Stop Bashing Media Relations—More Important Than Ever

Elevated view of reporter holding microphoneI’ve been thinking a lot lately about how, somewhere along the line, the term “media relations” became such a derisive and reviled term within the public relations business. In the world of PR 2.0, Web 2.0 and everything 2.0, why have we suddenly come to the conclusion—seemingly as an entire industry—that media relations (i.e. the act of actually understanding and trying to help the media as a key function of PR professional’s job) is dead?  That now it’s all about bloggers, or reaching the hottest social media “influencers” and anyone else who can who has an online portal that has high enough uniques according to Compete or Quantcast.

Since when did treating the mainstream media with the respect that they, as seasoned professionals rightfully deserve, become such a low priority in PR? And why is it this way? That’s the question I keep asking myself. Coming from a sports PR background, where relationships with reporters and true media relations (i.e. providing the media with tons of facts, information and truly relevant/compelling story angles are the basis of a successful career) are vitally important, I’m starting to think it’s about time the PR business comes back to its senses a bit and realizes that if we want to get the respect we all know we deserve from both colleagues and other media professionals, then we need to give a vitally important part of our business—reporters—the respect they deserve.

In other words, stop throwing reporters to the street in favor of this year’s hot new media profession—the interactive media producer, the podcaster or the hottest new tech blogger, and start realizing that all of these people, including traditional reporters, are part of the collective media. That means our relationships with the media are way more important now than ever before. Simply because we have a much more diverse set of the media than has ever existed.

So the next time someone tries to convince you that media relations is dead, or “it’s more important that you get in front of the biggest ‘influencers’,” look them straight in the face as a true public relations professional and tell them they’re out of their mind. In today’s media environment, EVERYONE is the media.

And that makes truly excellent media relations more important than ever before.

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  • So true, Keith.

    PR pros must realize that social media, blogs, etc. are just a PART of the overall media relations effort.

  • keithtrivitt

    Tom – Exactly! And what I often find quite odd is that within the PR/marketing/advertising profession, the big thing now is for people to say “stop working within silos” or “think integrated,” yet if don't realize that like you say, social media, blogs, mainstream media, etc., are just a PART of the total media relations effort, then aren't we siloing (sp?) out our PR outreach efforts?

    Thanks for chiming in. I really like how you put that as it helped me think of a different perspective on this.

  • Siloing is actually a word! And, yes, I agree with you. The more integrated our approach, the more people we can reach. Not everyone reads blogs and not everyone reads newspapers, for example. Why not try for both, then?

  • megmroberts

    You sum it up well with “In today's media environment, EVERYONE is the media.”

    I think we're seeing an interesting split – most of us reading PRBC and interacting with each other on Twitter are online, and we either use digital PR in our profession because we have the experience or we are at least interested in social media. We're also inundated with comments from “social media gurus” claiming that media relations is dead.

    Conversely, I have many PR colleagues who work at small, boutique agencies that rarely reach out to bloggers or digital press – their sole focus is building relationships with print media contacts. They don't think media relations is going anywhere anytime soon, which is great, but they also aren't investigating opportunities online.

    As you pointed out, without integration, both sects could be missing big opportunities on behalf of their clients.

  • keithtrivitt

    Meg – It's interesting that you note the different dynamics that currently exist within the PR profession regarding some who are more adept than others at digital and social PR and who are using those tactics all the time in their outreach/media relations efforts, while others who work for agencies where for their clients, this is not yet a priority.

    I think above all, we need to realize that social media is a tool that helps us to enhance the entire public relations effort for our clients and organizations. It's not a complete replacement for building excellent relationships with any group: consumers, advocates, influencers or even the media. It is merely an enhancement, and we should combine digital/social PR efforts with traditional, as well as other means to get the job done that we are hired to do at an extremely high level.

    Thanks for chiming in!

  • dawnbryant

    Agree. But as practioners, I think we also need to realize that it's not about us being gatekeepers, spokespersons or even the ones with all of the ideas. We can show a lot of respect and understanding to everyone by sharing our audience expertise and communications know-how with those now on the frontlines…that means everyone. We can help them be better communicators and be more trusted by reporters, bloggers and all other media by helping our clients learn about messaging and delivering those messages well.

  • keithtrivitt

    Dawn – Good points, and thanks for chiming in with those. I certainly agree with you that as PR practitioners, our jobs should no longer be gatekeepers or the ones with the ideas. The profession has thankfully moved well beyond that, and I hope we can all agree that PR is in a much better place right now because of this realization by many of us.

