In a world where retro music is cool and vintage fashion is the peak of style, being “old school” is awesome — except when it comes to outdated ideas.
DEEPER DIVE: Forecasting 2023 PR and marketing trends
Public relations is a relatively new profession, only entering an era of scaleable development in the 1950s. And just imagine how the media has changed since then! We’re no longer in a world where daily newspapers dominate. Digital news has taken over the space — and gutted journalism jobs throughout the world. That means journalists don’t have time for nonsense.
Companies that undertake a PR strategy need to be mindful of the ever-changing landscape of the media, and evolve their outdated ideas when they no longer work.
Kicking it old school in PR will affect your media coverage outcomes. Here are four old school PR tactics it’s time to retire:
Being a Stranger
Public relations professionals will confirm that establishing relationships with reporters, editors and producers is vital to producing PR opportunities for clients. But everyone is a stranger until they’re a friend!
At some point during your PR outreach, you will need to catch the attention of a media member who doesn’t recognize your name when it pops into their inbox. This can cause some PR pros to revert to a robotic approach with overly formal language reminiscent of a Nigerian prince email scam.
Instead, keep it casual. You can “soft pitch” your story beforehand by reaching out to the reporter with a sentence or two:
“Hi NAME. I appreciated your story about SUBJECT. I have a story about SUBJECT. Are you the right person to pitch this story, or is there someone else at OUTLET that would be a better fit?”
By posing a question and asking for help, you’ve piqued the reporter’s interest in the story itself. When they respond back saying they’re the right person, make your pitch brief and offer to provide additional information, if requested.
Suddenly your pitch email is now an email thread, and that reporter who was once a stranger is now an established contact.
Put. The phone. DOWN!
Before moving to the “dark side” of PR, I was once a journalist and editor. And let me tell you, there was nothing more annoying than a cold call while I was in the middle of writing a piece, proofing pages or planning content for the next issue — especially if the publicist was calling about a story completely irrelevant to my publication.
As younger people enter the world of media, so will their ideas about communication and what is considered “rude.” In Millennial and Gen Z culture, an out-of-the-blue phone call is largely considered intrusive. Written communication the reporter can respond to as time allows is much, much, MUCH preferred.
If you want to maintain a relationship with a reporter in the digital age, you have to let them come to you rather than forcing a story down their throats. Trust me when I say that they’re receiving your email pitches. And if you’re pitching a story that is interesting and relevant to their audience, they will bite.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule. If you have very timely news, calling news desks is widely accepted by newspapers, radio and TV stations. Just be prepared to make your pitch quickly! They’re working on the most pressing breaking news stories of the day.
OK, not all press releases — but not everything needs to be a press release.
Press releases are considered the most formal of PR communications. They’re used for internal company news the business would like to communicate to the public. Press releases allow a business to control the message, submit their own quotes and convey the exact information they would like to provide.
Sounds great, right? The problem with press releases is that they’re blanket a communication tactic for all types of media. As a PR pro, you only have seconds to capture a journalist’s attention. If your press release is not obvious about how your news relates to their reporting, you will be ignored.
A hybrid tactic is the pitch-and-press-release approach. In the body of your email, tell the reporter why the news is relevant to their outlet, including what angle you would approach the story from. Then, attach the press release to the email for additional information.
This way, it’s crystal clear what you’re asking of the reporter — which is more likely to generate coverage for your client.
Pitching Irrelevant News to Please Clients
Publicists are, in many ways, gatekeepers of what information gets into the hands of the media. That might sound sinister, but it’s not just about keeping your client out of trouble — it’s about keeping your client interesting.
Some “great stories” your client wants to pitch just… aren’t great stories. And that’s ok! As PR pros, it’s our job to coach clients about what’s appealing to the media and what’s not.
It’s easy to agree to please your client, but pitching a story that you know will not produce media results will make you appear ineffective to your client and have your pitches ignored (or even marked as spam!) by journalists.
Instead, push back. Challenge your client. Ask them:
- Where have they seen similar stories published?
- What is compelling about this story, from a media perspective?
- Would they read this story if it wasn’t about their business?
Setting standards for your media outreach will help generate tangible results for your clients. They hire you for your counsel, and it’s important to respond accordingly.
Author: Christina Caldwell is Public Relations Account Supervisor at The James Agency, a strategic, insights-led marketing agency in Scottsdale. For more information, visit www.thejamesagency.com.