Over the past decade, when times were good, did PROs become lazy? It seems that media relations was too often reduced to an unimaginative stunt and a blanket press release randomly issued out.
It is a truism to say what our industry does is 'sell' stories. Yet it seems too many practitioners over the boom years forgot the power of good and creative media relations - some even forgot how to sell a story. Over the past two years, times have been tougher; good PROs have been working harder and, as a result, have had to deepen their media relations skills. It's fair to say that media relations is not all fluff; there is grunt there too.
When asking journalists what three words they would use to describe PR people in the industry, words such as 'helpful' or 'useful' regularly came up, but so did words such as 'nuisance', 'young' or 'stupid'. One consumer magazine editor revealed that he relies on PROs as the source of 90 per cent of what he writes or is published, but that only 40 per cent actually 'get it right'. His complaint is not unusual - PROs do not know or do not bother to understand his publication.
Have many agencies forgotten the cardinal rule? All media relations activity has to be focused on a clear result for both the client and the journalist. A well-constructed media strategy will have the desired end result as its linchpin, be dynamic (changing as the media or business climate develops) and should help the agency and client deliver intelligent media relations. Media relations without an overriding strategy is a waste of money and effort.
Disappointingly, too many PR people also seem to confuse pulling names and numbers from a bought-in media database with developing contacts. A big journalist gripe at the moment is that agencies are using interns as if they were staff with years of experience to sell in stories.
The good news is that, as a result of sloppy practices, those PR people who are 'getting it right' gain disproportionately more coverage for their clients. As another journalist explained, once a PRO demonstrates they are a reliable source, giving relevant and well-timed material, particularly if their follow-up is solid, the relationship develops and inevitably they gain more coverage for their clients. In other words, simply relying on 'journo-mates' won't guarantee coverage; there has to be some 'grunt'.
Within the past few months, there are signs that the media are building up the number of reporters and writers are once again developing specialisms, rather than having to cover everything, which has been more usual over the past two years. This is easing the pressure on a number of journalists, who are once again coming out of their offices to meet PROs - but make no mistake, they still expect solid reasons to make the effort.
While the economic climate is still finding its feet, clients understand the value of quality PR when they experience it. We have found with our clients that, as they have cut back on marketing spend, they can see the impact of robust media relations on their bottom-line, particularly when it encompasses digital and social media.
While this puts greater pressure on PROs, it means campaigns that have clear strategic media relations are resulting in what we are paid to do: get column inches (online and offline) to deliver sales and raise brand awareness. I predict that over the second half of 2010 and into 2011, the agencies rolling up their sleeves and getting on with creative media relations will be more important to clients than ever.
VIEWS IN BRIEF
- Which consumer brand most successfully capitalised on the election campaign season?
With an underlying theme of 'economic prudence' running through all three main parties' campaigns, high-street fashion (Zara, New Look, Marks & Spencer, Next) came out well. There was a lot of focus on the outfits worn by Samantha Cameron, Sarah Brown and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez. There was a need for these women to appear stylish, yet cost-conscious when it came to their clothes, to resonate with the electorate but still project the desired image. Indeed, one journalist's job was to look at where each of the wives' outfits were from and how much they cost.