Aug 2023

Making the P in PR stand for personal

Written by Carl Escoffier

Making the P in PR stand for personal

If you asked someone even a decade or two ago what working in public relations was like, they’d probably talk about briefings that turn into three-hour lunches, phones constantly off the hook and drinks with journalists going into the later hours of the night. Now? Not so much. 

A lot has changed in the way that PRs engage with the press. Namely, the aftershock of the global pandemic has meant that you can’t reliably assume a journalist will be at their central London office, or in an office at all. That means ringing their desk number will likely send you to voicemail, and ringing a journalist’s mobile number is often a big no-no unless you already have an established relationship with them. For a while, Twitter, namely DMing, became a reliable alternative to getting through to top-tier journalists. However, Musk seems hell-bent on destroying the foundations of that app and has removed most of, if not all features that enable you to do that. Meanwhile, BlueSky and Threads don’t seem to have the same mass appeal and are mostly used for personal, rather than professional reasons.

So where does that leave the humble PR? In a bid to stand out, we have markedly fewer ways to get journalists’ attention, therefore we have to be creative. Here are just some of the ways to truly engage with the press.

Tip 1- Actually learn what they do

The advice may sound obvious but it is probably the biggest frustration felt by journalists. Why would an economics reporter take a story about Human Resources? Why would a defence correspondent care about the state of UK insurance? Knowing, at least at a base level, what the journalist covers is an easier way to get a fluid conversation going. From then on, build up your knowledge of their special interests. They may be a technology reporter, but frequently tweet about the state of UK defence, giving you an in to pitch your cybersecurity piece! 

Tip 2- Don’t oversell

When you finally get a journalist to reply to your email or phone call, you may be thinking that as you barely get a chance to speak to them, you should fire off every possible idea/angle/story that you have. While a double sell in certain cases may work, this can harm you in the long run, as it looks like you’re just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks, rather than have a meaningful conversation.

Instead, leave a breadcrumb trail of stories when speaking to a journalist like ‘Oh you don’t like this bit of news? No worries at all, FYI – I have a report coming out in a few weeks that I think you’ll be keen on.’ You come across as more credible and have a great reason to get back to them in the future with something that could actually work. 

Tip 3- When in doubt, appeal to the human side 

Working in corporate PR often makes you feel as though your outreach needs to be as formal as possible, to match the tone of your clients. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Speaking to journalists like humans, whether it’s by making jokes, using popular culture to explain your clients’ work or asking about their weekend plans, will more likely create an actual connection with the journalist.

At the end of the day, the state of modern media and journalism is hard, really hard. Being personable and understanding with the journalists you speak with is a proven way to make long-lasting connections. Not only is it worth it for short-term success with clients, but for your long-term career in the PR industry.

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