As a PR professional, a lot of us point out when you should not hire a PR agency. While it is true that you don’t always need a PR (and I have published 16 tips on how to succeed without a PR firm) I see some grave misunderstandings of what PRs actually do (or should do).
1. PR is not about sending emails
Some people think of PR as a mass email tool (that sometimes comes with an extra follow-up feature too). That is not what PR is, although some might lower the work of PR to that degree. If you see a PR that only does that, go ahead and fire them – reporters will prefer to talk directly to CEOs anyway.
What PR actually adds is finding the angle and building the story, sometimes even predicting the news.
A CEO is the most qualified person to talk about their brand and product, but that does not mean it is a language that the media understands (or is interested in). Some reporters are focused on the technical angle, while others are focused on the entrepreneurial story. The pitch each of them would welcome differ significantly. Knowing this requires knowing the reporters in person, and spending enough time for that knowledge.
2. Calling a reporter does not guarantee a placement
Back in the good old days, this actually was the case; reporters would easily cover startups with disruptive ideas. Nowadays, however, reporters are mostly focused on the Big Five and won’t cover the startups unless they can present a fundamentally novel idea.
As the importance of online media grows, getting into top-tier outlets becomes proportionally more difficult.
A lot of times, I’ve even seen reporters that were pitched with the perfect story (which they loved) but could not cover the topic simply because they had other assignments and priorities.
Knowing the right people, and knowing when to call them and what to share with them is now more essential than ever.
3. You need to speak their language
As a CEO, you love your product. No PR can explain the value behind it better than you. But that is also the catch.
Reporters face tens or hundreds of pitches every day, each one claiming they are the best in what they do. A professional PR can convert that angle into one that does not speak of your brand or product, but which speaks to the reporter’s audience.
Instead of talking about how great you or your product is, the PR must show it. They need to pull together data and statistics, compare it with other solutions out there and bring external confirmation into the story. Those kinds of things prove to the reporters that your story is worth their time.
Besides this, the job of a PR is to constantly follow the news and use it to discover upcoming opportunities. When Equifax got hacked, we used that to propel our client which offered a much safer blockchain alternative. Similarly, we focused on the convenience and savings our clients offered for taxpayers as we approached the taxing season.
4. You need ties and links
I once asked a reporter why they had not covered a story around UNAIDS while that was perfectly relevant for him. His response was “this is the first time I am seeing this”. I had already pitched him that story twice. The truth is, if the reporters don’t know you, even your best stories will get ignored.
Following the reporters on social media, meeting them in person during events and caring for them is an essential part of public relations. PRs spend time to build these links, which they can later use over and over to get many different stories covered. For CEOs this would be a waste of time and effort, as they often can use that relationship only once. That same time could be used to build the product or even make use of the earned coverage to boost their social media presence.
Similarly, PRs are more in the know of the articles being written and reporters looking for sources – a CEO would need to replicate that entire division to get hold of similar resources.
The job of PR cannot be underestimated. It is like any other industry: anyone can defend themselves in court but to actually be successful, you would need to spend years to become a lawyer first. What does make a difference though is that PR is a fight against time: if you miss an opportunity, it would take a while before the next one would surface. By then, your competition would be way ahead.