Four accepted pieces of PR wisdom that aren’t very wise

Whether it’s counting chickens before they’re hatched or having a cake and eating it too, we’re regularly bombarded by (often clichéd) little pieces of life advice. PR is no different. The industry is full of accepted wisdom that everyone understands to be true. Problem is, the industry is evolving at lightning speed. What made sense years ago may not today. And frankly, some pieces of advice have never been all that great to begin with.

Here are four things commonly heard in the business of communications, but which need a serious rethink.

1. It’s all about the relationships

Media and influencer relationships are important, no doubt. Problem is, we put way too much stock into them. I was recently part of an agency selection process where the client probed very deep into our personal relationships with journalists. We literally had to list who we knew personally and how we knew them. Clearly, they believed that was the secret sauce. And I fear that’s the result of years of PR professionals thumping their chests over who they know the best, and using that as a key measure of their worth.

A relationship with a journalist or anyone who commands an audience online is valuable in three ways: it keeps you up to date on what topics they are interested in, it ensures you’ll get a fair hearing and good feedback wen you call them, and it can provide a great source of industry intel. What it’s not is a free pass to coverage or great publicity. Even the best relationship can’t overcome a terrible story idea or awful product. And I’ve seen complete strangers call media cold and sell a story.

Bottom line: If you’re not interesting, you’ll lose every time, relationships or not.

2. You gotta work the phones!

I’m old enough to remember when newsrooms were bustling places, and every industry had its own dedicated beat reporter. Back then, there were also simply more outlets to consider. And even if reporter A passed, you could always try one or two of their colleagues with at least somewhat similar interests. 

Today, you’re likely dealing with a very busy and time-pressed individual who is doing it all. And I guarantee you that constantly calling them over and over in the belief that only the most aggressive and persistent voice will win them over won't do you or the client you represent any favours. And shame on you if you’re demanding that your team’s junior members, with little experience, do this for you! If no one is biting, start by looking at what you’re selling, not how loudly you’re shouting about it. Spend time to really nail your story, and if you know in your heart that it’s a longshot, think carefully before reaching out. Sometimes it’s best to live to fight another day.

3. It pays to stay on message

Again, there is some truth here. The whole point of even doing this job, whether it’s through blog content, partnering with influencers or placing a byline article, is to get a message out to a specific audience. But there’s conveying a message, and staying on message. The first is critical, the second is a problem. That’s because staying on message can be understood as repeating yourself over and over in an interview,  or producing content that reads like an instruction manual simply because “that’s how we say it.”

Take message guidance for what it is. Guidance.

4. Top-tier/second-tier outlets

I recently read a  post from another PR pro on tips for how to get more coverage. Among the tips was the advice that when things aren’t happening, you should stop trying to focus so much on “top tier” outlets and look instead at more “second tier” niche publications. That kind of thinking should have no place in modern-day PR. 

The only tier that matters is the audience you’re trying to reach. I’m not saying I don’t get the thinking here, or that I’ve never been guilty of this. Of course, we all strive for the big headline in the biggest outlet because that’s what gets noticed, and what organizations love. The problem is when clients who don’t have a product or service that warrants that kind of attention start demanding it, or when PR pros promise it. 

Before you set your sights on the Wall Street Journal, ask yourself: is this where my audience is, or am I trying to get coverage in the Journal as a vanity move for my client or leadership team? Great coverage is great coverage, and part of how that greatness is defined is by the audience it reaches.

Agree? Disagree? Have any nuggets of wisdom you’d like to eradicate? Share them below.