Twenty years ago, "traditional" media outlets — newspapers, magazines, television, radio, etc. — were all that consumers knew. The Internet was still in its infancy, and landing a spot on a talk show or an article in a large print publication was enough to guarantee that your story would be heard.
Fast forward to 2014, an era of click bait, short attention spans, and an endless number of different communications channels. As media consumption continues to shift into the digital realm, both print and online publications have had to adjust their strategies to adapt. On the other side of the equation are the public relations professionals who help provide media outlets with their content — and they've had some adjusting of their own to do.
"The media landscape as a whole is changing," said Sabina Gault, CEO and founder of Konnect PR. "People don't get their news in the same way they did five or 10 years ago. [Online articles and content on] tablets and e-readers have more pictures, videos, pop-ups, sidebars, links — it's so much easier to get distracted. Traditional media is not enough to create PR value."
"The PR landscape has evolved to the point where the most effective practitioners are the ones who see themselves as facilitators of content, and know how to adjust their communication efforts on a situational basis," added Matt Rizzetta, CEO of North 6th Agency public relations firm. "The media landscape is more expansive than ever before, with so many layers and nuances. The ones who can see clearly through all of the clutter and adjust their outreach strategies are the ones who will continue to reap the benefits."
The social media effect
The rise of social networks in recent years has been one of the greatest agents of change in the media and PR industries. Not only have sites like Facebook and Twitter affected the content strategies of journalists and PR professionals, they've changed the way effectiveness is measured as well.
"PR has gone from measuring straight media coverage to being able to measure actual impact with the target audience," said Ivan Ristic, co-founder and president of Diffusion PR. "PR has always been and continues to be about brilliant storytelling. This is even more profound in social media. Now, a great PR campaign relies not only on a journalist to tell the story for a brand, but for its target audience to engage with it and share it far and wide. Content is king, and the most effective PR strategies today manage to flawlessly appeal to both journalist and consumer with compelling, authentic stories." [The Big Three PR Tactics That Just Don't Work Anymore]
Social media can also provide a new way of connecting with members of the media, said Katherine Niefeld, president and CEO of BlinkPR.
"Many PR strategies today have turned to a more social media-based approach, [such as] tweeting at editors or using Linked In to connect with top media outlets and buyers," Niefield told Business News Daily. "The response is much quicker, and it allows for a different way to catch attention and connect with a desired audience."
MJ Pedone, CEO and founder of Indra PR, agreed, noting that PR professionals and business owners looking for coverage should use social media to build strong relationships with writers.
"[Social media is] one of the most effective ways to get the attention of the journalists," Pedone said. "Following and reading different journalists' stories daily and commenting on them in a positive tone will help capture their attention, build a relationship and make pitching stories easier."
What to do
Given the evolving media landscape, there are a few highly effective tactics that PR professionals recommend for fellow agencies and small businesses doing their own public relations.
Measure your results. Measurement-centric practices will pave the way for the future of PR, Rizzetta said. With PR results being easier to trace than ever before, the brands that embrace this change and use measurement practices to analyze business outcomes against PR results will be the ones that get ahead of the game.
Be transparent and provide great content. Google has been cracking down on online publications for bad SEO and low-quality content. PR agencies can help improve the overall caliber of information on the Web by creating great content to pitch and share from the beginning.
"We're seeing more and more companies and brands hiring their own content teams to generate authentic content for their target audiences to consume, engage with and share," Ristic said. "In coming years, PR will also become more transparent and accountable, facing the same scrutiny as all other channels of communication."
Choose communication methods carefully. Inundating a media contact with every form of communication rarely works, Gault said. Instead, PR professionals should to be aware of the channels their sources prefer — email, text message, Twitter, etc. — and adapt to that for a greater chance of response. People don't mind knowing what's out there, she said. It's just a matter of reaching them with the right communication method.
What not to do
There are also some surefire strategies that will land your pitch in a journalist's trash folder. Keep these things in mind when you're pitching, and adjust your methods accordingly if necessary.
'Spray and pray' won't get results. In a time when information about reporters and their work is readily available, there's no excuse for sending an irrelevant, template-style pitch. Pedone reminded PR professionals that just because a person is a journalist doesn't mean he or she will write about your story. Research which topics each journalist covers and send your story/pitch to the appropriate publication.
"Over-pitching a client to get results is frowned upon," Niefield added. "Securing articles by writing a strong, well-angled, newsworthy email is much more effective."
PR pitches are not sales pitches. Rizzetta noted that some of the most severe mistakes he's seen companies make when rolling out new PR initiatives have been the result of overselling their products, and assuming the end user can't distinguish between sales jargon and an objective PR perspective. Don't blur the lines between marketing messages and public relations, he said.
You're not unique. You (or your client) may believe that you have a truly exceptional story to tell. But to a journalist, who likely receives hundreds of pitches a day each claiming to have a "unique" and amazing idea, it may not seem that way.
"Sometimes you need to do a reality check," Gault said. "PR professionals should be managing expectations with their clients. Everybody wants to be featured everywhere, but that's not how it works. Be targeted, but progressive in your media approach."
Originally published on Business News Daily.