Five Pointers For Understanding PR and Maximizing Your Efforts

Journalists relating their frustration with PR people is nothing new. We’ve blogged about it before here, but as the landscape continues to change, we’ll use a recent piece by Forbes’ Deborah L. Jacobs to illustrate some points and hopefully, help brands and their PR firms/consultants/internal people/college interns not only execute better, but have a better understanding of what to expect.

Sit back, this is going to be a long one!

Point 1: There’s an overwhelming amount of PR people out there compared to journalists and media outlets.

PR (media relations, etc.) is growing and easier to get into than ever before. PR people outnumber journalists, by some accounts, 6 to 1. Imagine you were single and in a bar looking to meet someone special. Those aren’t great odds, so you need to put your best foot forward.

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Note to Deborah: It’s not ‘private’ if you post it to Forbes… but that’s OK, a lot of us deserve it!

PR is an easy field to get into, but not an easy one to be successful at. In essence, to start, the only tools you need are a device to type and send electronic correspondence with on behalf of your brand or client and a phone to use for voice communication. Can you operate a word processing program (or at least email), send an email and make a phone call? Congrats, you could technically use the tools required to enter the PR field. Of course, being able to swing a hammer does NOT make you a skilled carpenter, but sending an email is arguably much easier than retouching an image in Photoshop or editing a broadcast-quality video.

Point 2: Journalists are not standing around waiting for your pitch or press release.

Regardless of if it’s CNN, a mortgage trade magazine, your leading local mommy blogger or our good friends at TransWorld Business, editors and journalists are not sitting around hoping that next scoop comes through their inbox.

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Point 3: PR takes time.

Have you heard about Hoka?

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We work in the outdoor and action sports space a lot, so we’re very in tune with what they have going on. And while the team at Outside are in tune as well, that doesn’t mean they’re going to drop everything to do a review. We don’t work with Hoka, but if we did, we’d have been excited to see this post, if only so we could show our client that the reporter did receive the shoes and is considering testing them. There are no guarantees in PR and if you want to control the message (albeit the message will be read differently), but an ad!

Point 4: Your news may not be news… or all that newsworthy.

We’ve blogged about this before here:, but it’s worth revisiting.

Very frequently we hear from colleagues at other agencies or brands about how a new client is worthy of an interview on Ellen or some other terrific feature guaranteed to drive sales and awareness across the globe.

More often than not, the client is wrong and very often, the PR person is wrong for letting them think this is a possibility. It takes more than relationships to make editorial coverage happen and any PR person that promises media results in advance is walking on very thin ice.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t gotten clients on CNN, in the NY Times, featured on HypeBeast, TreeHugger or Good Morning America (have we name dropped enough ;-)), but it’s never a given.  It takes hard work to score consistent, tier-A national coverage and regardless, you can’t rest on that alone. You need to supplement your national, blow-the-doors-off coverage with additional media, as well as advertising, word-of-mouth, social media, etc.

Unfortunately, what we’re seeing a lot of and hearing from potential clients is that their PR person didn’t get them what they wanted. In reality, experience has showed us that it’s the PR person who didn’t properly set expectations in advance or in some cases, just didn’t care to. It happens.

Point 5: Target the right reporter, not just the right outlet.

Deborah hits it on the head here.

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Just because someone works at a media outlet does not mean they cover the topic you’re pitching or all the topics at that outlet. Open up a men’s magazine… any of the ones that cover fashion, fitness and tech combined. Now look at the masthead in the front. See those titles? They mean something! And just because you ‘know’ the fashion editor doesn’t mean he’s going to walk down the hall to the fitness editor to tell him about the great supplement you’re working with.

Bonus Point: You don’t have to be #1 to be newsworthy.

Realize that reporters are constantly being told things are groundbreaking, paradigm shifting or otherwise the best things ever to come out from anyone, anywhere, anytime. In reality, what you’re pitching probably isn’t game changing, or changing that many games overall, but you can still secure news coverage if you pursue it the right way.

When you’re sending your press releases and pitches, use suitable language. Stay away from jargon someone may not understand and above all, be humble. Tell the story, sell your brand, but don’t try to write the story.

Reporters are just like the rest of us and they don’t want to hear anyone brag or boast. They want facts and why things matter to their readers, not to the brand being pitched.

Your brand is surviving (or thriving) for a reason. Maybe you’re not the best, fastest or most innovative… but you still exist. How is that? Focus on what makes your brand different, special or at the least, useful, and become a source for reporters to lean on when they need an expert down the road.

This approach may not get you on Ellen, but lots of brands succeed without being on a national talk show.