To truly progress, PR must leave its poor pitching behind

Last month's call by a mommy blogger for a "PR blackout" by her peers was troubling.

Last month's call by a mommy blogger for a “PR blackout” by her peers was troubling. Not because a member of this influential online community was advocating ignoring PR practitioners for a week, but rather because of the reason: inaccurate and irrelevant pitches. It's one of the complaints that continues to plague the PR industry, and mostly because it's true.

Despite all of the progress the industry has made, inappropriate and, even worse, mass pitches are still an all-too-common occurrence. And while many practitioners would like to blame this image on a few bad apples, the truth is that it's far more widespread than anyone in the industry is really willing to admit.

The only way to solve this problem once and for all is to nip bad practices in the bud at the entry level, and even before. As this month's feature on PR education shows, universities are embracing social media as a part of their curricula to better prepare students for the future. That is something that is undoubtedly needed, but as many educators in the feature pointed out, it's equally important that students first possess the basic skills that are at the foundation of the industry: solid writing, strategic thinking, and strong verbal communications. All of this ultimately translates into what should be a core area of excellence for PR practitioners: media relations.

In its quest to own the digital space and grab dollars from other areas, the industry has lost sight of what makes it so unique in the first place: the ability to build relationships with key media and earn placements. That skill is just as applicable to the online space, but only for those who truly understand, and have mastered, the fundamentals. All the social media expertise in the world won't matter if a PR pro can't get on the phone and make a compelling pitch to a reporter or write one that is longer than 140 characters.

Before the industry can truly move ahead, it needs to devote considerable attention to training and, in some cases, retraining its workforce in traditional media relations so that this lingering issue can finally be put in the past.

Erica Iacono is the executive editor of PRWeek.

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