    You make a good point re: we can actually help our clients become better communicators themselves by learning about how to deliver messages to different audiences via different communications platforms (MSM reporters, bloggers, online communities, etc.). My main point is that rather than constantly bashing the MSM and saying it's all dead, and that social/online communications are now king, why don't we just realize that ALL of these forms of media and communications should encompass a successful media relations outreach program, and that because social/online communications still are a form of media outreach, we should quit saying media relations is dead, and find a way to improve the process.

    Thanks again for helping to put a fresh perspective on this.

  • Keith, you know I agree with you that the PR organism is made up of all these important parts, and that mainstream media is one of them. But Imma play devil's a. for a moment and speak as a media consumer; there's a backlash against the mainstream media for very good reasons. Maybe some of that feeling has leeched into PR, and that's not good. But the fact is that the mainstream media no longer fills a need in many, many ways. Don't get me wrong; there are tons of great journos out there doing their jobs wonderfully. But there's also this onslaught of just downright junk; non-story stories; blown-up bylines. And now that consumers have a choice . . . .

    It's sad, but maybe the reason we just don't have the time to devote to the traditional media is because we're not sure if they're going to survive.

  • jeffespo

    Keith – interesting piece. As with anything that has gotten out of control, our industry needs a good kick in the pants or smack to the face. It's our job to work with journos and need to make an effort to build the relationship. Granted there is an evolution on both ends as TJ pointed out, but the question becomes are journos tuning us out because they are not sure if we'll be around in a few years. The community vibe in SM makes the information easier to get circulated, so one could wonder if non-adapted flacks will go the way of the paper.

  • keithtrivitt

    TJ – Good points all around, and I think I agree with you for the most part on all of this. It's difficult as a PR professional, because I think right now, we're all caught between two worlds: What our clients want and want the consumer wants from media, which are often two very, very different things.

    So do we try to strike a better balance between all of this, between MSM and social media outreach, or do we go with one approach far more than the other? I guess for me, I try to balance the two for the most part, but there are definitely times when certain scenarios and initiatives call for different forms of media, and then you have to skew one way or the other.

    And I guess that's really the crux of being a PR professional in the 21st Century: Figuring out – literally every day – how to effectively maintain this balance to drive great results. That's what makes this such a wonderful, and sometimes, incredibly frustrating, business!

  • keithtrivitt

    Oh man, Jeff! Like always, you have opened up another can of worms on this one … I like the question!

    I'm going to throw this one back to the community because honestly, I think it's one hell of a great question:

    FOLKS: What do you think: Are journos and much of the media (both mainstream and bloggers/online) starting to tune out PR pros because they realize that we may be expendable?

  • rachelakay

    Keith,

    Great post. I could sit and chat about this very topic for hours. Media relations isn't dead by any means. The landscape is changing, but there are still thousands of reporters writing the same types of stories they always have been. I'll probably get smacked in the head for this one, but I think it's often the new age of self-proclaimed PR practitioners who weren't raised to understand the heritage of journalism. It's easy to get sucked into the latest buzzwords, but the press is still alive and well.

    Thanks for sharing some great thoughts.

    Rachel Kay

  • @jaykeith

    Given there's been a huge flock of journalists moving into PR in the past year plus, I'd say that they think we're going to be around for quite a while. But bottom line, communication with any and all types of media is going to evolve, and those that do it well will always have a job. But to the larger point that everyone is media, that's true to some degree. I'd actually say that you have to look at any media person (of any kind) through different colored glasses, and adapt accordingly. While a blogger wants the same amount of respect as a journo, they don't play by the same rules, and they also want to be treated differently, whether they admit it or not. This is going to continue to happen. So create and adapt your own communication strategy with each group, and apply it accordingly, especially if it's effective. But some rules will always apply – showing respect, delivering on promises, and being targeted in your communication. That will never change.

  • tressalynne

    Excellent post, Keith. I was talking with a prospective (shameful plug: BurrellesLuce Media Contacts) client this morning and I'll definitely refer back to your post in future conversations! I find myself referring to media as “traditional media” and “new” or “social media” – when as you point out … it's ALL media! And, it's all collectively important to PRers and their clients.

  • keithtrivitt

    Jay – Great point re: the need to look at any media person (of any kind) through different colored glasses. And that's really the beauty of our profession is that IF you take the time to do that (which I think we can all agree that you should), then you have the ability to have a varying degree of communication, interaction and frankly learning from others from a wide variety of people, skill sets, interests, etc.

