5 Rules I Wish I Knew About Media Relations When I Started My B2B Public Relations Career

I recently shared 6 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My B2B Public Relations Career. But I wanted to take a closer look at my (sometimes painful) discoveries about media relations. Why? Simply put, nothing interests a client or galvanizes an account team more than plain old results.

We define “media relations” as the art of translating client experience and ideas into communications that produce newsworthy results.  (Caution: once you’ve started “translating,” it’s just as important to generate a steady flow of ideas that nurtures a true relationship with the editor.) This definition still holds true in the era of social media.  The tools are different, but the marketing basics are not.

Rule #1:  Yes, you DO have to do media relations:  At least two-three times a year, I have a conversation with a public relations professional who doesn’t really like to speak to reporters.  They love account management and developing thought leadership, but dislike the feeling of cold calling. This often happens with folks who are actually terrific at building relationships with reporters.  They feel uncomfortable selling, even if they are doing it correctly (see rule #2.). But they’re missing a critical rule: media relations work builds the strategic insights and instincts you need later in your career to counsel clients and team-mates. I don’t pitch much these days, but I use my media relations experience all day, every day.

Rule #2:  Reporters actually do want to hear your angle (if you structure it properly):  The pain and fear of calling or emailing or tweeting a reporter has derailed more than a few of our promising hires.  And certainly, there are reporters and editors who are allergic to PR professionals – usually after years of careless pitches. But, if you read, listen and learn to anticipate (rules we’ve all had reinforced by successful social media campaigns like the Proctor & Gamble project), they will be surprised and maybe even pleased to consider your contributions.

Rule #3:  It’s Not Hard to Practice Media Relations, but it is Complicated:  I’ve seen smart interns grasp the basics of media relations in weeks, while other professionals with several years experience sometimes flounder.  Why?  Because it’s layered work, with a pretty elaborate “to-do” list if done properly, including:

  • Do you have a powerful “call to action?” Why should the reporter cover the story now? Really experienced folks sometimes forget this mandate.
  • Have you stayed in regular contact with the media on this topic? One good hit does not mean you have earned a relationship with a reporter or blogger. Figure out reasons to stay in touch when there is no immediate benefit for you.
  • Most clients have multiple bosses – have you fully considered all of their (sometimes very different) agendas? A regional VP has very different needs than a marketing staffer or an SBU leader. Have you designed and delivered a program that will ultimately satisfy everyone’s needs?

Rule #4:  Content is King…but Targeting is Queen:  You can’t read a blog post without hitting on the ravenous demand for fresh thought leadership.  (Some of my favorite posts on this subject are from Chris Brogan (100 blog topics and 50 blog topics for marketers), Michael Gass and Jason Baer.)  Almost any PR campaign is focused on identifying how to keep the “content factory” (as Britton Monasco puts it) producing.  But, then, with a whimper or a bang, the campaign fails. Why? Probably because you failed to properly target.  Did you:

  • Listen first to what your prospects wanted? Conduct a thorough SEO analysis to ensure that Google or Bing will find your clients?
  • Push yourself to segment the story beyond expected audiences?
  • Capture prospect feedback?
  • Refine the content to reflect emerging audience needs?
  • Comment on related blogs to encourage flow to your own post?

All of these rules remain worthless without Rule #5: be persistent. Media relations skills are more complicated than ever due to social media strategies. It still functions as traditional reporter relationships, but chances are that it also means contact with an influential blogger or reaching out to a disgruntled customer. You need patience and endless energy to keep up with this hydra.

How many years have you been in PR? Does that affect what rules you’d add to this list?

(photo by D Sharon Pruitt)

To reach Elizabeth:

Phone: 212.840.0017
Email: elizabeth@blisspr.com
Twitter: @elizabethsosnow
LinkedIn: Elizabeth Sosnow