Managing Expectations for Earned Media Placements

I was talking the other day to a longtime journalist who, about a year ago, came over to the “dark side.” He took a position doing public relations for a nonprofit organization. His role as head of communications is not atypical – media relations, writing content, organizing webinars and a dash of community relations thrown in. 

Like many journalists, he has made the transition seamlessly, and the skills that he had as a reporter have translated well to PR. He’s enjoyed not having daily tight deadlines, not having to do the work of three reporters (given all the downsizing), not hearing from readers nitpicking one thing or another. And there is much for him to like about crafting messages and telling the organization’s story to the public. 

He’s someone who has been dealing with public relations practitioners for more than 35 years, so he had a good sense of the kind of work he would be undertaking. When I asked him if he was surprised by anything in this new role, I wasn’t sure what he would say.

“To be honest, what’s surprised me are the assumptions that it’s easy to place a story in the media,” he confessed. “People have these expectations that all you have to do is wave your hand, and you can make a story happen.”

Welcome to public relations, where managing expectations is an important part of the agency-client relationship. 

Media relations is hard

The fact is, media relations is hard. Sure, you can give yourself a leg up by understanding how the media works and how to write a persuasive pitch. And it helps if you have relationships with reporters and know the kinds of things they cover. But at the end of the day, even when you do everything right, even when the story you are pitching is compelling and important, you are still at the mercy of news outlets that are inundated with pitches, of reporters who don’t have enough hours in the day to do their work, of a shrinking media market where there are fewer outlets to pitch by the day.

We have a client that puts a premium on earned media. It believes that stories in the news are the best way to raise awareness and engender credibility. There was a time when that was likely true, especially when major outlets collectively reached a large swath of the public. But these days, the media is so fragmented – and with people getting news from so many non-traditional platforms – it’s hard to make the case that placements in the media should be the be-all, end-all.

Content is king

To my mind, the most effective arrow in the public relations quiver is a content management strategy – creating stories (often in the form of blogs) and pushing them out in a targeted way to important audiences via social media platforms. You control the messaging. You control the timing. You control the images, the quotes and the frequency. With a small amount of advertising dollars to propel them, these stories will find their way to the people you are most interested in reaching.

The predisposition toward media relations over content is ingrained in the minds of many longtime marketers. But if our client mix is any indication, a transformation is underway.  We are seeing more and more businesses recognize the power and efficiency of a content management program.

And not incidentally, for storytellers who used to be journalists, content programs are an excellent way to manage expectations.

Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

Read more by Josh

Leave a Reply

Sign up to receive our blog posts by email