Despite being only in my mid-30s, I’m constantly teased by my colleagues for being long in the tooth, principally because of my love for Victoria Wood, Hinge and Bracket and The Two Ronnies – cultural references now sadly lost on my millennial colleagues.
So, when it comes to media relations, it’s no surprise that I put a strong emphasis on the importance of the more traditional skills that come with our profession, such as simple things like picking up the phone rather than emailing, reading the physical newspaper and meeting journalists regularly face-to-face to understand what’s on their wish list.
I am still a huge advocate of the technological advances available to our industry. My second screen has a constant Twitter feed of breaking news, meaning I’m often the first in the office to know if something important is happening which our clients should be commenting on.
However, what bugs me is that the phrase "traditional PR" can sometimes become synonymous with "old fashioned" and "behind the times" – I disagree.
These skills are the foundations that all PRs should be equipped with, the fundamentals of being successful in this industry and for your client, and skills required to handle tricky situations when things go wrong.
All too often sophisticated databases and emails can lead to a ‘fire and forget’ approach to media outreach, whereas personally knowing the one journalist that you can sell-in a front page-worthy story can be more powerful. How do you know who that journalist is? The answer is simple: you build meaningful relationships with them.
The skill of being able to pick up a phone and speak to a journalist, craft a story and be convincing are all skills that complement the effective use of tech. Taking the time to meet a journalist for coffee may seem like a chore, but it’s far easier to stand out and make an impression in person rather than on email.
I get very allergic to PRs sending emails to journalists they have never met beginning with: "Hi, hope you’re well?" – do you?
It’s not authentic, and the journalists knows this. Whereas if you’ve taken the time to get to know them and you email to give them tips on their upcoming trip to Marrakech, all of a sudden you have a meaningful rapport.
Moreover, being able to have a catch-up with a client and give them useful insights into what editors and journalists are looking for is where we deliver real value. As my mentor always points out, there is a huge difference in telling a client that Joe Bloggs writes for the FT, and telling them what Joe Bloggs’ favourite cereal is.
No matter how sophisticated advances in technology become, one basic concept will remain paramount: communication is a human activity. There is only so much AI, bots or tech can achieve, whereas the art of persuasion is a skill that needs to be taught, practiced and applied. Master it, and you will become a great PR professional.
Benjamin Thiele-Long is an associate director at Cognito
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