PR – In Media Relations, the “P” stands for “Personal”

I don’t watch much TV, and when I do it’s usually programs I have recorded so I can skip the commercials, but the other day I saw a commercial that caught my eye and got me thinking about PR.

The commercial depicted a couple approaching their local bank in an attempt to walk in and talk to a live person only to be stopped at the front door by a bank employee to let them know that if they were looking to perform a transaction, the ATM machine was just down the block.  Pressing on, they reiterate their intention is simply to speak with a live person when another bank employee comes out and states, “Is there a problem here?”

Frustrated, the couple walks away as the voiceover reminds the viewer that in a world of impersonal banking largely done online, their bank is always open and live people are available to talk to you at any time.

PR, specifically media relations, has gone through a radical metamorphosis with the advent of the Internet and social media, providing tools, resources and access to data we once thought unimaginable.  Resources like Muck Rack, Gist, HARO, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter among many others, have provided PR pros unprecedented media access to identify targets and pitch stories and ideas to increase exposure and drive sales for clients.  The digital age has radicalized our profession and we celebrate the myriad of tools at our disposal to perform our jobs successfully.

Any seasoned PR pro can tell you that one of the lessons social media has taught us is that an effective way to cut through the clutter and actually get noticed by a journalist is to personalize our approach.  Ever read Dale Carnegie’s book How To Win Friends & Influence People? It truly is one of the most prolific self help books written and is chock full of effective advice on how to take any situation and make it work to your advantage.  One of the Principles that Mr. Carnegie points out is “Become genuinely interested in other people.” — Genuinely.

In other words, make it personal.  Now I’m pretty sure that he didn’t offer this advice with the PR profession in mind but the lesson we can learn from this is that if we truly want to capture media attention and drive coverage for our cause, we are advised to take a personal interest in the targeted journalist.  Commenting on stories they write, understanding and respecting their point of view, being respectful of their deadlines, engaging them in conversation via communication platforms, and offering tips on research available to make their job easier are all examples of how we build relationships with the media in the hope that when we are eventually ready for the pitch, they are more likely to take notice.  Remember though that journalists can quickly sniff out those PR pros that are genuinely interested in their work vs. those that are simply sycophantic and don’t give a hoot about anything other than their own needs.

Adopting a personal approach to media relations is a meticulous task and requires an investment in time and attention to detail.  It’s easy in the digital age to forget that despite the enormity of our task to be the one called upon among a room full of people with their hands raised in the air along with the pressure to deliver results, the speed and real time ability to communicate requires us to actually go slower and strategize our approach or we get swallowed up by the multitude of other people vying for attention.

Developing personal relationships with the media is a key tactic to ensure success for your efforts.  Since relationships matter more than ever in an increasingly crowded PR bird’s nest where everyone is pushing and shoving to get the next worm, take the time to make it personal.

What effective strategies can you share that help to establish a personal relationship with the media?

John Trader is a Public Relations and Social Media Specialist with M2SYS Technology, a recognized industry leader in biometric identity management technology.  Follow John on Twitter @John_Trader1

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  • Svilardo2

    John, I love “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” That was one of the first books I read out of college. It is so important to build relationships. I like your point to figure out ways to make their job easier. That is what we are trying to do for our client, so why stop there? Why not keep going and continue to do that after you have pitched your client. We are often so quick to get what we want and move on. Cherish the relationships you worked so hard to form. If for nothing else, at least for the person you have grown to know.u

    • Good points, thanks for the comments.  A while back I read a blog post (I neglected to bookmark it or else I would send you the link) about a PR Pro who sends along a link to her Delicious profile (which contains research, articles, blog posts, etc.) when she pitches her targeted media.  Sort of like sending a mini-library of research along with the pitch to back up her point and make the job easier for the journalist.  I thought that was a brilliant idea and really personalized her approach.

  • John, great things to keep in mind. Having “personalization” as a doctrine and doing it as a practice are certainly different things, and, ironically enough, I think technology itself can help us, just like your example of including a Delicious profile, which is a great example and great advice (we can’t have a genuine relationship unless we make ourselves and our work available). One piece of indispensable tech for PR is a pretty obvious one: search. I’m not talking about SEO, but looking up a media contact’s most recent work and only pitching to those that are covering the most germane topics. This is professional personalization, an awareness and accommodation of someone else’s work. In my experience talking to journalists (and I do it everyday, as I’m sure most of your readers do), personalization really means this, knowing what their CURRENT beat or projects are and knowing whether or not your pitch will help them cover it. 

    • Ryo – all great reminders, thanks for the feedback.  Journalists sure can tell nowadays those PR Pros who have done their homework vs. those that are going through the motions.  It just bewilders me that anyone in PR wouldn’t take the time to personalize their approach in media relations before the pitch or just to better understand the vertical they are operating in.

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