    What I think will be interesting in the coming years is what will happen if/when all of the social mediums and platforms out there get to the point of saturating the market so much that consumers start to think of THEM as the mainstream media? Are we going to go through this cycle all over again?

    I don't know, but certainly something interesting to think about.

  • Keith, You're right about finding the balance!

    Traditional media is transitioning, into what no one really knows but at least some part of that includes social media. As a true PR professional, you have to respect the EVERYONE is in the media. You cannot sacrifice one for the other, but need to respect both.

    On your other question, I'm not sure journos think PR is expendable; they recognize we're also in transition, developing and evolving along with new and social media.

  • keithtrivitt

    So we should all evolve together (media and PR) … one big happy, evolving, still-trying-to-figure-everything-out family, right?

    I like that idea, a lot. Let's look at this as we're all in it together. Like I said, if WE as PR pros want the respect we know that we deserve, we can't go around bashing certain sectors of the media world that still are important and that we still need to value and work with on a day-to-day basis, even if there are other, maybe more cool/flashy forms of media out there now.

  • keithtrivitt

    RAK – Excellent points all around, particularly the fact that the media landscape is very much in flux right now (just like the PR biz), but there are still many reporters writing the same very high quality stories as they always have (just like there are still many PR pros who are doing the same great work as before, even while their jobs and responsibilities are shifting with more online work). While a reporter may be taking on new tasks with live blogging during events, tweeting or maybe creating some cool infographics instead of a traditional written piece, it's all part of the overall media relations process, and we, as PR pros, need to respect that and give them the proper respect they deserve as hard-working professionals.

    Tressa – Glad my post can be of service to you and your client work! Always happy to help out individuals and the industry at large. Thanks for the really nice compliment 🙂

  • Some PR professionals fail to see the value in pitching traditional media and feel they are above them.

    That's the wrong attitude as your post clearly conveys. I agree completely.

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  • heatherwhaling

    Keith, I think it all goes back to the importance of an integrated approach to communication. A company would be foolish to only implement “offline” communication … just as a company would be silly to abandon all traditional communication in favor of only communicating online. A strong mix of online and offline tactics will deliver better results every time.

    Good reminder 🙂

    Heather
    @prTini

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  • I think true journalism will always been here to stay and bloggers will never replace good ol' fashioned news writing.

  • Keith, I'm a little late to the post, but wanted to agree with you that media relations isn't dead — at least, not any more dead than messaging (http://bit.ly/8xE4FA), or audience analysis, or any other aspect of PR except, perhaps, buggy whip outreach.

    The Death of The Media is being a bit oversold, especially by people who stand to gain by its demise. Yes, fewer people are reading newspapers (but the WSJ and USA Today are doing OK), there are fewer viewers of national broadcast network news (but Fox and CNN aren't dying, nor is CNBC, and Fox Business is new, and Bloomberg is still a winner).

    Sure, the Seattle PI is online only, the Wash Times has killed its sports section, and many local papers in mid-markets are struggling. But the process of relating to objective third parties is still a huge part of PR.

    The sea change in media may take ten years — do we stop using media relations because of that? Who knows what will happen in ten years?

    PR certainly is going to change, particularly for practitioners who are used to living and dying by their media black book — but the skills and talents we bring are still going to be needed in either new or old media.

    Rock on!
    Sean
    @commammo

  • keithtrivitt

    Sean – Thanks for chiming in. No problem being late to the game! You provided some great insight that had not been said yet, and I really appreciate that.

    You make a really valid point that the core of the PR business (market/industry/audience analysis, executive visibility, advocacy development, etc.) really will not change. Those aspects are always going to be important and will always be a big part of what we do.

    What is changing right now is who we reach for these types of analysis and how we reach them. But at the end of the day, we are still looking to build and enhance brands and create positive brand associations for companies. And media relations is a big part of that, particularly when the advertising industry is declining – rapidly – and earned media still weighs heavier on consumer's and decision-maker's minds than does paid media.

    Going forward, it will be the role of the PR practitioner to continue to understand that everything around us is changing – just the same way it always has in the world – but at the end of the day, we can never, ever forget about or lose sight of the importance of well-qualified media and our relationships with them. As long as we live in a democratic society, we will need strong journalists to tell tremendous stories, and we can do a great deal to help companies get those stories told and find some great customers who want to have their lives shaped and impacted by those stories through the effective use of our really strong relationships with the media.

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