An open apology to young PR professionals

An agency executive vows to stop reminding her younger colleagues how hard she worked “back in the day” and how easier they have it.


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My—ahem—older colleagues and I will often swap war stories about how PR was “done in our day” and how easy the younger practitioners have it.

We’ll lament on how tedious it was to leaf through thick Bacon’s books to identify the right media contacts; we’ll remind them that we didn’t have scanners to make clips—we used tape and glue sticks and rulers to paste up boxes and boxes full of newspaper and magazine clippings from BurrellesLuce; we’ll complain about how we had to walk two miles in the snow—uphill, both ways—just to get to the office.

And then, when we didn’t see an infinite number of media interviews scheduled or scads of coverage on product launches, we remind them that “back in our day” we booked media tours that had executives scrambling to and from 10 meetings a day. We pontificate on how we landed glowing, standalone, two-pages-with-graphics pieces on our clients’ dot rev product updates.

So we asked, why, pray tell, could they not do the same? They had far more resources than we had a decade ago, so in 2012, shouldn’t it be easier than ever to score media interviews and coverage? After thinking about this for some time, the answer is no. And we’re sorry for the expectation that it should be.

Though our pursuits might have required a bit more manual labor, we also were pitching more robust publications. InfoWorld had a print and online edition. NetworkWorld swelled to more than 60 pages—a far cry from the 30 pages it averages today. There were editors and reporters for every beat imaginable. There wasn’t just a general mobile reporter; there was a mobile management reporter and a mobile security reporter, among others.

There were more people trying to fill more pages, which resulted in a lot more shiny, new opportunities for PR pros to bring to their clients.

Today, we are faced with a shortage of reporters covering multiple beats with less and less space in the print issue—if the print issue even exists. More and more of these publications are pushing for vendors to develop the content themselves in the form of bylines and guest blog posts. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Contributed content is the perfect way to build up your thought leaders and ensure your message is on point and clearly articulated.

But the standalone product coverage and feature stories have become more elusive and no less desirable. Nothing replaces the third-party validation of a well-written piece in a reputable publication. It’s our job as PR pros to educate our clients’ CMOs and VPs of marketing on this and to develop the storylines and resources that can still result in the big feature or profile.

Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind:

Know your clients’ goals, and align your pitches accordingly. As my colleague recently stated in his blog post, “As communications and marketing professionals we need to work with our clients to understand what their vision is and what they want marketing and PR to do for them.” The same goes for pitches. Work with your clients to understand what proactive, left-of-center issues exist for which they can give an insightful opinion that lines up with their marketing goals and agendas.

Know your targets. Reporters get hit from every angle by every PR pro on a daily basis. Pitch smarter—look at what they have written and how you can offer something new to a topic they are interested in and not just another vendor’s perspective on the issue. A reporter is never going to do a follow-up story on your client just because they missed you the first time around. You need to find another way in. Which could be…

Give sources beyond your CEO. Your CEO may be compelling and edgy, but he is still vested in one thing—his company. When framing the story for reporters, think beyond just a customer and analyst reference. What about a professor or a historian? Could a niche blogger add something to the angle? Bring the whole package.

If you can tie all this up together, you just might get your client prominently featured in Fortune. Or Inc. Or CIO. Or Financial Times. Just like some of my colleagues, who most certainly have never heard of Bacon’s or BurrellesLuce.

What are your tactics for breaking through the clutter when it comes to media relations?

Lisa Astor is the vice president of PAN Communications. A version of this article first appeared on the agency’s blog, PR Speak.

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Topics: PR

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