Snowed: PR Does Not Stand For Press Release

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The week started with Punxsutawney Phil predicting six more weeks of winter and end with a blizzard in the Mid-Atlantic.

Throughout the week, I’ve had numerous conversations about public relations and the necessity of relationship building for successful media relations programs. Discussing the challenges of demonstrating PR value to executives concerned with outputs (those dreaded activity reports and hit counts). How to set expectations and establish meaningful and analytic measurements of media relations outcomes. The importance of reading or watching the media and knowing the reporter’s bio before making a pitch.

Then I watched An Inconvenient PR Truth produced by a news release distribution service in the UK called RealWire. The campaign is designed to end the practice of “PR Spam,” sending unsolicited news releases to countless journalists on a media list — many of whom are unlikely to write a story. The solution? An American-style “Bill of Rights” — 10 tips to approaching reporters and bloggers. (e.g. be targeted and knowledgeable and no attachments.)

The inconvenient reality, however, is that such Smile and Dial or Spray and Pray practices will not be abandoned. Unfortunately, there will often be pressure to report that 50 reporters were contacted. A young PR newbie will triumpantly confirm that the reporters on the list got the news release. Why?  Because some manager or executive will cling to foolish expectations that such activity will produce media coverage.

I do believe that most PR professionals focus their media efforts on the key reporters and producers who likely to write a story as a result of a targeted and well-crafted pitch (email, call or tweet). The goal is to produce quality stories or bylined articles that help achieve a strategic goal.  Not to produce a call log.

While I applaud RealWire for a clever twist on this perennial blemish, I think the video and blog chatter miss the point. PR professionals need to work with management to set expectations about realistic outcomes (vs. outputs) and educate leadership on how to build relationships with key media critical to business success. This is a key management function of public relations.

Also, news releases do play a necessary role in the public relations process and become part of the historic record. And not everyone spams reporters.

Effective public relations is about the relationships and the story telling ability that generates media coverage. And more importantly, the trust between a reporter and a PR contact that can more positively affect reporting. Being responsive and providing timely background is critical to the success of the PR operations of any company or organization.

Frances Stead Sellers, deputy national editor of health and science at The Washington Post, spoke earlier this week to PRSA members. While much of her advice mirrors the “Bill of Rights” and best practices in media relations, she stressed the importance of context in pitching.

You can have a newsworthy topic, but you need to put it in context (e.g. largest gift of its kind, first discovery, contrary finding).  Even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation needs to explain “why” a $10 billion grant for global vaccine research and delivery is important and how the financial commitment compares to previous investments.

Thus, getting a reporter’s attention isn’t about the press release. It’s about relationships, trust and having a news worthy story to tell or comment to share about current events and trends.

If you need a good primer on this process and how to communicate with management, please read How Come No One Knows About Us. In addition, recent research by Cision and Don Bates with GW’s Strategic Public Relations program provides insight on working with the media.


2 Responses to “Snowed: PR Does Not Stand For Press Release”

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  • Lucrecia Zona Libre Says:

    Thanks for the interesting read! Alright playtime is over and back to school work.

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