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Pass the Pitch: Defining the Value of PR

Pass the Pitch: Defining the Value of PR

February 24, 2014 19 Comments

I love reading Inc. Magazine and am a frequent flyer on the content rich website www.inc.com for its humor, insights and dialogue covering tech, business, leadership and innovation. Generally, it’s where I find ideas that inspire and people to admire through content that gives me lessons to apply professionally and personally or, at the very least, something interesting to share on Twitter.

Given my love for Inc., I was surprised to find not one, but two articles recently published online with insular perspectives of PR that disregard the collaborative and deliberate efforts of strategic communication, simplifying the discipline’s value to earned media coverage.

This Startup Could Be PR Firms’ Worst Nightmare and Meet the Startup That’s Making PR Firms Sweat contend that “PR is mostly pitching and dealing with inbound requests.” Perhaps the authors of these articles think that PR is an acronym for “press release.” While pitching and press certainly play a role in helping disseminate information, I argue the authors are missing the objective of PR.

PR, of course, is short for public relations. But I also believe whole heartedly that it stands for personal relationships, which are cultivated and sustained through strategic communication. Clients come to agencies looking for ways to help their offering – be it brands, products or leadership – connect with their stakeholders, who could be part of multiple stakeholder groups: employees, customers, patients, advocates, legislators, shareholders…even your mom. This is technical stuff and at the heart of it are real people.

The authors, however, put “the pitch” on a pedestal and suggest that pitching is the ultimate way to help companies achieve their communication goals. They believe new companies that focus on the perfect pitch are somehow a threat to traditional agencies. I think this is very narrow-minded but consider this author’s view:

“Now, any PR professional worth their salt will tell you the real value of any agency is in its ‘strategic thinking,’ (planning), ‘brand awareness’ (how you sound/look), ‘competitive analysis’ (who are your competitors?) and ‘social media’ (you should talk to your customers on Twitter/tweet sometimes.) But the sad truth is that PR has devolved into getting journalists or bloggers to write about your client on the internet, which has only deepened the age-old mutual hatred between reporters and the people who pitch them.”

Let me address this:

  • 1) Strategic thinking (planning): Nearly a decade after launching a multi-channel campaign to change the conversation around real beauty, Dove dug deeper into research to uncover that today, only 4 percent of women on the planet believe they’re beautiful. This insight led the brand, with the support of advertising, digital marketing and PR agency partners, to create Dove Real Beauty sketches. With just one compelling video, which has more than 61 million hits and nearly 16,000 comments since April 2013, Dove was able to connect with the brand with global stakeholders in a powerful way that went far beyond products.

    This is the focus of public relations planning. It helps support personal relationship on behalf of companies, brands and leaders by saying the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, to the right stakeholders. Media is a vehicle for distribution, yes, but what meaningful content is there to distribute without thoughtful, invested planning, research and insights?
  • 2) Brand awareness (how you sound/look): Warren Buffett said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Don’t believe the Oracle of Omaha? Just look at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. In early 2012, the company announced plans to stop funding Planned Parenthood for breast-screening services. Planned Parenthood, which provides many health services and is also the nation’s largest abortion provider, viewed the change in funding as an anti-abortion, political statement and responded with a social media defense that galvanized women’s advocates and vilified Komen. The backlash was so severe that in a matter of just three days, under tremendous public pressure, Komen reversed its decision. In spite of this, the news led to a significant decline in donations and event participation from which Komen has yet to fully recover. The importance of brand awareness – what your company is putting out and more importantly, how it will be received – cannot be overemphasized and is something that PR agencies take time to manage with clients.
  • 3) Competitive analysis (who are your competitors): There are few brand rivalries that, well, rival that of Apple and Microsoft, or Mac and PC respectively. In 2008, Microsoft was heating up the competition and spent a reported $300 million on its “I’m a PC” campaign. Unfortunately for Microsoft, Mac was listening and launched a series of videos blunting the appeal Microsoft was trying to create. While not everyone liked the competitive move, it was a very effective way for Mac to reach its target audience, which Microsoft was attempting to woo.

