PR tips for surviving ‘Bad Advice’

Good Morning America has a series of videos on their site where they ask celebrities about the worst career advice they’ve been given. It made me think of how often PR people are given bad advice.

“Never call a journalist” is probably something you’ve heard a million times. Or “If one outlet has already covered it, don’t bother pitching others.” Or maybe “Don’t follow up with journalists. If you don’t hear back it means they didn’t like it.”

Just like the guy who tried to get supermodel Karlie Kloss to change her signature runway walk probably meant well, most advice we get is trying to be helpful. The problem is it comes from people who don’t truly understand today’s media landscape. In their defense, it has changed a lot over the last decade, and a lot of what used to work in PR doesn’t anymore.

Let’s start with the media you’re pitching. While NYT and WSJ still impress, they no longer offer the same reach they used to. There is likely a digital native site your boss has never heard of that actually reaches more of your target audience than traditional top-tier outlets.

And media is no longer the only target. Based on your audience, you could be pitching a well-known YouTuber, blogger or niche celebrity. If there is a third party your audience trusts, it’s worth your time to see if they’re a good fit for your org’s message.

For some of us it doesn’t seem that long ago that we pitched reporters by phone and email and that was about it. Now PR pros reach out via Twitter, Facebook, personal blogs or succinct replies to HARO requests. It takes time to determine the habits and preferences of your target journalist, but clearly sending out emails and waiting for a reply no longer works.

One of the biggest changes in the media landscape is what gets coverage. Are the new Halloween decorations at a small restaurant newsworthy? Not especially. Did CNN think their readers would like a story on it? They sure did. When clicks and shares determine success, journalists write to the interests of their audiences. If you can’t find a way to align your company message with those interests, you will not get far.

And since many journos are responsible for promoting their work and generating page views, savvy PR pros are now including ways they can drive traffic to the story when it runs (newsletter, social, even paid amplification).

One thing that hasn’t changed is the value successful PR adds to an organization. And we succeed when we anticipate and meet journalists’ needs.

I'd love to hear the worst PR advice you've ever received — let me know. Then if you'd like to know where you can meet and trade ideas with hundreds of savvy PR pros who all over adapting well, check out my Inner Circle. We open the doors for new members only a couple times a year.

This article was originally published on September 9, 2020

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