Success in media relations: skill or luck?

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this PR pro wonders how much luck has to do with landing great coverage.


Some say the Irish are lucky. Others insist Irish “luck” is ironic.

What about the luck of the public relations professional? To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I want to look at how much luck has to do with media relations.

Sometimes after I score a big hit, I can’t help but wonder if it was just my lucky day. I have to remind myself that I put a great deal of strategy, timing and thought into the pitch.

Public relations is both luck and strategy. Like a game of Monopoly, you need strategy and skill, but a lucky roll of the dice can certainly help you win. Here’s my take on the luck vs. skill debate. I call it the four “I” words of media relations:

1. Instinct: Our CEO at Spectrum, John Seng, once worked with a reporter he had known for a long time. His gut told him to follow up with her in an untraditional way and, as a result, scored a top-tier story for the client.

This underlying instinct—something we gain either by being in the industry for a long time or having it inherently in us—is something we should trust more often in media outreach.

2. Interval: This is a fancy word for “timing.” Did you catch The Wall Street Journal reporter on the phone before she went to lunch, or did you just miss her?

One aspect of timing we can control is when we pitch the story. Even though many things are out of our control, we can select the right day of the week to send the pitch email, or time our client’s news with a relevant conference or piece of breaking news. These things can heighten our chance of success.

3. Insights: This is all about skill and hard work. Your insights about the client, outlet and industry will help you craft the perfect pitch. Research will help you position the story and prepare you to face tough media questions. The deep, intuitive understanding you gain after you work with a client or industry for many years is invaluable in media relations.

4. Interest: As communicators, it’s our job to find a hidden gem in otherwise dull news. Even so, sometimes what we think is interesting isn’t to a reporter whose inbox is already flooded with pitches. It takes skill to find something newsworthy, but sometimes it comes down to the luck of the draw with what types of stories the client asks you to promote.

Do you think media relations has a lot to do with luck?

Kaitlin Doody (@kaitlin_doody) is a senior account executive at Spectrum, one of the nation’s leading health and science communications agencies. A version of this article first appeared on Spectrum’s blog.

Topics: PR

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