When it comes to securing PR coverage is it about who you know or what you know? Unsurprisingly, it’s a bit of both, but the ‘what’ far outweighs the ‘who’. Now this might come a surprise to many people not acquainted with the inner goings on of the dark art that is PR, as it’s often perceived that having good journalistic contacts is the best way of placing a story in the media.
Good journalists are constantly on the lookout for good stories. This is what they live and die by. The quality of the stories they produce will define the career path they are able to follow. The more prestigious the media, the more rigorous are the journalists in testing pitched stories against their criteria for what makes a good news or feature item.
It’s crucial to understand what type of story the particular media outlet likes, the way they want it presenting and the timescales they work to.
Now it’s true to say that if you know the journalist of a particular publication, you’ll probably be au fait with what their specific criteria are. Not only that, you can be fairly confident that they’ll take your call if you want to pitch a story (or more likely give you the courtesy of reading your emailed pitch, as that’s how many journalists prefer to operate these days). What they won’t do is give you an easy ‘in’ and run a story if it just hasn’t got legs.
More damaging in the longer term is that your reputation of delivering your media contact with a good exclusive will take a hit if you try and push a story that’s evidently not suitable.
Sometimes it can almost be a benefit if you aren’t that pally pally with the journo – familiarity and all that. You often work that little bit harder on refining the story angle and making sure you have answers to any likely questions the journalist might throw back at you. If it’s a good story and you package it up in the way that the journalist or a publication likes to work, they don’t care if they don’t know you from Adam.
Naturally, once you’ve given them one good story, they’ll be more receptive to your future pitches. But the same unwritten rule applies: don’t take them for granted and think that they’ll be more forgiving if you try to blag them, because you’ve struck up a relationship. They won’t.
Every PR agency will have good contacts in some parts of the media and there will be publications, bloggers and other media that they aren’t as familiar with (they’ll never admit to this, but it’s true – you can’t know everybody).
In any case, as one of our media contacts put it the other day, even though they know and trust us, if the client isn’t that familiar to them, they’d hesitate to use their industry comment. Because what the journalist’s concerned about is whether the reader will have heard of them and accept their comment as credible.
The truth is that the art of PR is a far more skilled one that just being about who you know. Relationships have to be built and maintained on behalf of each client to establish their credibility and authority to comment. And that takes time and trust.
Which is why what’s more important than their contacts book is the way a PR agency goes about things: their understanding of your business and your industry; what’s important, what’s accepted as ‘standard’, what stands up as news. Test them with stories you think are worth publicising and see how they’d treat them. What they think would work and what wouldn’t, which media they’d target.
And one more thing, if you like what you’ve heard, make sure that the team that pitches to you is the team that will be doing the work – on this point it’s important you know who.