We are often asked what it takes to succeed in PR, and about the client effort required. They’re great questions; the second part acknowledges shared responsibility.
I’ve found that most just want great results, they’re not trying to milk an agency. But PR newbies may think that it will be easy – their groundbreaking news will almost sell itself; or that a proactive PR firm can do it all with minimal client input.
So, for anyone who’s asking, here’s a newsflash (actually, two, no extra charge):
- The media generally don’t care about your news.
- We are PR pros, not magicians. You need to throw us a bone!
Which brings us right back to the original questions.
A Challenging Media Environment
Even those who think they know PR may be surprised to learn that the job has gotten more difficult. PR pro and blogger Frank Strong recently wrote about challenges confronting journalism and the PR profession. He cited data from recent studies:
“Is the process of media relations getting harder? Yes, it is according to 68% of PR professionals polled for the 2019 JOTW Communications Survey. That’s up 17% from the same survey last year.”
An article in Bloomberg reported that PR workers now outnumber reporters by six to one, mostly due to vanishing newsroom jobs. Little wonder that it is harder to get media attention and results.
Show me the Assets
Most great programs spring from an effective agency and client collaboration; they combine agency savvy, ideas, and relationships with client ammo. This is particularly true for landing top tier, which is often the litmus test of success. What is needed to get to this vaunted media segment? How can the client help?
The two-word answer is “PR assets.” These are the things reporters love that drive or support a story. I list them below, for each kind of opportunity, and shed light on agency and client roles.
In a busy media landscape, breaking news is a top driver of reporter interest. When it is your news, you own the story. But the hurdle is high, to be considered news by major media, typically requiring scale or name recognition and mainstream appeal: the largest deals, best-known brands, or truly breakthrough new products.
Since top-tier worthy announcements happen rarely, if at all, for most startups, success means tapping other opportunities and PR assets.
Many equate news with announcements, but that doesn’t have to be the case. There are ways to create news that may or may not fit neatly in a press release. These can include commissioning research, surveys, even PR stunts.
Does your business spawn data that can be mined for newsworthy info about trends, or consumer or business behavior? If so, this could drive a pitch that lands.
The agency can suggest these kinds of ideas, but the client needs to be on board to make them work.
Even if you can’t own a story, there are ways to get mentioned, e.g. through newsjacking. This means riding related breaking news, typically by offering execs as a source of color commentary or analysis.
When opportunistic news hits, it can be a feeding frenzy, with many trying to jack the same story. So, it is important to be fast and offer a unique and compelling POV. Boilerplate statements, along the lines of “We have a cybersecurity expert who can comment,” won’t cut it.
The client can help with a quick and incisive response that the agency can shop around, based on the client’s savvy and front row view of the technology and industry.
It seems that there are fewer opportunities to drive or otherwise participate in features: the longer non-news stories that focus on trends and topics. Still, they’re worth pursuing if you have a great angle and the all-important PR assets:
- Hard data that support the story
- Company spokespeople who are prepped and media-genic
- Third-party spokespeople (customers, industry analysts)
- B-roll footage (for broadcast top-tier)
Company Culture, Startup Stories, Exec Profiles
Ultimately, great stories drive PR and journalism. But it is too easy for founders and their teams to drink the Kool-Aid about their own. There’s no shortage of things to write about and most media don’t care about your news or your stories, as noted above.
It takes a solid understanding of the publication, the type of feature, and the reporter – as well as the source material – to craft a topic that has a fighting chance.
Here, the PR team can guide you. Great ones have the instincts of a journalist and the nose for a story. E.g., there are opportunities in many publications to highlight startups and profile executives.
PR should interview the execs to dig for story gold. The client can help by sharing the very best stuff with an understanding of the high hurdle and what might sell.