How to explain media relations value to clients

Part of the PR function is getting your organization’s experts and newsmakers placed in high-authority publications—but you can’t guarantee success. Here’s how to break it down.

Media relations is a crucial component of the PR pro’s role.

The savvy PR pro can do something that marketers can’t do: get your viewpoints featured by prestige publications. Coupled with all the other communications tools at your disposal, from social media to advertising, the right media placement can create the magic recipe for a content strategy.

“At its core, a media placement’s innate value is that it gives credibility to the subject that is being written or talked about,” says Judy Lee, vice president of media relations at Mitchell Communications Group. “In the rapidly moving world we live in and with an increasingly saturated and fragmented media landscape, this innate value must be emphasized.”

Many PR pros use the PESO model to describe the full scope of the PR role in the modern landscape with “earned media” or media relations taking just a quarter of the pie. However, in the current climate where trust comes at a premium, earned media might have a leg up on other tactics.

“Within the PESO model, earned media rises to the top as the one that can help clients and brands build trust with people, and essentially serves as a third-party endorsement when the tone of the coverage is positive,” says Lee.

Earned media’s true value

How can PR pros know the real value of a media placement?

Metrics like advertising value equivalent (AVE) have been jettisoned by measurement experts as PR pros emphasize outcomes over inputs. However, business leaders want to see the resulting impact and value for their money.

“When evaluating the value of a media placement, we need to assess the basics,” says Lee. She argues that the following should be considered:

  • The outlet covering the story
  • The tone of the coverage (whether it is positive or not)
  • The type of coverage (was it a roundup story or feature story)
  • Length of the placement
  • Who is being quoted
  • Whether photos/images are used
  • Message pull-through—or how many key messages are included in the story

Reach is important, too. Lee says it can be measured by looking at impressions, circulation and viewership, as well as shares.

Managing the client

How can PR pros defend the industry from encroaching fields such as marketing or business consultancy? It’s not an easy task when your services don’t offer a guarantee.

Lee says it’s important to educate clients on how PR works and to manage expectations.

“It is critical to first educate the client on the differences between paid, earned, shared and owned media—and the important and different roles each of them play,” says Lee.

She advocates for covering three major points when pitching to clients:

1. “We can steer the story, but we cannot control the resulting media placement.” Lee summarizes: “We can direct and feed the reporter on what to write and when to cover, but ultimately we have no control of the final product and whether/when the story will run.”

2. “We need to give journalists stories and topics they want to write and talk about.” Lee says you can minimize uncertainty by finding the right story. “News hooks are key,” she says.

3. “Earned media campaigns mean sometimes it’s instant gratification, sometimes it’s longer term return.” Earned media requires patience, Lee says. “When an outlet decides to run an article or TV segment is dependent on many factors—how newsy your story is and how much competing news is out there (aka national breaking news).”

Lee argues that the downsides are worth it for the credibility bump.

What to pitch in 2020

So what stories are hot right now? Like many other communicators, Lee has been closely following the U.S. political cycle and says many outlets will focus on the race for the White House.

“With the 2020 election coming up, we anticipate it will be a central undertone in media coverage continuing through November 2020,” she says.  “We see media interest covering societal and culturally relevant topics such as gun safety, immigration reform, health care, human trafficking, LGBTQ, diversity and inclusion, and gender equality.”

If you don’t have a political angle to offer, Lee suggests finding a pop culture angle.

“Media outlets also love to cover stories that have a pop cultural tie-in,” she says. “Currently those topics include Baby Shark, Fortnite and YouTubers who are driving cultural change, especially among Gen Z.”

Lee also suggests you get used to thinking about Gen Z consumers. “With Gen Z ‘growing up’ and entering the workforce, they will continue to drive direction of the types of stories media will cover,” she says.

The pitching craft

People are consuming news differently now from the way they were even five years ago. Digital publications have come of age. Snackable newsletters are all the rage.

Lee says these trends require your media pitch to be tighter and cleaner than ever.

“Taking in information in ‘snack bites’ has become the norm,” she explains. “What this means for media pitches is that they must be tighter and pithier, and the content must be in ‘sound bite’ form. This makes the first two sentences of a media pitch (and the subject line) essential areas for a PR professional to grab attention.”

Lee urges PR pros to go beyond the basics of a media pitch.

“Aside from the ‘usual’ essential components of a media pitch—news hook (why is it relevant now), a key spokesperson and interesting tidbits and points—take advantage of the subject line when sending an email pitch,” she says.

You get a placement—then what?

Your work isn’t over once you land a media placement.

“Share, share, share” says Lee, “and tell everyone else to help share the coverage that you’re sharing.

“The best way to support any media placement win is to get as many eyeballs on it and as many people talking about it as you can.”

Lee adds: “Amplifying the reach of a media placement win helps not only you and your client, but also helps the journalist that wrote or covered the story.”

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