The industry seems to have lost sight of something valuable: the overwhelming majority of companies hire a PR firm because they want results that they can't achieve on their own. It isn't the production of an annual report or an engaging Facebook page. Nor is it a Twitter outreach campaign. Although these services can be important, what companies really want is what they've always wanted – great media coverage.
It's fascinating that despite all the technological innovation, what makes a PR firm stand out today is essentially the principle on which our industry was founded. The main difference between PR then—i.e., before Twitter and YouTube—and now, is that today's news environment is more complex, competitive, and faster moving.
Increasing brand awareness for our clients in this climate is much easier if we remember to think like reporters. Many top PR professionals attended journalism school or worked as journalists. We have to tap into our news sense, use our writing skills, and have the gumption to approach reporters on their own terms. In other words, PR firms would be well-advised to run their businesses like real-time newsrooms.
What does this mean in practical terms? First, you have to think ahead. It is vital to follow the news flow, anticipate news before it breaks, and understand the interests and biases of particular reporters. This creates the possibility of pitching a client based on his or her expertise and viewpoint, not on run-of-the-mill news announcements. For example, a principal at an investment bank who can provide commentary on issues of the day such as the government bailout, housing crisis, credit crisis, or unemployment numbers, is of much more value to a reporter than an investment manager who just wants to discuss a new product or an investment strategy. And the end result is that the investment bank's brand is built credibly in the process.
Second, take a smart client and make them smarter. Even when an executive has 30 years of experience in a chosen field, it doesn't mean that he or she can simplify issues and speak to journalists in an understandable way. We need to teach our clients how to focus their comments, break down complicated issues, and speak in sound bites. Reporters are bound by limited column space and airtime, so a five minute answer where a reporter has to extract the key points risks losing something in the translation. Instead, PR firms should write message points based on a client's detailed expertise, provide media training to the client about how to stay on message and influence an interview's direction, and coach them on camera skills and etiquette for broadcast interviews.
Finally, taking a less self-serving approach to media commentary will result in mutually beneficial relationships between PR firms and reporters. The media can't live without PR professionals. If you approach a reporter at the right time, with the right message points, and even educate them about trends and upcoming issues in the industries that they cover, you are helping them to do their jobs.
At the end of the day, the media and PR firms are both in one and only one business—the news business—and PR professionals would be wise to remember that.
Richard Dukas is president and CEO of Dukas Public Relations.