The PR Debate: Old School vs. New School PR

By Hollie Geitner, Vice President, Client Services at WordWrite Communications

[ This is a post from WordWrite Communications, a strategic communications consulting firm based in downtown Pittsburgh. This article originally appeared on WordWrite’s blog. ]

Until social media came along, the public relations field had remained relatively unchanged, save for the technology used to identify reporters and distribute press releases. Now, a debate seems to have divided the industry into two segments—old school vs. new school public relations. Is it time for industry veterans to accept that it’s all digital, all the time? Or, should millennial PR pros take a pause from social posting to grab coffee with a journalist?

When I began my career in corporate and media relations, I would spend countless hours standing by the fax machine sending my press release and waiting for the confirmation report indicating it went through successfully. I would often follow up with a phone call to key reporters—sometimes I’d even visit them and hand them the release inside a press kit I’d carefully put together.

Over time, email became the preferred method for delivering information, saving me from dozens of paper cuts. No matter how I shared my news, one thing remained a constant—my relationships. I made it a point to personally visit the key reporters in my region who wrote about the company for which I worked. I found out what interested them, learned a bit about them on a personal level and tailored my story pitches so no one received a blast email from me—or worse yet, a pitch that had nothing to do with their beat.

As social media has continued to evolve from the once music-focused MySpace into a complex universe of channels and segmented audiences, it has become another tool in the PR toolbox. I’ve happily hopped onto the bandwagon and embraced it as a necessity in today’s information-packed world. Ignoring it is not an option because the conversations are happening whether you are a participant or not.

While most of us PR veterans agree this is an exciting time for our industry, we remain true to the fundamental tenet of building relationships first. More tools to deliver a message are great, however relationships have always been the foundation of any successful media relations strategy.

According to Cision’s 2017 State of the Media Report, journalists are still looking for credible industry experts for their stories, however they prefer to be contacted by email. In fact, 90 percent prefer this tried and true method over phone calls or pitches via social media platforms. This is true despite the fact just about every journalist uses multiple social channels to stay abreast of breaking news, be informed about industry updates for their beat and to share their own stories. As for what actually drives their coverage, journalists have indicated exclusivity and an existing relationship with a PR agency or a representative are their top considerations.

What does this mean for PR professionals? Truthfully, not a whole lot. Experienced PR practitioners have always focused on relationships and always will. A media placement from a press release isn’t a bad thing—in fact, it’s good. However, what happens after that news is old? Will that reporter ever call you or consider you/your client for future articles? If you haven’t developed a relationship with that person, it’s highly unlikely. And, the quality of your placement can certainly be called into question. A story with interviews and photos is worth much more than a small blurb pulled directly from a press release.

While the public relations field has evolved with new technology, the fundamentals remain the same—relationships trump all else. Used wisely for research, sharing information and engaging with influencers/customers, social media is a fantastic tool for anyone working in public relations. Conversely, when used solely as a bullhorn to blast out information or to annoy reporters, it is a waste of time and could be detrimental to any future outreach efforts. A one-way communication channel does not build relationships so why bother? You’d be better off standing by the fax machine.


Hollie Geitner is vice president, client services for WordWrite Communications.You can find her on Twitter @JustHollieG

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