PR is a different beast now. Part two: creativity

To stay competitive, modern media demands that PR professionals channel the Don Draper creative powerhouse inside of us all. Here's some advice on how to stay on top of your creative PR game.

As discussed in the first installment of this series, it's not enough to understand that our jobs as PR professionals have changed – we actually have to let go of old school strategies and relationship builders that no longer work and adapt to the turning media tide. However, it's not as scary or difficult as it sounds and, in fact, you're probably already starting to implement new tactics and techniques without even realizing it. But, are you doing them as well as you could be?

In Part I, we established that while timing has always been a critical element in PR success, it has become even more of a honed skill in today's information-saturated and fragmented world. Fighting to be heard above the noise and identifying laser-targeted outlets to pursue can only be accomplished with impeccable timing and a creative hook.

That's right; I said it. To stay competitive, modern media demands that PR professionals channel the Don Draper creative powerhouse inside of us all. Here's some advice on how to stay on top of your creative PR game:

Don't be afraid to be unorthodox
Given the current news climate, even really creative ideas are not receiving the attention they once did. Translation: PR people may recommend, and get client buyoff, for a scientific study, event, video, or infographic, only to find zero media outlets interested. This has made PR pros more gun shy in advocating out-of-the-box or pricey ideas for fear that — once created — they'll fall flat and, as a result, so will the agency.

How should we address this clear and present problem?

Look before you leap
Rather than putting in the extensive time and effort of creating a video, byline, infographics, or planning an event in a vacuum, run it past a couple of journalists with whom you have a relationship. Considering a scientific study with a well-known university, but worried that it may seem too commercial once completed? Check in with credible reporters to gauge interest in the topic before committing time and money to conducting research. Ask reporters brief and transparent questions like, “Is this a topic you would ever cover? If not, why and what would it take?" Always keep in mind that these folks are busy and it's not their job to do our job. 

Test the waters
Another way to assess interest in news or content is to take a page from Costco's book and make samples to share. Create and float a byline abstract or snippet of an infographic before taking the time, and spending the money, producing a product that may not even be newsworthy. The contemporary media landscape doesn't necessarily dictate that only rote content will work within journalistic confines but, PR people do need to be more careful about client promises because, the truth is, we just don't always know what the end result will be unless we test the waters first.

On that note, the majority of media outlets, think Huffington Post, Mashable, and Fast Company, that used to routinely run infographics are no longer doing so with as regular a frequency. It's important to stay on top of multi-media trends, not one step behind, to avoid wasted resources on costly videos, slideshows, and infographics that will never see pick up, not because they aren't well done or interesting pieces of news but, because outlets are overloaded with that type of content.

Lose the cookie cutter
While our goal is often to drive as much coverage and awareness as possible for clients, it's important to remember that media outlets aren't terribly keen on sharing the same news stories with each other. Unless you are Google, Facebook, or Amazon, it's highly unlikely that the media will flock to the same news with the same story. With that in mind, tailor stories and ideas to each specific outlet, and offer it exclusively when possible. While this may mean that you are not getting that day-of 50-story glory coverage, this strategy will result in deeper, longer, and often better stories with a much longer shelf life. 

Our job continues to become more of a balancing act every day between clients' goals, our own intuition, and the media's evolution. Building relationships with reporters is, and always has been, the foundation of successful public relations, but nowadays nurturing them takes a little more strategy beyond picking up the tab for lunch. Media is moving faster than ever, which means no one has time for one Arnold Palmer, let alone three.

So, we adapt by fostering good media relationships a different way: by being proactive, not wasting anyone's time, and creating targeted creative pitches. PR may look different than it did ten years ago but, at the end of the day, the purpose hasn't changed a bit – making sure interesting information is made available to the public.

Stay tuned for the third installment, “PR is a Different Beast Now. Period. – Part Three: Technology.”

Darcy Cobb is co-founder of Dotted Line Communications.

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