Ah, the good old days—when politicians held news conferences to announce plans to run for office, journalists knocked on doors for a story, and we relied on reporters to ask uncomfortable questions in a TV interview.
Thanks to the power of new information channels such as social networking, online video, and blogging, PR professionals can create and syndicate content at the click of a mouse. Forget a press conference or interview—instead, people and companies push out self-made online videos, blogs, and Facebook posts to avoid the hard questions and control their message.
You are your own media outlet—or at least you can be.
“Blogging, Facebook, and Twitter have made it so much easier to pitch the media. It’s real time, 24 hours, and easier to manage,” says Teana McDonald, founder of InStyle Diva. “It’s created many more opportunities for us to pitch our clients.”
Facebook and Twitter are now pathways to news, but their roles might not be as large as some have suggested. A January 2013 poll from the Media and Public Opinion Research Group found that about 31 percent of Americans get their news from cable TV, and 29 percent access news from network television. The Internet placed third, followed by newspapers and radio. So, social media platforms are additional paths to news, not replacements for traditional ones.
So, is it possible to practice PR without reporters? Sure.
Is it smart? Not really.
“This strategy lacks the third-party credibility that comes from media,” says Matt Braun, director of public relations at Hanson Dodge Creative. “‘As seen on Facebook’ just doesn’t have the same credibility as ‘As seen in The Wall Street Journal.'”
“Social and new media have made it increasingly easy to put your unmitigated message in front of your audience, so in many regards, it definitely cuts down on the stuff you would typically think about pitching to reporters,” says Matt Krayton, founder of Publitics PR. “There is nothing quite like building solid relationships with reporters. They keep you honest and, as a result, provide a certain credibility.”
Each pitching strategy has its pros and cons. When you pitch to a reporter, for example, you’re at the mercy of a news editor and what he or she deems newsworthy, says Braun. You also risk having your pitch get lost in the newsroom abyss, says Krayton. The ratio of PR people to “pitchable” journalists is estimated at 4 to 1, resulting in email inbox overload.
“There are a lot of garbage, irrelevant pitches out there,” says Gail Sideman, owner and publicist, Publiside Personal Publicity. “Some PR people are so pressured by their clients or bosses to pitch stories with no real news value that they devalue themselves and leave reporters with a bad taste should they ever pitch another story.”
If you play your cards right, the relationship between PR pro and journalist is unmatched.
“Few know your audience better than a reporter who spends hours each day embedded with a topic,” Sideman says. “Relationships are certainly more challenging. Media staffs are smaller, familiar faces are gone, and PR people have the responsibility to communicate the most succinct, educated, and informative news possible, or [they] risk being ignored or disrespected.”
Conversely, social tools allow instant publishing and 100 percent control of the message, without having to inundate journalists with irrelevant pitches, says Tami Monahan Forman, director of global corporate communications at Return Path. “The downside is that the world knows you have control, so it’s less credible. But that is the downside to media relations—you get the story they write, not the story you want.”
Ultimately, your pitch strategy should depend on your client’s business goals, says Forman. “Any PR program that isn’t focused on driving objectives for the business is not going to be successful,” she says. “Best-case scenario, it will produce a bunch of activity [such as] clips, tweets, and blog posts that no one feels too great about. Worst-case scenario, it will just be an absolute failure.”
So, although PR and your clients still want—and warrant—a mention high on the media food chain, public consumption of information demands that, for better or worse, the smartest PR plans involve a mixture of new and traditional PR methods.
“A pitch is a pitch. It’s got to be short, to the point, and tell the reporter why they should care,” Braun says. “If you can do this in 140 characters and that’s how the reporter wants to get information, great. If not, pick up the phone and have a two-minute conversation.”