Media Relations is a Lesson in "Hurry Up and Wait"

Even with a wide array of marketing options to connect with audiences, earned media coverage remains the Holy Grail for many. But, for marketers and the executives they report to, media relations remains a mystery—a black hole with no guarantees, difficult to explain and even harder to measure. And it takes a long time to net results.

So, let’s take a look at what public relations (PR)—and, specifically, media relations—is all about, and why it’s so hard.

What is PR anyway?

First and foremost, PR people are storytellers. We spend our days telling our clients’ stories to their most important audiences. We might do this by creating content that tells people everything they want to know about a client, from how they got started to where they are today. 

Often, that story is told through the media. This can be done in different ways—through news stories, interviews with clients, or articles written under our clients’ names.  

How does media relations work?

Clients often think that if they put out a press release, the media will immediately want to hear about it and write news stories on it. But, getting media coverage is much more complex.

Getting coverage starts with relationships. When PR people and companies work with journalists over time, they build trust, and ideally, both sides get what they need to do their jobs. PR people and spokespeople who give journalists a unique perspective on a trend or behind-the-scenes knowledge about a new product or other company news are more likely to secure a good story. 

Why does it take so long to get coverage?

Unfortunately, stories do not typically happen overnight. Often, they can take weeks, if not months, to materialize.

While breaking news stories about a new CEO or a product launch tend to get faster coverage, clients must remember that hundreds or perhaps thousands of companies are asking the same reporter to cover their news. To get picked up, your news needs to be timely and stand out among the other stories of the day.  

A trend piece or an evergreen story (something not bound by a particular timeframe) often gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. In-depth stories like these can take months to come to fruition. 

A case study

While working with a client in the training space, we pitched a reporter with The New York Times who had covered this sector many times in the past. Over several months, we offered him exclusive news and trend ideas with no luck, even though we knew him well and had established a good relationship with him over the years. Having that relationship helped us; it meant that our pitch stood a better chance of simply getting read. And, after months of trying, he agreed to take a call on background. But, after speaking with our client, the reporter didn’t feel there was enough depth or urgency to the piece, and he asked us to “keep in touch.” 

From there, we had to determine, with little direction from the reporter, what it would take to seal the deal. Our experience told us that we needed customers who would talk, access to senior executives at our client’s company, and a tie to something in the news. All of that took several months for us to achieve, and we stayed in touch with the reporter continuously to keep nurturing his interest in the story. Like a typical sales process, we chipped away slowly at the barriers. 

Finally, with the right news hook and a great customer story with an emotional pull, we got our hit. This was about a year after we first started working with the client, and six months after that first interview with the reporter. Our client got several short mentions in the piece, and the bigger partner got even more. But the article centered predominantly on the customer stories because, in the end, reporters typically want to know what your products or services do for your customers. It was a big win!

What is the lesson for other companies?

Big stories don’t happen overnight, and you need a lot of compelling assets at your disposal to dazzle the reporter. You need a persuasive spokesperson and you need something interesting to say. If it’s news coverage you seek, you need an innovation that no one else is talking about or a business deal that cuts through the noise to capture a reporter’s attention. 

None of this is easy, especially for companies that are not household names. I’ve seen major financing deals get little-to-no pickup, and global, ground-breaking product launch events fall flat because they happened on the same day as a World Series parade in the same city. 

Creativity is important. You need to find nuggets within a client’s story, look for their rightful home, and have a strong intuition that you’ve chosen the right moment in time to tell the story.