The secret to becoming a trusted PR professional

New England Warrior Camp 2010

Shel Israel followed up in our discussion last week about the automation (or lack thereof) of persuasion technologies and public relations by asking:

Since you are in the business of building trust for clients, why are so many PR people not trusted by the media?

The answer to this question circles back to Tom Foremski’s earlier question about why there isn’t innovation in scalable persuasion technologies. Part of the reason is intent and motivation; a journalist knows that any PR person is approaching them with an agenda. The best PR professionals figure out how to deliver value to both the client AND the journalist. Untrusted PR professionals who don’t do the hard work of building relationships often focus only the client’s interests.

Part of the reason is also automation. Many of the communications systems of the digital age DO scale, such as email, instant messaging, text messages, and social media. In a click of a mouse, you can send millions of people an email. Yet just because you can send email to everyone in the world doesn’t mean that you should. Far too many PR professionals blindly mass email their pitches without making any attempt at the “Relations” part of Public Relations.

Here are three examples I’ve received in the last month for my personal blog:

Thanks a lot for accepting the request to connect. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce XYZ which is a California based mobile development company headquartered in San Francisco with offices in India.

I trimmed off the remaining 12 paragraphs of information about their company launch. This is a pitch almost entirely devoid of value for my audience.

Here’s a second bad pitch:

Hi, I recently saw your site and thought I would show you an infographic about social media advertising. This particular infographic explains using Pinterest as a viable way to generate business for the lawn and garden industry. At your earliest convenience give it a look, and if this is something that you or your readers might find interesting feel free to put it on your site.

For those who don’t know me, I rarely ever blog about lawns and gardens. If they’d spent any time on my site, they’d know I wasn’t a good candidate for this pitch.

Finally, this gem, complete marketing automation mail merge tags still intact:

Hello $FRISTNAME, As a part of reaching out in the Internet market and establish our Authority we are looking to contribute to sites like yours $URL to share our knowledge and add value for the readers. If there is an open spot can I send in Guest Post Ideas that will help your readers get some advise from our experts.

You build trust by giving and taking. The best PR professionals know that you have to give first, give often, and give real value before you earn the privilege of asking for something. What you see above are three examples of attempting to take value first. These attempts do nothing except end up in the digital circular file.

Want to know the secret to becoming a trusted PR professional? It’s a simple 3-step recipe:

1. Know exactly what the influencer writes about and never send them anything that is off target.

2. Follow the influencer and engage with them months before you pitch:

  • Share and promote their stuff.
  • Comment on their stuff.
  • Talk to them, talk about them (positively).
  • Privately ask them relevant questions about things they’ve written.
  • Privately ask them what they’re working on, and help them if you can, even if it doesn’t benefit any of your clients.

3. If a client asks you to pitch something of no value, have the #Smart and #Ballsy to politely ask them for something better to pitch. If they can’t come up with something, help them make something worth pitching. This is where data-driven PR has a chance to shine. Every client has data or access to data. Instead of pitching a bland corporate announcement, make something interesting with their data!

A PR professional who has lost the trust of their network is someone who had only short-term vision. They couldn’t see the big picture: the media landscape has become so fragmented and mainstream publications have downsized staff. This means that you can burn only a few bridges with your sources before you’re out of business, because no one will return your calls.

Humans don’t scale. Relationships don’t scale. Trying to scale things that don’t scale inevitably destroys trust.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


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