The Gong Blog

Should we stop doing media relations because it’s hard?


The shrinking media landscape. The pitches that generate zero response. The new technologies that allow for a more direct conversation and instant gratification. As PR folks, the growing question on our minds is should we stop trying to engage with the media at all?

I’m not blaming anyone here, so if you are a member of the media and reading this, please don’t think that I think it is your fault.

As we’ve discussed before media relations throughout history has been difficult to measure and put a true value on. In the past, though, you could count on a certain amount of frequency and tonnage. Nothing made a client’s eyes bug out of their head more than the slam of a giant clipbook filled with feature stories and pictures featuring their boss, their company and/or their product.

While you never truly could draw a direct line from that “slam” to the sound of money being made, you could at least show how your work as a media relations pro was paying off in some way.

I fear those days are fewer and far between.

But does that mean as we create content online that we control and drive target audiences to it without the “help” of our media brothers and sisters that we should punt on earned, traditional media relations once and for all? Does it mean that since we are not as instantly gratified that we should not take our place in the batter’s box and take a swing?

I still think the answer is no, but some attitude adjusting is in order:

  • Agencies need to find the right clients who understand the new realities and know it could take months to get them the coverage they desire. Especially if that coverage is of the “Holy Grail” variety. Whether that’s Ellen or the Wall Street Journal for some or a targeted trade publication for others. If the client doesn’t understand those realities, then we need to rethink working for them.
  • We need to give ourselves permission to take the swings in the first place. Just because it is harder than it was five years ago doesn’t mean we should stop trying. We actually have better tools today (Google, social channels, etc.) to find the right reporters.
  • We also need to realize that we will fail much more than we did in the past. Media relations is now the true “long-haul play.” It will be the rare case that you can hit the home run right out of the box anymore. This is very difficult for millennial PR folks to understand and deal with since they HATE failure and think it means they aren’t good at what they do.
  • We should encourage our clients not to put all their eggs in the media relations basket. This is a tough one for clients that are old school or don’t really understand PR. But more times than not, assignments that focus solely on media relations lead to tough client-agency conversations in a short period of time because of lack of results.
  • Media relations, as always, should not be done in a vacuum but as part of a broader strategic-communications approach that allows for success in other areas while you slug it out for media relations success.

As we enter 2016 this is the new reality for media relations pros and for agencies that still lead with it as a practice.

Media relations is hard, it doesn’t instantly gratify, it doesn’t provide tonnage, and in most cases it doesn’t make the phone ring. But at the end of the day, it does provide the value of third-party endorsement, creates awareness and can be leveraged for sales purposes.

Should we stop? No.

Should we set better expectations? Yes.

Should we cut ourselves a break? Absolutely.

Free download: 5 reasons your media relations strategy is failing

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POSTED IN: Media Relations, Public Relations

Jon Newman

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1 Comment

  1. Beverly M. Payton

    Amen Jon. You are spot on about the need to educate our clients about the changing dynamics of the mass media landscape. As a journalism refugee, I often lament about the drastic shift I’ve seen in mass media coverage from useful information focused on the public interest in favor of sensational coverage focused on sports and celebrity.
    Newsrooms now have fewer journalists, most of whom are assigned to multiple beats. Their performance evaluations are now often based on how many RTs their Twitter feed gets or how many folks post a comment on their blog. So naturally they gravitate to stories the generate that kind of engagment—usually conflict and controversy.
    Those of us who are old enough to remember the two-handed heft of the Sunday newspaper a few decades ago have a tangible reminder of the incredibly shrinking news hole.
    Clients must accept the fact that very often their owned media is a more effective and efficient channel for delivering key messages to their most important target audiences.  Even if you get a coveted placement in a top tier media outlet is no guarantee that those readers or viewers will be inclined to heed your call to action.
    The rules of PR engagement haven’t changed. Before we invest time and money in a campaign we must have a clear understanding of:
    1. Who is our TARGET AUDIENCE? (Hint: It’s almost never “everyone.”)
    2. Where do THEY look for information?
    3. What do we want them to DO?
    Often, after we answer those questions, a news release is not a recommended tactic.

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