Do PROs spend enough time on media relations? Or is there too much to do and too little time?

There are so many pressures on today’s PRO, that the time that used to be available for media relations can be hard to find. Understaffing, and the growing list of tasks given to PR professionals, means that they are too busy (and may not have the budget) to do good, old-fashioned wining and dining of media contacts.

Stephen Finch, director at consultancy Weber Shandwick Financial, believes it is a worrying trend that PROs are spending so little time speaking to journalists. He says, “We’ve all encountered that breed of PR person who says they’re too busy to talk to the media. They’ve become disturbingly easy to find if you scratch the skin of many in-house or agency teams.” Finch believes that this is not usually the fault of the PRO, but is often due to pressure from the business to save money in these post-recessionary times.

But the recession’s effects are not all negative, says Finch. He explains, “the downturn has also brought some opportunities for PROs. The tightening of in-house resourcing and budget belts, for example, has seen PR agencies which may have been seen traditionally as a media relations platform, provided with opportunities to prove their skills in areas which might previously have been regarded as ‘non-core’ activity. Acting as clients’ conference speechwriters, facilitating introductions to sector influencers and supporting the development of sales materials and clients’ websites are all examples which testify to this.”

It is a great experience for PROs to provide such a wide range of services for their clients, whether they are in-house or in an agency, but they must be careful they do not neglect media contacts, as this will always be a core part of PR work. Finch says: “While day-to-day client activity might not necessitate the pitching in of news stories and features ideas to journalists, reporters themselves remain a key conduit to clients’ stakeholders and are, after all, paid to have their finger on the pulse of what those stakeholders are feeling and thinking.

“The upshot is simple. If, as a PRO, you can’t tell your client what the key journalists covering their industry or sector are thinking, you might as well pack up and go home. The economic seasons will come and go, and extending the scope of client relationships is to be lauded, but sound strategic advice delivered to clients on the basis of thorough understanding and knowledge of the media’s agenda is one hardy perennial which should not be overlooked.”

A key demand on PROs’ time these days is having to keep up with constantly evolving online communication technologies. However, the shift in emphasis to concentrating more on digital PR is no bad thing, believes Jo Jamieson, director at agency Berkeley PR. Jamieson agrees with Finch that working on media relations should still be a key part of a PR professional‘s day, and this must include actually speaking to media contacts, but says that it is also vital to devote time to learning about, and using, digital tools: “Compared to when I started in PR, there is much more to our job than just contacting the media. Now, there is a greater emphasis on the digital side of things, and using online methods to reach different influencers. For example, blogger outreach and optimising news content are a couple of ways that the internet is being used to raise a brand’s profile without directly contacting the media.”

Jamieson points out that it’s thanks to advances in technology that the news dissemination side of media relations has become so much quicker. With email and newswires, there is no longer the need to spend hours faxing releases or posting them – the whole process now only takes a fraction of the time it once did. Although less time may be spent on some media relations work, this needn’t mean relationships with media contacts will suffer. Quite the reverse, new media can help PROs to be super efficient, so that more ‘quality’ time can be spent communicating with crucial contacts.

Soundbites

Rob Forbes, company director at agency Generator PR:
“You need to work your network and remember that journalists need content and support. It’s easier if you know them and pick up the phone.“

Jeremy Walters, independent PR consultant:
“I think media relations are less important than the SEO implications of PR. And there are too many things for a PRO to do these days and, as media becomes more fragmented, media relations are becoming less important. ‘We're all journalists now’ I read somewhere. Quite true.”

Rhodri Harries, managing director of agency Kaizo:
“Media relations is still really important, but knowing how the news will play out across all media is growing in importance. More time is now spent developing the angles as opposed to simply pitching news desks. That said, national media coverage still dictates what happens elsewhere.”

Stephen Finch, director at consultancy Weber Shandwick Financial:
“If as a PRO you can’t tell your client what the key journalists covering their industry or sector are thinking, you might as well pack up and go home.”

Jo Jamieson, director at agency Berkeley PR:
“Media relations is still a very important part of the day for any PR professional, especially selling-in over the phone. However, compared to when I started in PR, there is much more to it than just contacting the media.”

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