5 Client Questions for Media Relations Consultants

June 3, 2019


Anyone arguing that the traditional practice of media relations is dead would have plenty of evidence to back up the claim: The Pew Research Center finds that 43 percent of Americans now get their news online.

According to the World Association of Newspaper Publishers, 166 American newspapers have closed or ceased their print editions in the last decade. Pew reports that newsroom employment has declined by 45 percent since 2008.

And yet, out here in the world beyond the statistics, where real PR agency accounts strive for real results, we’re still placing stories in the news. Clients expect it, value it, and demand frequent media hits earned through publicity efforts that are recognizable to old-school PR pros: Learn the client’s story, study relevant journalists and then marry the two. Bang. Another hit. (Though only the very best make it look that easy.)

Clients relish such media attention because they understand something that statistics often obscure: The public conversation is still sparked by traditional media — print, digital and broadcast.

Moreover, a recent Pew study noted that 90 percent of stories cited in blogs link back to websites of traditional news outlets. In other words, the vast majority of the world’s social media chatter is prompted by original reporting that appeared in a morning newspaper (or its digital avatars).

An image of journalistic credibility and quality still surrounds most traditional media nameplates. Even as fewer citizens cite traditional sources as where they get their news, those sources are still the ones that most influence public discourse and opinion.

That’s why proactive media relations remains crucial for even the most progressive corporate reputation programs. Traditional media’s enduring importance is also why so many PR agencies and business consultants offer media relations services. But clients shopping for that capability might ask the following questions, which media relations pros should be prepared to answer:

1.Have you worked as a journalist?” If a client can choose between a communications counselor who has only read books about journalism and another who has practiced it, it’s easy to imagine which one they’ll trust to produce better media relations results. The recent rise of academic degrees in public relations has brought respect and academic rigor to our profession, but it has also birthed “media consultants” who’ve never set foot in a newsroom. Might such PR majors still land good media hits? Of course. Likewise, an aviation major might do just fine piloting your plane. Or maybe not.

2. What stories have you placed in recent years?” The “years” increment is important, because even the best publicists typically boast only two or three big media hits per annum. And that’s how it should be. Really big scores — the ones that clients frame for their office walls — typically take months to gestate. 

3. “Can you show evidence that editors/producers know and respect you?” Proof of that respect might be a friendly email exchange or a full-blown testimonial. But the question goes beyond, “Who do you know in the media?” What matters is the story you pitch. When your client has a compelling story, or when you can enhance the client’s message to turn it into an actual story, then it may earn coverage. 

4. Can you show me your writing?” Most reporters became reporters not because they were passionate about the Fourth Estate, but because they loved to write, became good at it, and determined that journalism was one of the few professions that would pay them to do it. And just as good tennis players want to play with other good tennis players, good writers want to work with other good writers. You’ve been reading all your life; you know good writing when you see it. 

5. What headlines could your media outreach generate for my company?” This is another area where former journalists will distinguish themselves from mere PR majors. It’s also where clients should be most wary of having smoke blown in their faces. Be realistic about the kinds of story angles and headlines your media pitching might inspire. Turn your silliness detector on and parse the balderdash (“Cheese Cures Cancer”) from the gobbledygook (“The Crucial Role of Edible Acidic Substances in Ameliorative Coagulation Therapies”) and the plausible (“Whey Cool: Dairy in the Healthy Diet”).

Client demand for earned media shows little evidence of diminishing, even as available storytelling channels increase in number. By improving your team’s credentials and skills, you will also greatly improve the efficacy of your media relations efforts and capture more of that demand.

Paul Dusseault, APR

Paul Dusseault, APR, leads the corporate reputation practice at KWI Consulting. Contact him at paul@kwicomm.com.


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