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2023 has been rough on old-timers—which offers valuable PR lessons

by | Dec 14, 2023 | Public Relations

With only a few weeks left in the year, one thing is a certainty: 2023 has not been a very good year for old-timers, especially on the political and sports scenes. But in our business, some old-time tenets that date back to the Founding Fathers of public relations are still treated as if they were written on indestructible granite, when they should have been smashed into pebbles decades ago.

On the political scene, President Biden is the subject of an impeachment inquiry by House Republicans, who also attack him for being too old to seek reelection because he is 81 years old. His presumptive opponent, the 77-years-old former President Donald Trump, indicted four times as of this writing, might have to change his expensive suits for the garbs convicted felons are allowed to wear. And two powers in the Senate, GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, were consistently under the spotlight because of health issues. Only one thing is certain: old-age problems are bipartisan.

On the sports scene, where old age occurs at what none athletes consider middle age, aging problems doomed the New York Mets’ hope for a World Series trophy and also killed the New York Jets’ chance of competing in the Super Bowl.

The Mets counted on two future Hall of Farmers, Max Scherzer, 39, and Justin Verlander, 40, to win enough regular season games to assure a postseason appearance. But both spent as much time on the sidelines as they did on the mound, and shortly after mid-season the Mets decided to trade them for a bunch of unproven minor league players. Why? Because they were probably half the age of Scherzer and Verlander.

Likewise, during the off-season the Jets signed Aaron Rodgers, 40, hoping he would lead the team to the Big Game, Super Bowl 58. But after receiving only four snaps in the first game of the season, Rodgers suffered an injury that might keep him from the playing field for the remainder of the schedule.

Would Rodgers have been able to avoid the injury that ended his season if he was as mobile as he was a few seasons ago, when he was younger? We’ll never know. But we do know that for both the Jets and Mets, past performance was no guarantee of present results. 

And PR people should remember that.

If you would ask me what the above has to do with public relations, I would say it provides an important lesson: Many aged PR strategies that were crafted by the Fathers of Public Relations when dinosaurs roamed the Earth should be placed on the sidelines.

Below are a few of those old-time PR religion tenets that I have never followed:

1) Keep pitches concise because journalists don’t have time to read long pitches

I never understood, unless you’re pitching a well-known celebrity, why PR people thought that a one-graph pitch, or even worse, a snappy line in the subject box of an email, could explain why a story is worth covering. All my written pitches are structured like full-length feature stories. As a former journalist, I knew that if I liked the first graph of a pitch, I would continue reading if the following graphs made sense to me. I’ve never had a journalist tell me that my pitches are too long. In fact, some reporters used much of my pitch in their copy.

2) Never pitch the same story to more than one individual at a news outlet at the same time

Of course you can. Just make certain that each individual you pitch knows the names of others who are receiving the same pitch.

3) When pitching via telephone, always do so in an excited voice to give the impression that you have an important story

It doesn’t matter if you pitch in the tone of a baseball announcer describing the winning run of the World Series or as an actor in “Hamlet.” It’s the news or feature value of the pitch that will determine its fate. (Although, if you sing your pitch, chances are the reporter will listen to its conclusion.)

4) When offering an image, always accompany it with a short caption

Nonsense. Provide enough information along with the image so the caption writer can determine what to write and how long the caption should be.

5) Always send a TV producer B-roll when pitching a story

I never understood this for several reasons: 

  • If producers like a pitch, they can get their own visuals to accompany the interview; 
  • Agency-provided B-roll is seldom used on major stations (and I consider an interview on a minor station with limited viewers a waste of a client’s time and money—although it fattens the agency’s results report); 
  • Most interviews are done without visuals, as any account executive who pays attention to TV media should know. I’ve never had a producer ask if I could provide B-roll, but I’ve had a very few ask if I could provide a tape of a client’s appearance on non-competitive shows from other cities to see if they are “TV ready,” and;
  • A strong story is the most important element in gaining an interview.

6) Bad news should be announced on a Friday, weekend or holiday

Unfortunately, many people in our business still believe that outdated PR tenet. That might have been true decades ago when Saturday newspapers had much less editorial space than during the week. It hasn’t made sense since the 24-hour news cycle.

The best advice I’ve given to young PR pros is to not look to the past when planning projects or follow the trite and outdated ABC rules in PR communications textbooks. Many of them do not make sense outside the classroom. The media is constantly changing. Not all reporters approach stories or deal with PR people the same way. Think for yourself and change your media approach according to the situation. After doing so for a while you’ll develop your own rules, which certainly will be more up-to-date than those in your expensive required college texts (which might have been written by your teachers). Conflict of interest? You decide.

And importantly: When making presentations to the people who control the budget, always say nice things about your client contact because when things turn sour, a friendly client report can turn lemons into lemonade.

If there’s one important lesson that PR people should take away from 2023, it’s that they shouldn’t rely on ancient PR tenets that are still practiced

The acquisitions by the New York Mets and New York Jets are proof that “thinking new” is often much better than “thinking old.” That’s especially true in our business, where so many programs are carbon copies of past ones. And that’s why so many PR pitches turn off reporters and producers. Give them something new and your chances of scoring are 100 percent better than the New York Giants, New York Jets and New York Mets did in 2023.

Arthur Solomon
Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He has been a key player on Olympic marketing programs and also has worked at high-level positions directly for Olympic organizations. During his political agency days, he worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com.

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