Media relations: Nothing to be afraid of

Posted on 9th July 2015 by Elaine Birch

"Print media now has to compete with a multitude of online outlets and social media is taking an ever more central role in the work we do."

I went to a Business Marketing Collective event last week entitled ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ There were some really interesting discussions in the room about being brave enough to try untested techniques, standing up to those who oppose your ideas and offering something to customers that has never been attempted before. All of this prompted me to evaluate what fears threaten or even drive us as PR and Marketing professionals, and the conclusion I came to is that what we are often most afraid of is staying still. As someone who’s been in the PR business for… well, let’s just say a number of years, I have seen the industry change beyond recognition. A far cry from the days where press releases had to be stuffed into brown A4 envelopes and sent via post because most publications didn’t have email (yes I really am that old), our industry, like all others, has been transformed hugely – and mostly for the better – by the advent of technology.

But it’s not just the practicalities of the job that have changed. Print media now has to compete with a multitude of online outlets and social media is taking an ever more central role in the work we do. As a consequence, the very nature of how we interact with the press has been turned upside down: no longer are we bound to traditional working hours and deadlines have gone from being short to immediate.

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But for me, the biggest revolution has been how differently media relations is now perceived by PR professionals themselves. The 2015 Holmes Report revealed that media relations comes way down the list of priorities for modern PR and communications professionals, with social media, content creation and insight and planning taking the top spots. It’s almost as if media relations has become taboo, or a shameful secret to be kept hidden. Are we afraid of utilising, or at least admitting to utilising these more traditional techniques because we are worried it will make us seem old-fashioned, or less innovative?

As my colleague Xen wrote in her recent blog, there is an increasing trend to proclaim things as ‘dead’ before their time, and it concerns me that media relations may be heading for the same fate. The fear of staying still and relying on something which some may perceive to be out-dated is causing us to forget the value of what we actually do, and I for one am loath to let this happen. In fact, I would go as far as saying that as a skill, media relations is now more valuable than it’s ever been. Let me tell you why.

Journalists are some of the most important and well-networked stakeholders that our clients have. They live and breathe the news, and their extensive lists of twitter followers means that if they choose to publish a story or piece of content we offer them, that content is instantly available to their network, opening up countless opportunities for our clients to connect with new audiences. As PR professionals, we are in the unique position to bridge the gap between our clients and the rest of the world. It’s about understanding what’s happening out there and how we can relate this back to our clients – when we read the papers, news sites and blogs every morning, we’re not doing this to tick a box but we are building our knowledge, of industry, of emerging trends, and of what people are interested in. It’s our job to have our ear to the ground, to know what journalists want to write about, and to turn the information and content that we create into a story that they and their readers want to learn more about.

It’s definitely not a case of one or the other here: owned media and social activity are both vital, but just because these are more prevalent now doesn’t have to mean that we say goodbye to traditional media outreach. Integrated marketing initiatives where paid, earned, owned and social media tactics all play their part are absolutely the way forward and I for one much prefer to work on projects where our ideas and thinking can stretch right across all of these elements. What’s more, we can’t credibly come up with successful big ideas for our clients if we don’t know what’s going on in the press and the world and don’t continue to hone our skills in this area. We should stop being afraid of media relations and instead embrace it for what it is, a very valuable piece in the overall marketing jigsaw puzzle. If we can create ideas and stories that are good enough for respected and sought after media outlets, this sets the bar high for what else we can do with this content.

The ABC of modern media relations:

  • Absorb: It doesn’t matter if there are less titles to target than before or if the papers don’t have the supplements they used to. Technology and social media means we now have 24 hour access to a wealth of multi-channel content and information, all of which can be used to inform, bolster and invigorate the work we do for our clients.
  • Bridge the gap: Reading the media is not just about creating chances to respond, it’s about giving ourselves and our clients ideas and opportunities for their business. The news should be a pool of inspiration that we dip into regularly, sharing trends, insights and revelations with our colleagues and clients, sparking off new concepts and ideas of our own.
  • Celebrate: We may have changed the way in which we interact with the press and the percentage of time spent on this within our wider spectrum of work, but we should never make the mistake of looking down on media relations as a skill. It takes creativity, strategic prowess and perseverance to craft and deliver a story that resonates with the media and our audiences, so it’s very much a discipline we should be proud of.
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