PR exec Daniel Tisch calls it “the penny-dropping moment.” Several years ago, a member of his team came back from a meeting with a client 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 recalls. “I sat in my office and thought about that. I realized the client’s view of what PR was only related to what you do when you’ve got an announcement – or a crisis.”
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 also in connecting with media and other stakeholders in a way that delivers results for clients.
Of course, Argyle didn’t just change its name. As Tisch explains, the rise of content marketing, social media, and technologies such as artificial intelligence have dominated discussions in an industry that may need to revisit the fundamentals – including 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 that only humans can do, and where PR professionals are the ones who can do it in a way that’s ethical and effective, he says.
Back to basics
Tisch isn’t alone in his assessment. In its recently released 2018 Global Communications Report, the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations published responses from a survey of PR pros about the kind of talent they are seeking to attract and develop.
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. For instance, the report showed writing skills topped the list at 89%, while the more generic media relations was cited by 63%. Media relations can refer to blasting out mass e-mails, or 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.
The best way to get to know a journalist – or anyone – is to communicate often, honestly, and with the person’s best interests and needs in mind. It takes time to gain someone’s trust.
Adrienne Scordato, Atrium PR
Better relationships with journalists
According to Adrienne Scordato, CEO and founder at New York-based Atrium PR, integrity and professionalism are the foundation to establishing a more genuine relationship with the media, regardless of preferred channels.
“The best way to get to know a journalist – or anyone – 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 says. “I find if you don’t spin a story, but deliver it in an authentic, real way, you can never go wrong. And never lie.”
Additional 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, notes Scordato.
“On the PR agency side, 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 adds. 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.’ 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 says. “It’s about going deeper and more customized to the journalist’s needs.”
It’s also about building and maintaining trust – for both the PR pro and journalist. Tisch looks for signs of mutual trust. So even as Argyle seeks to establish which outlets and influencers are most credible, the firm also looks for those outlets and influencers that demonstrate they trust and respect Argyle, as well.
Scordato says 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 explains. “(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.”