My favorite part of working in public relations is (and probably always will be) pitching and landing a story for a client and seeing it run in print.
In an industry where success can, at times, feel like it’s governed more by relationships and politics than performance, the ability to successfully earn coverage is the one indisputable way that we can show our worth.
(And for you competitive types out there, if you close your eyes and pretend, you can trick yourself into thinking we’re all keeping score and he who places the most stories wins.)
After all, pitching stories is the platform on which this industry was founded. If we’re not picking up the phone and calling reporters and having human interaction, how do we differentiate ourselves from something artificial intelligence can do?
We’ve already seen the Associated Press use robots to write news stories. Who is to say they won’t one day replace us? It wouldn’t be that far of a stretch to assume software could be programmed to draft and send press releases to a pre-established media list.
To stay relevant and valuable, we have to deliver results.
At the risk of this becoming my Mitch Albom moment, I want to tell you a story of how things used to be in the public relations industry when I started in earnest, way back in 2005.
Back then, I used to spend hours on the phone pitching stories to journalists.
With sweaty palms and shaky knees, I would pick up the phone and go through my media list one-by-one, calling reporters I pitched on e-mail to see if they would be interested in writing a story about my client.
I was yelled at by a few and received more voicemail messages than one person should have to endure, but it was necessary. More often than not, the reporter had avoided my e-mail because of deadlines. So a polite phone call usually got a response, even if it was a “no”.
But it also led to a few saying yes, which usually led to a silent fist pump.
Over time, I honed my phone manner and got really good at pitching journalists. That first e-mail entry point was important, but so was learning when they were more likely to answer their phone, how to best start the conversation (usually a simple request for a few minutes of their time made all the difference) and how to respond if they shot you down immediately. (Don’t take no for an answer. If you know your client inside and out, sometimes you can land an interview that had nothing to do with your original pitch.)
The people entering the industry today, unfortunately, are being taught quantity is more important than quality, so they write the press release, push it out to their media list via e-mail, and then move on to the next release.
Calling a reporter on the phone to follow up an e-mail never crosses their mind because we’ve fallen in love with the inflated media impressions numbers. They say their announcement earned 150 million impressions when it was release, but did anyone read it?
We are only as good as the last piece of coverage we earned. And I’m not talking about a press release that was picked up by one of the hundreds of news aggregators on the web. Any moron can do that.
I’m talking about a real, honest-to-goodness article that includes insight from the reporter, a quote from your spokesperson, and third-party validation that ties everything together.
Something worthy of being framed and placed on a wall.
If you think you’re busy, try to put yourself in the shoes of a reporter. Newsrooms are shrinking. Responsibilities are being increased to cover for colleagues who were let go. Reporters have more demands on their time than ever. If you can mine their stories for a topic that would be of interest to them and offer it so that they don’t have to spend the time to find it themselves, then you make everyone’s job just a little bit easier.
Of course, if you’re happy just checking the box and putting a press release on a web site, that’s fine, too. Just don’t complain when our robot overlords make your job obsolete.