PR gets a bad rap… again!

I’ve just finished reading this article from Sunday’s New York Times, and I have to say that it hit a nerve.  (I don’t think I’m the only one though judging by the number of tweets on the subject, such as these one’s here, here and here).

If you’ve read the article, then you know that it portrays the world of PR as one that is brimming with glitz and glamour and Rolodex’s chock-full of A-list business and media contacts. Of course, nothing could be further than the truth.

Sure, we get to connect with (and build relationships with) some very influential people, but quite honestly, when has PR (or perhaps more specifically media relations) ever been about which influencers I personally know? Perhaps for 0.01% of the PR professionals out there this is the be-all and end-all. For me? Not on your life! 

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I go into new business pitches and am asked about whether I have relationships with all the key media and influencers the company should be connecting with. Unfortunately, it’s articles like this one that give organizations the impression that the best PR people to work with are the ones who tout their relationships with media. 

In reality (i.e. my world), two companies who are in the same market segment may be reaching out to completely different beat reporters, freelance writers or bloggers. Just because my company has done PR in the mobile industry for several years, doesn’t mean I know everyone there is to know. Firstly, people move around (especially in this economy). And secondly, a client’s mobile infrastructure solution is not going to appeal to the same guy who is writing about the latest mobile games.  Plus, a writer who is 100% focused on iPhone applications is not going to give a hoot about a BlackBerry or other smartphone application.

I may not personally know all the media/influencers a new client should be targeting, but my virtual team and I entrench ourselves in the market segments our clients are in so that we can devise strategies that meet our client’s specific needs and objectives. We also take the time to research the appropriate media contacts for each client (even if we’ve never connected with them before); read what they’ve written about; gain insights into their style of writing and the topics they are interested in; and then craft story ideas that are tailored to the writer’s particular needs. Heck, we’ve been known to monitor mainstream business reporters for three to four months before sending out a story idea for consideration.

I don’t need to personally know a writer before engaging with them on behalf of a new client to be successful. My job is to provide writers with everything they need to tell the story. And if I do it well first time around, then the door is open for future opportunities. It may even set the stage for building a trusted, long-term relationship. But we have to remember that an established relationship with a reporter doesn’t guarantee a story.

And of course, there’s the issue of social media. Sure it’s a game changer that’s forced us to think and work differently (actually, I’m onside with the approach described in the NYT article for the launch of this company), but once again, if I can’t offer up a suitable story idea to the right influencer at the right time, what help is a pitch that’s only 140 characters long anyway?

Going back to the article, when has PR ever been about helping exec’s at one company connect with exec’s at another? In my eyes, that’s called business development. Of course, when I see a fit between two clients or a client and someone else I know, I’ll gladly make the introductions. I’ve even seen some great business opportunities emerge between clients in recent weeks. But that’s not my primary job function and it never has been.

Perhaps I’m being a bit sensitive here with this article, but the PR industry’s reputation continues to be battered due to the poor practices of a few bad eggs. While the approach taken by the PR person who is featured in this article may work very well for them, I don’t believe that it’s representative of the majority of us who live and breath everything PR.  

The way I see it, this mostly one-sided view of the world of PR takes away from the credibility that our profession deserves. Believe me, PR is no glamorous gig. It’s a long and hard slog that’s very rewarding when our efforts pay off.

~ Jodi Echakowitz (Twitter: JodiEchakowitz)

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