Public relations is rather like sales. Instead of selling a product or service, PR pros sell a story or person. But the stakes for each profession are very different.
When you attempt to make a sale, the stakes are that you may not get the sale or reach your sales quota. In PR, the stakes are that you can make or break a business with one media hit. We all know about the Oprah effect.
If you’re making a sale, you get a “yes” or “no” from a customer. But when you pitch a story, the outcomes range from “yes” to “no” with several variations in between that can make or break a brand.
To illustrate this range of outcomes, I’ve crafted a list of the top four best and worst moments for PR professionals.
The top four best moments of a PR professional:
If you were to choose a song for your life soundtrack to commemorate these PR successes, you might choose “Girl On Fire” by Alicia Keys. These moments are so wonderful you can’t help but feel you’ve conquered something amazing. (You have!)
1. The first time you secure press.
This is the first time you secure a positive media hit for your employer or client. I remember my first one: I was an undergraduate interning at an international law firm. I pitched a story to the Orange County Register on business-method patents, and it turned into a two-page spread on the cover of the business section with a picture of our head IP attorney smack in the middle. I couldn’t drink to celebrate, but I sure completed a victory dance.
2. The first time you get a legitimate inbound PR lead.
You will feel elated the first time you get a call from a reputable outlet wanting to cover your employer or client for a positive story. We are used to actively pitching, so when an outlet comes to us it’s a sign that our work to craft our client’s story and garner interest in it is working.
3. When one piece of press generates more press leads.
There will come a time when one media hit seamlessly translates into more media hits. This is the sign of a good story! And you don’t have to just hope it happens—you can learn how to push this process along by reading my how-to.
4. When a journalist or reporter comes to you as a trusted source.
When a reporter comes to you as a trusted resource for an article, you know you haven’t only been great at pitching, but building trust. Building trust is one of the most important—if not the most important—thing you can do as a PR professional. If you want tips on how not to build trust with journalists, here are some things not to do.
The top four worst moments for a PR professional:
If you were to choose a song to commemorate these PR career fiascos, you might choose “The Final Countdown” by Europe. You need something that will convince you to dust yourself off and get back to pitching, not something that will leave your face in a pint of Haagen Dazs.
1. When you get an inbound media lead, but find out it’s pay-for-play.
There will come a time when you think you’re getting an inbound media lead, and you get excited. It will sound something like this: “Hi Annabel, we’d love to feature [insert client or employer here] in our series hosted by [insert name of celebrity fading from limelight]. We’re putting together a segment we think you’d be a great fit for.”
This sounds amazing. A pseudo-celebrity endorsement? A segment that will air on TV?
The caller will then ask to interview the CEO to discuss production details. Then, once he has you salivating at the idea of your client’s impending fame, he’ll drop the bomb that you need to “underwrite,” “invest” or “sponsor” the program. Ladies and gentleman of PR-this is pure pay-for-play conducted misleadingly.
Lesson: If it’s a digital production, the name of the outlet doesn’t sound familiar and the caller’s goal is to set up a call between the client and the producer, be up front and say, “Thank you for thinking of us, but is this an opportunity that we will need to underwrite or fund?”
2. When a broadcast media outlet covers your story, but then edits you out.
Sometimes your client or employer gets edited out of a news story. I once pitched a trend piece on schools that were improving their food, and was told my client would be featured. The client was interviewed and filmed. I then watched the segment excitedly until I realized we had been cut.
1. Make your client or employer so integral to the story that the reporter can’t cut your segment.
2. Don’t celebrate until after you watch the segment.
3. When a national TV show wants to do a story on your client, but the TV show folds.
I’ll never forget when a producer told me he loved my pitch and wanted my client on his show. We started booking travel, but then heard the show was going under. It had halted production.
Lesson: Sometimes things are unpredictable. Celebrate the win, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
4. When an outlet builds a great story around your client, then says you’ll have to pay advertising fees for it to appear.
This is a bit like No. 1, but worse. A trade publication completed an interview with my client, and asked for high-resolution photos for a feature story. Later I got a call from a different contact within the outlet who dangled the feature in front of me saying there was a price associated with it. It’s not quite coercion, but it’s close.
Lesson: Never work with this publication again.
What are your best and worst PR moments? Please share in the comments.
Annabel Adams is the director of communications for HUMAN, and the owner of MadcapPR. Find her on Twitter at @AnnabelMAdams. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a platform that helps companies and PR firms get press, receive email alerts when journalists tweet or write stories about them, and measure the success of their work.