Public relations as a profession can be both gratifying and downright frustrating. On the one hand, you experience the ecstasy of generating great coverage, while, on the other, you have a bunch of people who do not seem to appreciate it. What’s worse, they crib that the coverage does not include the CEO’s ability to juggle china while singing! At that point you scream in exasperation, “God, why me?”
It doesn't have to be that way. So here are my top tips to make your mark in PR:
KNOW THE PUBLICATIONS INSIDE OUT
Pretty soon you will realise that your life revolves around, and depends on how well you know, the print publications (yes, it is sad that most clients still insist on print). I am sure your morning will begin with “tracking the papers”. Make the most of this. Don’t just flip through the pages, don’t read only Bangalore Mirror. Make extensive notes. Study the columns and supplements that each newspaper or magazine publishes and the content they carry. You can then map that to your client’s requirements.
KNOW YOUR JOURNALIST
Equally important is tracking journalists. If you want to make a successful pitch, you first have to know what excites the journalist, what he or she is writing about. And no short-cuts, please. Any one article by the journalist cannot be the basis of your pitch. Follow the trends the journalist follows. Only then will you be able to make a pitch that the journalist cannot say no to.
KNOW YOUR INDUSTRY
Again we come back to the pitch. And to make it work you have to think of it as the piece without which the puzzle is incomplete. So we have taken care of the publication fit, the journalist fit, and now comes the industry perspective. No journalist is paid to write praises about your client. The pitch will work only if it has an angle that the journalist has not thought about yet. This is where knowing your industry comes in handy. You can have easy access to how the industry has evolved and what is happening right now that will shape it in the future. Figure out where your client can play a role in this and pitch that angle. What matters most to you may be totally irrelevant to a journalist. Remember that it’s what they — not you — think is important that matters in the end.
FOLLOW ETIQUETTE AND PROTOCOL
PR has been rated as the second-most stressful job in India. And there are valid reasons for that. The pressure can get to you easily and in your quest to get more coverage you tend to irritate the hell out of a journalist. Now don’t do that. How many of you have enlisted your phone number with the Do Not Disturb registry? Poor things, they can’t even do that.
So do not call journalists incessantly; do not flood their inbox with press releases. If journalists say they are not interested in a story, they mean it. Reaching out to them again and again will further annoy them and guarantee you’ll be ignored the next time.
What you can and must do is meet them in person. Then again don’t go just because your boss asked you to. Prepare well, make a list of what you want to talk to them about; a “what’s up” kind of preparation is not good enough. Do not get overtly friendly in your very first meeting; it is not natural. Go with an agenda, and don’t pretend that you did not, the journalist can see through that. Remember, it is okay to go with an agenda, just make the agenda solid.
Understand that you cannot control the end product. It is unethical for you to ask, to see, or to proof a copy of the story beforehand, or to dictate what the reporter can and can’t say. Doing so will backfire — trust me.
There is one more thing that irritates a journalist more than all that I just said, and that is bad language skills. No one expects you to write sonnets. But a simple, grammatically correct document can make the journalist’s life a lot simpler. And trust me they will remember you for writing good documents.
DRILL SOME SENSE INTO YOUR CLIENT’S HEAD
Yes, clients are a necessary evil. And most of the time they are more painful than nice. Set the clients’ expectations right. Do not promise the sun, stars, and moon and then fail miserably. Plan, plan, and plan. If plan A fails, you still have 25 possible versions left to salvage the situation.
Be very patient and consistent. Don’t lose hope. PR is a process. You know who hits it big overnight with a story flashing across publications? Criminals, bad politicians, naughty celebrities, terrorists, and natural calamity victims. Do you want to be one of them?
Ankana Sinha is now the brand manager for Pro Nature Organic Foods in Bangalore.
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