Via Crain’s Detroit Business : A reporter asked a question the other day: “Why are so many PR people just sending a written statement instead of giving me some background on the story?”
It’s a very relevant question as the business of public relations continues to evolve. It also exposes what could become a detrimental practice among some PR professionals.
As in any business, relationships are crucial. In public relations, relationships with journalists must be developed and nurtured. You can’t just send a statement without background or context and expect a story to turn out fair or to meet your expectations. Credibility, trust and honesty are still the cornerstone of a good public relations practice.
Part of this phenomenon can be attributed to the way we communicate these days. It’s easier to send a text than to pick up the phone. In our offices, we’re more likely to send an email than to walk down the hall for a discussion. And social media has helped create an abrupt and often rude culture. So I’m sure some PR professionals think: Why have a 5 minute conversation with a journalist when it’s easier to tweet at them?
Conversely, how can you expect a journalist to get the story right when you don’t talk to them?
What’s happening in public relations today has serious consequences for business. Stories now live online forever and a negative story can have longer-term devastating consequences for business. You can’t always blame the media. If you’re part of the story, you have to be part of the storytelling.
There are many factors behind the trend of just sending a written statement.
- Many people in PR think that social or digital media can drive any story, and don’t realize how important relationships are to developing a story. Social media is important, but it is not a substitute for a good reporter and a good story.
- Reporters can be pressed for time to meet a deadline and sometimes just ask for a statement they can insert into a story to demonstrate balance.
- There is also a mistrust of the media, or at least with certain reporters. So rather than take a chance, a PR person will just send a few sentences in an email.
- There is pressure from clients who don’t understand that a PR person can’t dictate how a story is written. Some PR people feel they’ll be fired if a story doesn’t turn out how the client wants. I’ve got news for that type of client — public relations is not a science. You can’t expect to have certain inputs that dictate certain outcomes. Frankly, the only way to guarantee a story is written a certain way is to buy the publication or publish it yourself as a paid advertisement. (This could also be through sponsored content or contributed content. Many publications — including Crain’s — are open to unique arrangements if the content is of high enough quality.)
Like most businesses, the business of public relations hinges on reputation and relationships. But in the fast-paced online world where you order an Uber ride from someone you’ve never met, or order an Amazon delivery for the next day, many professionals have moved beyond understanding the need to establish solid, long-term relationships.
What my three decades in this business have taught me is that the PR and news business is changing faster than ever. Nobody can predict where it will end up. But I know the news will always be delivered in some form and through channels we may not even imagine yet. Be ready to adapt. Most importantly, there is no substitute for trust and respect built through personal contact and a solid relationship. It’s a basic tenet of any good business.