Ironically, public relations has a bit of a PR problem.
The media practice is often mistakenly simplified as either crisis communications (think Aaron Eckhart’s character in Thank You for Smoking or Kerry Washington’s in Scandal), or as having a single edict (i.e. to generate a huge amount of press coverage for clients).
While these can each play a part in the bigger PR picture, a well-conceived program is about more than snowing the public or generating ink. In fact, sometimes the best outcome is no story being written at all.
Ultimately, PR is about a lot more than publicity—it’s about establishing and communicating a narrative, over time, and building a sense of rapport and community. Here are some tips for establishing a more meaningful presence in the public sphere.
Press release = tactic. Press release ≠ strategy.
Press releases have the potential to reach a lot of media eyeballs, but they often go ignored. Why? Because they are, by their very nature, tailored to meet a broad audience—and most journalists tasked with doing any sort of in-depth reporting want information others don’t have.
While they do have a time and a place, press releases are often deployed in what we would refer to as a “spray and pray” tactic—a lot of people might see it, and they might care, but it could just as easily leave no meaningful impression.
Instead of sending out a press release and calling it a day, consider your goal and determine the best means to get there. A press release might be a key part of a larger plan, but in addition to getting sheer volume, you should also consider ways to ensure quality over quantity.
Reward good behavior.
The nature of today’s always-on, digital-driven media landscape is that outlets—and, crucially, reporters—live and die by their digital traffic. You want your story told; they want their story seen. Just as social media practitioners might validate and elevate followers by featuring their content on a brand social channel (i.e. user-generated content [UGC]), PR practitioners should steward their press relationships.
Brands should look to share news clips (on social media platforms, in the “News” section of their website, etc.), tagging the journalist and their outlet. It’s a pretty simple thing that can go a long way. Because it’s all about relationships, not just clips about you.
Understand your different users, and serve them differently.
These days, smart social is all about targeting. In-the-know content strategists are thinking beyond sweeping demographic assumptions, and instead studying specific audience mindsets and crafting the right content, disseminated at the right time, via the right platform.
Similarly, PR pros aren’t just moving past press releases to focus on pitches; they’re thinking about the unique needs and preferences of reporters and outlets. A journalist who publishes listicles with a lot of imagery will necessitate a different approach than a writer who generates long-form, in-depth reporting for a quarterly magazine.
Tone is important.
When writing press materials, PR practitioners would be wise to keep William Faulkner’s advice (actually attributed to many) to writers to “kill your darlings” in mind. PR writing strikes a delicate balance: the material must present useful facts that are helpful to reporters, but they are, by nature, biased. It must strike the just-right balance of authenticity and professionalism if it has any hope of capturing the hearts and minds of a reporter.
Apple nailed this balance in announcing iOS 10. The press release builds a sense of momentum and import by describing the update as the brand’s “biggest ever” and “huge,” but otherwise sticks to the facts.
Think bigger than your brand.
Reporters are expected to file multiple written narratives a day, create blog and social content, participate in events and panels, snap photographs, edit video, maintain their own social media feeds and brands—the list goes on and on. They have less time than ever to do their jobs and at the same time are expected to do more than ever.
The best PR pros know how to think like journalists. That means pitching in a way that’s brand-adjacent: pitch your line of delicate rose gold jewelry, but pitch it alongside some helpful research or other facts supporting that this type of jewelry is becoming more popular. Occasionally, reach out to the reporter with story ideas that have nothing to do with your brand. You’ll quickly become an ally and resource—so that when you do decide you need to send out that damn press release? It’s all the more likely to be read.