In any career, you’re going to hit highs and lows. The field of public relations is, in some ways, like sales. Instead of selling a product or service, however, you’re selling a story or a person. Here’s where things really get different: the stakes and the outcome.
When you’re attempting to make a sale, the stakes are that you may or may not get the sale and that you may or may not reach your sales quota. With PR, the stakes are that you can make or break a business with one media hit. We all know about the Oprah effect.
When it comes to outcomes, if you’re making a sale, you can get a “yes” or a “no.” When it comes to pitching a story, however, the range of outcomes spans from “yes” to “no” with several iterations in between that can also make or break a brand. To illustrate this range of outcomes, I have crafted a list of the top 4 best and worst moments for PR professionals.
If you were choosing a song to commemorate these PR career successes on the soundtrack of your life, you might choose, “Girl On Fire” by Alicia Keys. These moments are so savory and wonderful, you can’t help but feel you’ve conquered something amazing (you have!). Here are the top four moments you either have experienced as a PR professional or will experience:
1. The first time you secure press. This is a bit of a no-duh best moment. This is the first time you secure a positive media hit for your employer or client. I can remember my first one: I was an undergraduate at UCI and interning at an international law firm. I pitched a story to the Orange County Register on business-method patents and it turned into a two-page spread on the cover of the business section with a picture of our head IP attorney smack-dab in the middle. I couldn’t drink to celebrate, but I sure completed a victory dance.
2. The first time you get a legitimate inbound PR lead. The first time you get a call from a reputable outlet wanting to cover your employer or client for a positive story, you will feel elated. As PR pros, we are used to actively pitching outlets, so when an outlet comes to us, it’s a sign that our work behind the scenes to craft our employer’s or client’s story and garner interest in it is working.
3. When one piece of press generates more press leads. There’s going to come a time when one media hit seamlessly translates into more media hits. This is the sign of a good story! And, you don’t have to just hope it happens, you can learn how to push this process along by reading my how-to here.
4. When a journalist or reporter comes to you as a trusted source. When a reporter comes to you as a trusted resource for an article he or she is writing, that’s when you know you haven’t only been great at pitching, but also great at building trust, which is one of the most (if not the most) important thing you can do as a PR professional. Want tips on how to build trust with journalists? Here are some things not to do.
If you were choosing a song to commemorate these PR career challenges on the soundtrack of your life, you might choose, “The Final Countdown” by Europe. Sure, I could’ve said “Breathe Me” by Sia, but we need something that will convince us to dust ourselves off and get back to pitching, not something that will leave our faces in a pint of Haagen Dazs.
1. When you get an inbound media lead, but find out it’s pay-for-play. There’s going to come a time when you think you’re getting an inbound media lead and you’re excited. It sounds something like this, “Hi Annabel, we’d love to feature [insert client or employer here] in our series hosted by [insert name of celebrity fading from limelight]. We’re putting together a segment that we think you’d be a great fit for.” This all sounds amazing! A pseudo-celebrity endorsement? A segment that will air on TV? The caller’s next move: asking to interview the CEO to discuss production details. Then, once they have you salivating at the idea of your client’s impending fame, they drop the bomb on you that you’ll need to “underwrite” “invest” or “sponsor” the program. Ladies and gentleman of PR—this is pure pay-for-play conducted in a misleading way. Lesson learned: if it’s a digital production, the name of the outlet isn’t ringing a bell and the caller’s main goal is to set up a call between the client and the producer, be up front and ask, “thank you for thinking of us, but I need to ask is this an opportunity that we will need to underwrite or fund in some capacity?”
2. When a broadcast media outlet covers your story and then it gets edited out. Sometimes your client or employer gets edited out of a news story. I once pitched a trend piece on schools that were improving their food options and was told my client would be featured (the client was interviewed and filmed). I watched the segment excitedly until it ended and realized that we were cut. The lessons I learned: 1) make your client/employer so integral to the story you’re pitching that they can’t be edited out and 2) don’t celebrate until after you watch the segment.
3. When a national TV show wants to do a story on your client, then the TV show folds. I’ll never forget when a producer told me he loved my pitch and wanted my client on his show. We started booking travel arrangements. Then came the news that the show was going under and they were halting production. Lesson learned: sometimes things are unpredictable. Celebrate the win, but don’t count your chickens before the eggs hatch.
4. When an outlet pulls a bait and switch and builds a great story around your client, then says in order for it to appear, you'll have to pay advertising fees. This is a bit like #1 above but even worse. A trade publication completed an extensive interview with my client and asked for high-res photos for what would be a feature story. Later, I get a call from a different contact within the outlet who dangles the feature in front of me and then tells me the price associated with it. It’s not quite coercion, but too close for comfort. Lesson: never deal with this trade publication again.
Photo: Successful business woman via Shutterstock