Relationships, not contacts

You may be aware that I regard Rethinking Reputation to be one of the very best PR books to come out in the past few years. Written by Fraser Seitel and John Doorley, it explains why reputation matters and how people have used it to increase their success. And while re-reading it recently, I noted the comments of an entrepreneur whose business became a massive success as a result of media coverage.

Katie Shea, co-founder of CitySlips, says: “In hindsight, fostering relations before you need them is the key.”

And I believe that what she said is profoundly important.

It fits straight in with what I call the platinum rule of public relations: to create relationships by unilaterally being helpful.

Too many PR people engage in “selling in”, a ridiculous process in which they act like a call centre and try to lobby journalists they don’t know over the phone. Good PR people, conversely develop relationships, in which they get to understand instinctively what will interest the journalist.

I read on an blog this morning some PR person commenting that it was unrealistic for PR staff to get to know each journalist’s interests. Apparently, journalists are paid to work out whether a press release, even if off-target, has some gem in it that could be relevant. When PR people take this attitude, I wonder if there is any point at all in companies hiring them.

In my experience, PR people who rely on bulk-sending generic press releases to a list of “contacts” (i.e. a list exported from a bought-in media database) also waste a lot of time. They make a nuisance of themselves in follow up emails and phone calls – and yet, still, rarely succeed in getting coverage. The untargeted nature of their press releases doesn’t save them hassle: it just makes them ineffective.

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