    Though PR may have contributed to the strategy, this was more of an ad campaign. That said, it’s a fantastic example of the value of understanding the competitive space. Mac invested in competitive analysis. It helped the company to refine not only their target but their competitor’s target – separating the Vespa-riding, Boylan’s root beer drinking Mac people from the Harley-riding, orange crush drinking PC people – helping Mac determine just the right messaging. Being able to meaningfully connect with stakeholders not from a brand perspective, but from the perspective where stakeholders see themselves, is the value of competitive analysis.
  • 4) Social media: Yes, I get it. Everyone is talking about “the power of social media” (insert eye roll) – but it’s not just hyperbole. Social sharing – stakeholders choosing to interact with your brand – is fundamental to healthy brand relationships. It is a place of exchange for companies and consumers to dump the media middle man and get deep and real, and affect change. JetBlue was a pioneer in this space, turning to YouTube in 2007 after bad weather grounded passengers on Valentine’s Day for hours and spurred the cancellation of more than 1,000 flights. According to a case study recently published in AdWeek, “that early use of a social channel, along with JetBlue’s general openness and willingness to take responsibility, helped it soar above the media circus and resume its steady course as a consumer favorite.” The company, which was also an early adopter on Twitter, has been a leader in online brand dialogues. The company’s responsiveness creates a sense of brand humanity and consumers in turn have created an emotional relationship with the brand that results in satisfaction.

Authentic public relations should not exaggerate the pitch. We can’t control media. It’s arrogant to think that journalists want to gobble up our stories exactly as we’ve packaged them, at the precise time we want them distributed. Additionally, even if a pitch is embraced and a glowing story is aired or published, broadcast and print media are experiencing every increasing scrutiny. Consumers are weary since issues with proper validation and truth have recently shaken their confidence in reporting.

So to the authors who think that PR pros are realizing their “worst nightmare” or will “sweat” the new pitch machines – we are sorry to report that while you’re welcome to the table, we’re not leaving it. Just as client needs are matrixed and comprehensive, public relations – building relationships – requires a collaborative, informed approach that is evolved beyond just pitching.

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19 comments

Madalyn Tundis
4 years ago

People who do not practice PR have a hard time understanding and grasping what PR is, how PR is done, and why PR is essential. It is easy for others outside of the field to look in and say things like, “the sad truth is that PR has devolved into getting journalists or bloggers to write about your client on the internet”, which we all know is simply not the case. A good PR pro goes above and beyond that, above and beyond the expected. I love the idea that PR stands for personal relationships, because that is what good PR pros do. We cultivate and build positive relationships for businesses, clients, employees, and media, in order to effectively influence the consumers.

Kristin Johnson
4 years ago

Hi Madalyn, thank you for your response to my post. I’m glad the personal relationships line stuck with you. That’s why I love working in PR! I think that in addition to “influence,” it’s also about “building.” I take the greatest joy building up to the point where stakeholders come to an understanding – on their own – of what our objective was in the first place. In healthcare, for example, I might spend months working with a team to help lift the stigma of a disease, all in an effort to encourage people to seek treatment and be well. The amazing relationships,
synergies and opportunities uncovered in that building process are just as important as influence…and certainly foundational for sustained efforts. Thank you again!

kelly farrington
4 years ago

You said basically everything I was thinking. Anyone who thinks that we only do pitching is probably only thinking of the way that PR effects them personally. There are countless other things that we do that have nothing to do with pitching – if there weren’t, the PR industry wouldn’t be thriving the way it is today.

Jen McPhail
4 years ago

I think this quote: “Authentic public relations should not exaggerate the pitch. We can’t control media.” sums up the article perfectly. Journalists get thousands of pitches everyday, most of which go in the virtual or literal trash. If it were just about the perfect pitch, very few pitches would ever get turned down.

But you’re right. We can’t control the media. What we *can* do is control other parts of the conversation about our brand/client/product. PR professionals can directly interact with consumers through the other channels you’ve mentioned above to create brand recognition and loyalty. Third-party reviews or media coverage is just one tool in a PR person’s toolbox. It’s great if your client gets coverage, but not the end of the world if they don’t. There are plenty of other ways to build relationships with the target market.

Kristin Johnson
4 years ago

Hi Jen, thank you for your interest in my post and for adding your thoughts. As much as we can’t control media, I think we also are unable to control the conversation. (This challenges one line of your post so please pardon my objection.) I believe we can help direct and shape the conversation, but at the end of the day the greatest success for brands, leaders and companies happens when we can co-create a conversation where authentic dialogue and relationships thrive. Good discussion for another post…you’re giving me new ideas!

