What does a PR rep even do?
Most people don’t have an idea on how to answer that question—even PR reps themselves. The reason? The answer keeps changing.
Over the past half decade, the PR, journalism, and media industries have been facing exponential changes and existential crises. The rise of new media and the migration to digital publishing has eliminated the traditional career model for journalists. This evolution has introduced a concerning imbalance between the number of PR professionals and journalists, with the ratio standing at approximately 6:1, a 2x increase in the past decade. Less full-time journalists — coupled with a dwindling number of publications and an increase of sponsored editorial content — have obliterated the bulk of organic stories, making an uphill battle for publicists and other PR reps.
With these challenges, modern PR pros need to question their core job functions and what it means to be a successful publicist. In the industry today, great publicists need to be dexterous and well-rounded, extending skills far beyond traditional pitch emails and press releases. Breaking out of the “PR” box and exploring larger strategy tactics is key. To do the best work for clients, publicists should equip themselves with an expansive tool box and improvisational approach to navigate the media industry’s constant changes. Here, we’ll explore a few of those tools.
Command Attention (aka Learn How to Write “Clickbait”)
Every PR professional starts off learning the basics: how to write a formal press release, how to write personalized pitch emails, and so on. While these skills lay the foundation for all PR work, publicists today need to think beyond traditional formalities. After nailing the key messaging for your client, think about how to relate your pitch to the most relevant topics (think: what is trending on social media or in pop culture). With digital publications increasingly looking for clicks (sometimes over substance), publicists need to know how to cater to this trend as well. Your subject line should reflect the clickbait headline you’re envisioning outlets will publish. The bottom line is, nail the basics at the core of your pitching, but don’t be afraid to play the game and grab attention with clickbait language (without stretching the truth!). With less full-time writers out there, it’s important to stand out and get writers to give your email the time of day.
Read the Room: News, Politics, and Culture
It’s obvious that publicists need to have a good handle on what’s happening in the world and the climate of the industries they service. However, in 2019, publicists need to be hypersensitive to this. This means paying attention to Twitter conversations, participating in Diversity and Inclusion training, staying on top of current events and social movements, and more. Every story has multiple facets and means different things to different audiences. Clients count on PR pros to help navigate today’s increasingly tricky waters, and to handle crises on a business and cultural level. Adapting to conversations as they evolve is a must for becoming a great PR professional.
Beyond the Pen: New Media
There’s a whole new world out there! If you’re a publicist still only pitching for traditional print and digital media coverage, you are missing out on massive opportunities to gain your clients some shine. Think: podcasts, niche Instagram accounts, Twitter personalities … the avenues of storytelling expands more every day. Podcast appearances and bespoke content on niche social media accounts can widen a client’s reach way beyond traditional press, sometimes connecting with more qualified audiences. If it doesn’t already, your PR strategy should involve updating your contact lists and explore additional methods to supporting traditional press efforts.
Translate the PR Strategy Mindset to a Holistic Marketing Strategy
Plenty of PR reps have been asked the same tired question — “what’s the difference between PR and marketing?” The truth is, the line of distinction is blurred more every
year. Brands navigating toward a successful future understand that they are complementary parts of the same solution. Some projects may hinge on press participation, others may thrive on influencer amplification. Some of the best ones use both to play off each other. PR pros who know how to translate their skillset into meeting a specific business objective will be better equipped to connect to other facets of a brand’s marketing operation, whether it’s all being done under the same roof or not.
Reverse Engineer a Successful Campaign
Doing research is an obvious requirement of being a good PR rep. You have to be attuned to industry trends so your PR strategy can stay a step ahead. But to get to the next level, you have to develop a deeper sense of inquisitiveness. This is particularly important given that many modern marketing campaigns are designed to look like they ramped up organically (hint: they probably didn’t). Not accepting a story at face value adds another layer of depth to your research. Seek out more of the story behind the story by scouring the internet beyond your first Google search (e.g. see if a supposedly organic campaign has any PR teams touting their contributions on LinkedIn). Doing this will give you a better sense for strategizing your own campaigns, especially if you’re trying to make your PR effort look invisible. By being able to take apart the various components of other campaigns, you’ll be able to “reverse engineer” successful ones of your own.