Recently, a friend living in Singapore shared an article with me that resonates deeply. Published by Tech in Asia and authored by Onboardly director of public relations Crystal Richard, the piece is titled “How the role of PR has gone from being a distributor to a connector.”
Suffice it to say, I highly encourage you to take the 5-10 minutes necessary to digest Crystal’s thesis. For the purpose of this blog, though, I’ve summed up the main talking points:
- -Several years ago, our jobs as PR professionals (especially applicable for PR professionals working with startups) was much “easier”.
- -Distributing press materials en masse led to coverage (mass pitches, mass email blasts).
- -But, times have changed. Journalists are more skeptical and competition among companies is fierce. Reporters must also contend with increasing pressure from editors to deliver clickbait (the last sentence is my perspective, not Crystal’s).
- -Successful PR people are no longer distributors. They’re connectors. Being an effective connector involves being strategic, creative, patient – and building relationships.
If I didn’t find nostalgia a useless and wasteful sentiment, I’d be inclined to pine for the “good ol’ days.” But I do. So, my take on this paragraph, discussing how to convince reporters to consider your pitch…
How do you ensure that yours is one of the lucky ones? By connecting with a journalist on a personal level (do this by acting human) and gaining their trust. Because if you can do that, well my friend, you are absolutely one step closer to getting your story told. It’s no guarantee (no PR is these days) but if you have a strong relationship with the reporter, then you know they will champion your idea until their editor declares a yes or no.
…is Bring. It. On.
Let me back up for a second. Yes, there are days I get really frustrated. Yes, there are days I feel the client “just doesn’t get it.” It’s particularly demoralizing when clients seem unsatisfied regardless of what your team is doing. You might be hustling non-stop and bringing in killer coverage – but it doesn’t matter because the New York Times still hasn’t given you the time of day.
It’s also de rigueur nowadays to promise we’ll do “whatever it takes” and “everything in our power” to secure coverage. This is language I like to avoid; it’s inherently hazy and (to me, at least) connotes a lack of boundaries and a compromising of principles. And there are always boundaries. If a tactic or strategy is making your skin crawl, you should feel empowered to speak up and explain why.
Brutal honesty and caveats aside, I still believe we should look at this shift in our profession positively. Why?
We’re learning how to be more thoughtful and taking time to think. We’re learning how important it is to stay informed and in particular, be on top of major business, economic and geopolitical trends. We’re reading more. We’re learning it’s incredibly important to set realistic expectations with clients. We’re basing the setting of those expectations off of actual data points (as opposed to just word of mouth). We’re growing thicker skin.
Plus, isn’t part of the fun of media relations the thrill of the chase? It’s not setting up an email blast to go out at 4 a.m. It’s not exporting the names of every “tech” reporter from Gorkana to Excel and then shooting off a bland email because, hey, all tech reporters care about your client’s news! It’s figuring out which stories reporters want to hear, and then telling those stories.
All of these things make us stronger, better-rounded professionals. Not just PR people. Professionals.
I’m not much into the cheesy quotes, but I am a damn big believer in “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger” (thank you, Friedrich Nietzsche…and Kelly Clarkson). It’s a good adage to keep in mind when dealing with demanding clients (look, there are always going to be some of them), cantankerous reporters and tight deadlines.
Killing yourself to chase for the perfect is a recipe for a perfect disaster. But, if you can go to bed at night knowing you’ve worked hard, worked smart and put yourself in both your client’s and a reporter’s shoes then well…you’re a connector, baby.