Christina Hedges
4 years ago

I definitely agree that PR is so much more than press releases and I really like the idea of PR being personal relations. At my job in PR I do write press releases but not as often as one would think. Most of my job consists of creating and maintaining relationships with editors. Therefore, I agree that personal relations is much more important.

Anonymous
4 years ago

Approved

Kristin Johnson
4 years ago

Agree! Author David DeLong hit it home when he wrote: “It’s one thing to have somebody’s Rolodex, but it‟s another to get people to return your calls.” So true…

(More of a knowledge management subject, but DeLong’s book is an interesting read: http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Knowledge-Confronting-Threat-Workforce/dp/0195170970)

Cristina Cortes
4 years ago

A press release and a pitch will only get you somewhere if you have a solid story that resonates with the audience. That is where strategic planning, brand awareness and social media all come in. People are becoming harder to bring in with just any story, they want to only associate with brands they feel define them and speaks to them as a person. You can’t write a good pitch unless you have a knowledge of all the things you mentioned, so I completely agree that public relations is so much more than “writing pitches”. Especially today when people are becoming more wary of the truthfulness behind what they read. The media arent the only people we have to create connections with, the consumers are now active members in the conversation and relationships need to be formed with them as well.

Anonymous
4 years ago

Approved

Kristin Johnson
4 years ago

Thank you for adding to the conversation, Cristina. I agree. Media is important but it’s not the only thing and certainly more valuable when part of a collaborative effort. I just saw today that the MTA launched a “listening” campaign. We’ll see how that goes, but it’s one more example of how public relations expands beyond media. (Albeit, this was in the news so clearly media was a component!) http://www.amny.com/transit/mta-to-keep-track-of-riders-who-use-social-media-1.7234378

Julia Ryan
4 years ago

I admire your emphasis on the strategic planning that goes into public relations. PR practitioners are ‘thinkers’ above all else; every move we make is calculated and extremely well-thought out. We are relentlessly proactive and creative in all aspects of our work. Pitching alone is not even half of what it means to be a publicist–well a good one, at least.

Anonymous
4 years ago

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Kristin Johnson
4 years ago

Hi Julia, thanks for your kind post. We’re on the same page, though to my media team’s credit I’m not poo-pooing pitching. That’s a hard role as well and I hope that came through. I just don’t think – as the Inc. articles suggest – that pitching alone could possibly be a threat to traditional PR given the matrix of considerations that contribute to good PR counsel.

Kellie Sahagian
4 years ago

I agree fully with you that there is more to PR than just simple press releases. I feel like people don’t fully understand that it takes time and planning to go along with it, as well as a lot of research. We thoroughly need to think situations and things out before we storm ahead and pitch. It takes a lot to be a good PR person/publicist, so it’s annoying that people don’t fully understand the work we take to be a publicist.

Katie Sestak
4 years ago

I also agree that PR is more than just a press release. When I think about my internship right now at a public relations firm, the amount of time we spend on a press release doesn’t amount to the time we spend doing everything else. We help come up with messages for clients, research speaking opportunities, monitor social media channels, hold brainstorm meetings and so much more. While press releases are important, they aren’t the only thing that needs to be done in order to be successful and have successful campaigns.

Kristin Johnson
4 years ago

Hi Katie – welcome to the industry. Thank you for your comment and based on your response, it seems you’re already well on your way. Best wishes!

Andrea Longinott
4 years ago

I have actually heard someone say that they thought that PR meant “press release.” Explaining to them that it means Public Relations, they still do not really understand the meaning of it. It is so much more than press releases and pitching to the media. Public relations is actually having a RELATIONSHIP with the public – planning how to reach your public so they understand you, giving off a good image, acknowledging your competitors and letting the public know that you can hear them. Although press releases do a good job informing, there’s a lot more behind the scenes that PR professionals do and people should start to recognize that.

Sasha Mirpuri
4 years ago

This misconception of what PR really is, is something that often comes up when I talk to people in public relations or that are pursuing public relations– It’s weird to think that we need to do PR for PR because so many people don’t understand it. I must admit, I didn’t understand it myself until I practiced it at my first internship. Having said that, I agree with the fact that public relations goes beyond the pitch and the press release. From the little experience I’ve had at different internships, it has stuck with me how many things come into play in developing plans for clients, in order to execute them effectively.

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