believe me, that was not fun.
As most of us in the trenches know, the key to effective media relations is honesty, even as the media landscape evolves. Successful pitching still requires the age-old combination of research, relationships, targeting, tailoring and persistence—no matter if you’re talking about a blogger, producer or reporter.
The difference is that PR agency culture continues to push media relations down to the lowest person on the totem pole and that too little time is allocated to what is (and has always been) grueling, time-consuming work.
At many agencies the most junior folks on the team—working with up to half a dozen clients at a time—are given the bulk of pitching duties.
Handed a list for cut-and-paste emails and follow-up calls, strategy is dropped in favor of the “see what sticks” method of outreach. Anyone senior enough to have established relationships with journalists is too expensive to assign this time-consuming task and too busy being strategic (i.e., dreaming up the pitches their interns have to execute).
So what’s the solution, then, to fixing this problem? Here are a few suggestions.
• Target and tailor. Remember less is more when it comes to media lists. Using automated databases often leads to a huge Excel chart filled with irrelevant contacts. Start with only the most relevant and realistic outlets for your client’s story and then work backward, drilling down to find the contacts there, including anyone and everyone who makes sense—even freelance contributors.
• Befriend freelancers and cherish those relationships. In these days of turnover and “shrunken” newsrooms, prolific, established freelance writers who contribute to many national outlets are your best contacts.
• Create incentives and opportunities for real relationship building. That doesn’t just mean hosting fancy cocktail hours for journalists to get liquored up with junior staff.
It also means pushing clients and/or executives to help meet reporters and producers in the middle of stories and granting interview requests that might seem a little “off base” from the company’s ideal feature or news.
Most journalists are often jonesing to get a quote or find a piece of information immediately. If you can help (and push your boss or client if needed), this is where real relationships are formed and taken to a more strategic level.
• Encourage and empower your senior staff to get their hands dirty. After all, senior folks have some of the best, established relationships your clients have hired you for. At Allison+Partners, directors and VPs regularly hit the phones and jump in the trenches with the team.
• Allocate appropriate time to outreach. If you want your team to do well, give it the time it takes to do the upfront work, to read the blog, follow the reporter’s tweets, check out LinkedIn profiles and watch previous episodes of the show before picking up the phone.
Often agencies overcommit on everything other than the pitching, but this is where the lion’s share of your budget should go because effective pitching takes time, and there are few shortcuts.
One great hit is worth hundreds of misfired shots. PRN
Aimee Grove is VP of media relations at Allison+Partners. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the September 9 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.