Daniel Tisch calls it “the penny-dropping moment.” Although leading a PR agency as CEO will always have its fair share of surprises, a member of his team came back from a meeting with a client a few years ago with some particularly ominous feedback.
“(The client) said to one of our consultants, ‘We’ll let you know if we need PR this year,’” Tisch recalled. “I sat in my office and thought about that. I realized that the client’s view of what PR was only related to what you do when you’ve got an announcement — or a crisis.”
Many comms professionals have come to realize the importance of proving their value, and Tisch didn’t waste any time. In 2015 his firm, Argyle Public Relations, rebranded to “Argyle Public Relationships” — a subtle but significant shift in emphasizing how he and his team are not only fluent in digital channels but in connecting with media and other stakeholders in a way that delivers results for clients.
Argyle didn’t just change its name, of course. As Tisch explained, the rise of content marketing, social media and technologies like artificial intelligence have dominated discussions in an industry that may need to revisit the fundamentals — like being on good enough terms with a journalist that you can actually pick up the phone and have your call answered.
“It’s that idea of going back to the roots of PR and focusing on the strategic management of relationships, in a way which only humans can do, and where PR are the only professionals who can do it in a way that’s ethical and effective,” he said.
Getting Back to PR Fundamentals
There is some evidence this shift is already underway. In its recently released 2018 Global Communications Report, for example, the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations surveyed PR pros about the kind of talent they are seeking to attract and develop. Some of the high-priority abilities will sound very familiar to seasoned veterans of the profession.
“Research and analytics are an increasingly important source, along with advertising and marketing (skills),” the report said. However, “Traditional expertise still tops the list of skills communications departments and PR firms view as key to success over the next five years.”
The big question is what is considered a “traditional” or fundamental skill. The report showed writing skills topped the list at 89 per cent, for instance, while the more generic “media relations” was cited by only 63 per cent. Of course, media relations could refer to blasting out mass e-mails as much as it could refer to diligently researching the right influencers, taking the time and effort to get to know them and even following them as they move from one outlet to another.
How to Create Better Relationships With Journalists
According to Adrienne Scordato, CEO and Founder at New York-based Atrium PR, working with integrity and professionalism will lay the foundation to establish a more genuine relationship with the media, regardless of their preferred channels.
“The best way to get to know a journalist (or anyone frankly) is to communicate often, honestly and with the person’s best interests and needs in mind. It takes time to gain someone’s trust,” she said. “But I find that if you don’t ‘spin’ a story, but deliver it in an authentic, real way, you can never go wrong. And never lie.”
Other common sense — but often forgotten — PR basics include doing your homework and putting yourself in the media’s place, rather than trying to find a shortcut to a particular editor or reporter, Scordato continued.
“On the PR agency side, I think we all need to deeply understand a reporter’s beat and the publication’s audience and pitch strategically based on their needs – not strictly our own,” she said, adding that timeliness matters too. “Everyone should respond within 24 hours. I think it is easy to say ‘You don’t know how many emails I get in a day,’ and that is no excuse. We all have to pull our weight and be respectful of other people’s time.”
Tisch agrees, describing Argyle’s approach as one of “narrowcasting” and tailoring a pitch.
“You always need to have a clear, ‘on the record’ statement in a news release in terms of how you’re responding to an issue and so on, but we also have to ensure we can deliver that content and break it up and reassemble it in a variety of different ways,” he said. “It’s about going deeper and going more customized to their needs.”
Knowing you’ve mastered the elements of PR 101 — or remastered them — might mean reaching a point where firms aren’t strictly dealing with journalists via e-mail, but it may also be more nuanced than that. Tisch said he looks for signs of mutual trust. Argyle needs to establish which outlets and influencers are most credible, for instance, but those outlets and influencers also need to react to Argyle’s team in a way that suggests they know they’re dealing with a firm they respect. Scordato said it’s much the same at Atrium.
“I base quality on how willing a journalist is to listen and give our pitch a chance,” she said. “(What we’re pitching) may not work for them at the time, but this is a partnership, and the best relationships thrive when you treat one another well.”