Old-fashioned relationships still work, even in a new media age

A typical conversation I have with fellow PR pros is about specialization vs. generalization. There are plenty of excellent specialized agency teams or total firms devoted to digital media.

A typical conversation I have with fellow PR pros is about specialization vs. generalization. There are plenty of excellent specialized agency teams or total firms devoted to digital media. However, full-service shops have begun to at least discuss shifting away from the "We need that skill, let's hire a blogger" rationale to "We need to grow our core team, let's hire that person," with said person being a solid PR pro with some digital skills.

Those who subscribed to the former school of thought would proudly say, "Our team is made up of bloggers, so we know how to speak with them." This was, at least in theory, more about client comfort and less about reality, as there were plenty of awesome PR teams working with the online space before the mid-2000s, when it was all the rage to tell people you did so. I was hired by an agency during that time. I like to think my overall PR skills played as big a part as my online savvy, but, as we know, agencies sometimes get "shiny object syndrome." It's refreshing to see some change.

I've long been fascinated by the way many of us focus on not screwing up when talking to bloggers and online publishers, but pay less attention to how to do the best job for clients. Conversing with journalists, not relying on mailing lists alone, and actually building relationships should be core PR tenets, but e-mail, mailing lists, and team sizes created a monster where you could "pitch" 500 people in 30 seconds. Many journalists would just delete what they didn't want to see and they were surely too busy to always "unsubscribe" from the mass pitching, so we felt content following this model. Until people started getting called out for it. (See: Bad Pitch Blog, Wired's Chris Anderson,)

Whether focused on tech bloggers or local reporters, all PR pros ultimately strive to do good work on behalf of our brands or clients. So while pressure mounts to do more, faster, and with less, we should still be able to pick up the phone, meet in person, or (gasp!) regularly read articles, blogs, or Tweets from those with whom we want to work. Just because the news cycle is down to zero minutes doesn't mean your favorite reporters or bloggers don't have things in the hopper. It wouldn't hurt to ask, "How are things going? What interests you these days?" Beats are changing, and the world has sped up. Use these things to your advantage. The media does.

Tom Biro is senior director of communications at MTV. His column will focus on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at tom.biro@mtvstaff.com.

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