Media results and coverage are core deliverables for most companies that seek PR agency support. Nevertheless, today’s PR agencies are too easily distracted by other communications disciplines and mechanics, thereby neglecting the fundamentals required to be effective in the results-focused world of media relations. In a rush to adopt newer specializations, such as ESG, strategic counsel, high-level content production and creative excellence—the industry has neglected the importance of human-to-human relationships. Moreover, the pandemic diluted our ability to foster in-person connections, as annual conferences and routine meetings had to be virtual, eliminating critical face-to-face interactions.
According to a recent survey by GRC, it is likely that PR agencies have forgotten how much media relationships truly matter (emphasis on relationships). The connection between PR professionals and journalists is fraying, and it’s time we invested more in rapport-building by returning to the roots of public relations. Focusing on the strategic management of relationships will reforge and strengthen the longstanding links which once joined PR agencies and the media together.
How to create better relationships
When building any friendship, the relationship must go both ways—anything too one-sided would be considered by many to be unhealthy or even toxic. Similarly, it should come as no surprise that professionals desire respect. Human nature is the same whether someone is in or outside of the work environment.
In the survey conducted by GRC, 1,026 members of the U.S. media across all industries took the time to answer questions that covered a wide range of topics, including what they appreciated most and least from public relations professionals. While the results showed that 62 percent of journalists still see their relationship with PR pros as important, the reciprocity of the past has waned as 56 percent of journalists said that PR people don’t respect or understand what they need.
It’s necessary to return to some of the foundational principles of media relations to restore the deteriorating bonds between PR and the media.
Although 80 percent of journalists rely on the PR industry for news, over half admitted that they often receive inaccurate information. Relationships grow and thrive off consistency—no one likes a friend who may or may not follow through with their promises. It’s up to us to put in the work to make sure the material we provide is reliable and delivered promptly.
As stated earlier, any honest partnership must be reciprocal. By respecting business objectives and not taking advantage of each other, the PR industry will foster a symbiotic relationship with the media and not a parasitic one.
Of all the content journalists receive (releases, pitches, article abstracts), 45% felt that the content was only somewhat helpful, and 11% thought it was not helpful at all. PR agencies must deeply understand the needs of reporters, along with their outlets and audiences.
Too often, journalists feel that the PR industry is full of salespeople. One day, PR pros will bombard journalists with emails only to go dark for months once they have gotten what they wanted. The best way to communicate with a journalist is in a continuous, honest and time-sensitive manner. When paired with the previous principles, this form of communication will help diminish the stereotype that we are salesmen looking to make a quick buck.
There’s nothing more offensive than being called a spin doctor. Yet, that is just what the PR industry is notorious for doing. PR professionals should promote the most positive and unique aspect of a story, product or service, rather than exaggerating or downplaying it. Delivering on authenticity will be very beneficial in the long run.
Reputation is a PR agency’s one constant; the thing they can rely on to meet challenges of legitimacy. Consider reputation management to be like a garden. Media relations is a long game, and an agency will always reap what they sow. Planting “relationship seeds” will result in a fruitful crop for years to come.
The Golden Rule still applies
Although a story’s life cycle begins with PR professionals, we should recognize that we are in an equilateral triangle relationship comprised of three stakeholders—journalists, companies and PR practitioners—all dependent on one another in an expanding ecosystem. By knowing our place in that ecosystem and by applying the golden rule to media relationships, we can build a more genuine and long-lasting connection with the media.