It’s time we all got a lot smarter (or we’ll be out of a job)

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Editor. Industry analyst. Blogger.

These are people PR folks routinely identify as influencers – those who get the distinct honor of getting bombarded with our pitches, introductory call requests and emails with “quick question…” as the subject line in the hopes they’ll mention our organization in an article. The problem though is that reporters are an endangered species, and more organizations are bypassing the middleman and producing their own content.

But as content marketing continues to rise, and more studies like this highlight the disconnect between companies buying into the idea of content marketing and actually developing content people care about, public relations professionals will need to develop a much better understanding of the markets where their companies (or clients) reside – as an editor or industry analyst would.

Not just your pitching angles and key messages, but an objective, fully encompassing understanding of your market – what’s influencing it, who’s your audience and where’s it heading.

This shouldn’t be news to you. This has been at the heart of every how-to-pitch-a-reporter article you’ve ever read. But it’s worth repeating because before it was just reporters who saw bad PR pitches that demonstrated a complete lack of understanding and relevance. They’d roll their eyes, delete the message and that would be that. Now though, each sales-y social media update, blog post or white paper demonstrates more and more how out of touch you are with your customers’ needs – and sets up an opportunity for your competition.

Before you hit the books, here are some things to keep in mind:

Brace yourself for some frustrating internal conversations

Great content is objective and self-aware – and without agenda. However, many executives, sales and marketing professionals try to shoehorn in promotional copy into any and all content. Often they’re resistant to a content plan that does little to nothing to directly promote the company and will likely need some time and long conversations to understand the value of letting your company name take a back seat to your organization’s expertise.

Read. Read a lot.

This is more than glancing at the media-monitoring recap your account coordinator sends each morning. You need to routinely read trade magazines and articles from the top reporters covering your industry. What topics are being discussed at your industry’s major conferences? Is there any legislation that could affect your industry – or your adjacent markets? These are things that can help shape and add value to your content. And don’t do this just so you can write better pitches to reporters. Do this so you can develop content that a reporter would write.

Don’t try to replace your internal experts

At the end of the day, our job as PR practitioners is to help tell our organization or clients’ stories and share their expertise, which is always best told by them. I’m not advocating we start behaving contrary to that. But in order for us to extract their expertise on a subject, we can’t simply ask, “So, what’s going on?” Our bosses and clients are busy and don’t always have time to openly speculate on their field of expertise. A good reporter comes to an interview with research on a subject and questions to help guide the conversation. We should do the same.

If you’re at an agency with several clients, you might be starting to panic. Take a step away from the ledge. You don’t need to be all things to all of your clients. Assign one person on your team to be the account expert who can keep everyone else up to speed.

Don’t expect this to all come together overnight. It takes time to develop a firm grasp on an entire industry. Ultimately your bosses and clients undoubtedly will value your insight to their profession, and your customers will appreciate your organization’s content that speaks to their needs and not your own.

Image: "Lewis Hine, Boy studying, ca. 1924" by Lewis HineLewis Hine: Boy studying, ca. 1924, based on file from the Library of Congress. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Greg Surber

Greg Surber, APR, is a public relations strategist through and through. He works on a variety of accounts, leading research projects and content strategies, but he also has extensive experience with more traditional PR efforts including national and trade media relations campaigns.

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