In a recent broadside against the public relations industry titled “The perils of PR,” The Economist’s business columnist laments his interactions with public relations professionals:
“In practice, most journalists’ dealings with PR professionals resemble ‘groundhog day.’ Day 1: PR person sends email about client. Day 2: PR person sends follow-up email to check journalist received earlier missive. Day 3: PR person calls journalist to make absolutely certain that they are aware of the emails’ existence. Day 4: PR sends a fresh email about the same client, and the process begins anew.
“Perhaps this frenetic activity has a use. There is a chance that some publication has a desperate need to fill space, or was looking for a random executive’s views on an issue of the day. But in most cases it only serves to irritate the correspondent who has to deal with the pestering.”
PR people don’t like reading pieces like this. But we must acknowledge there’s some truth here. Too many public relations teams treat media relations as a check-the-box instead of a strategic activity. As a result, they don’t read reporters’ articles. They send irrelevant or overly promotional pitches. Then, they pester reporters with follow-up calls and emails. These PR pros turn into annoyances, instead of sources of helpful information.
However, plenty of PR professionals do understand the importance of building strong and lasting relationships with reporters. Therefore, they share useful and timely information, and put reporters in touch with experts who are prepared and have valuable insights to share.
Reputation management, brand awareness and business growth
The Economist columnist also takes a shot at the overall value of public relations services, writing, “A lot of PR activity has zero impact on the client’s public profile.” Given the apparent quality of the columnist’s interactions with PR professionals to-date, this perspective is understandable. However, it’s a cynical and, in my opinion, flawed view. No matter where a business is on what I’ll call the “reputational spectrum,” public relations counsel can provide great value.
For well-known organizations that face frequent incoming fire and highly public reputational challenges, expert PR advisers can guide effective responses to crises while also devising creative ways to boost their reputations. Without smart PR professionals on the team (whether in-house or external), navigating the many reputational challenges these well-known organizations face can be difficult for busy business leaders tasked with myriad financial and operational responsibilities.
The impact of public relations can often be profound for small and midsize businesses that aren’t household names but are looking to grow. Maybe a company is acquiring a competitor to fuel its next stage of growth. Maybe it’s expanding its product portfolio. No matter what the business driver is, a brand-awareness boost can support these organizations’ growth goals. For these businesses, proactive public relations efforts can play a significant role in lead generation, lead nurturing and overall business success. Without a concerted brand-building push, these businesses will be limited by the capacity of their sales teams and the reach of word-of-mouth referrals. Adding public relations to the sales and marketing mix can help these organizations raise awareness among key audiences, which, in turn, can create warmer leads.
So, for both types of organizations, there are perils in not having PR support. For well-known organizations, it might mean crises that spiral out of control. For under-the-radar organizations, it might mean missed branding opportunities and slower growth.
Strengthening PR-reporter relationships
How do PR pros effectively serve their clients and build strong working relationships with reporters? Talented practitioners will do the following:
- Work to understand the organization’s key audiences.
- Develop foundational messaging to guide promotional efforts.
- Study the media environment. Identify the reporters and editors who write content read by the organization’s target audiences and who will find value in the company’s news and insights.
- Prepare the organization’s spokespeople to deliver high-value information to reporters.
- Creatively package company news and insights and bring reporters content they find valuable.
For reporters on the receiving end of bad pitches, this summary may sound like an idealized version of the PR industry. However, this is how it’s supposed to work – and how it often does work. However, The Economist columnist offers a valid take on the industry that PR professionals should keep in mind as they publicize their clients. PR teams must work hard to ensure what they’re doing is valuable for all their stakeholders, which includes clients, but also reporters.
Stronger relationships between PR professionals and reporters will help both parties achieve their goals. PR pros can do their part by diligently studying reporters’ coverage, writing sharp copy and pitching interesting stories to the right reporters at the right time. In turn, reporters should be direct about their needs and areas of interest when interacting with PR teams.
Transparency and clear communication are key pieces of healthy and fruitful PR-reporter relationships. In the end, stronger relationships will result in better content for reporters’ readers and sustained brand boosts for PR pros’ clients.
Are you interested in learning more about how strategic and proactive public relations efforts can help your organization build its brand? Talk with The Agency at Sikich’s experienced PR team.