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Media Relations Keeps Getting Harder; Here are 6 Dynamic Techniques to Adapt

75% of PR and comms pros say media relations is getting harder – up 25% over three years; here are some practical techniques for adapting

A majority of public relations and communications professionals say media relations keeps getting harder. Three-quarters (75%) of PR said so this year, according to the 2020 JOTW Communications Survey. That’s an increase from 68% in 2019 and 51% in 2018.


Many of the open-ended comments from the survey point to underlying causes such as the rise of social media and self-publishing, disruption of the advertising-heavy business model in news, subsequent cuts to editorial staff, growth among the ranks of PR, and the deluge of pitches reporters receive.

Here are a few representative comments:

  • “Media are stretched very thin. More difficult to get their attention.”
  • “Less media to build relationships with and constant turnover.”
  • “Fewer journalists, more PR people. Very competitive – hard to get their attention. Journalists don’t have the time for long lead story development. Measured on clicks, quick hits.”

But some homed in on what ‘clicks’ has meant for news:

  • “Less reporters, more promoters.”
  • “Polarized audiences, ‘fake news’, decline of great newspapers and skilled reporting.”

Still, others noted vitriol has extended even beyond political circles:

  • “Reporters have less time, tighter deadlines, more responsibilities and politics…are taking up all the air in the room. Influencers and social media have cut into traditional media’s influence.”
  • “‘Fake news’! The mayhem and madness of this outcry makes it all so much more complicated.”
  • “Media does not want outside input.”

You may agree or disagree with some – or all – of that sentiment. Nevertheless, here we are. The question is, what do you, as a professional communicator, do about it?

6 Dynamic Media Relations Techniques to Adapt

Media relations isn’t going to get easier. Next year, when we conduct that same survey, I bet the results will look similar. So, if this is part of your job, you have to find a way to succeed. Here are a few practical ideas to consider.

1. Focus on 20% of reporters.

In a free online course about media relations for Muck Rack, Michael Smart invokes the 80/20 rule: Spend 80% of your time on the 20% of reporters you really have a shot with. Get to know them before you ask for something. When you know them, you’ll naturally know how to be relevant.

Cision recently announced “article-level data.” It’s a metric that tells you how many views a given article actually had. That’s better than estimating the publication’s web traffic or impressions. The company says it can also be used to “focus efforts on the journalists who move the needle.”

Look, that’s stuff is big bucks, but we’re getting closer; Moore’s Law applies in PR tech too.

2. Be more strategic.

There’s a lot of competition and everything isn’t a pitch. An overlooked part of a strategy is deciding what you won’t do. Media relations isn’t sales. It’s not a game of numbers because the total number of players is finite. Once you get marked as spam, that’s it.

3. Be easy for anyone to cover.

If media relations is hard, so too is journalism and reporting. A simple way to fix that is to make your company easy to cover. This means providing the basics such as:

  • have a dedicated online newsroom for reporters;
  • makes your media contacts easy to find;
  • favor plain language over jargon; and
  • provide multimedia sources.

Here are 10 other tips for being easy to cover.

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4. Use alternative media outreach methods.

I’ve been talking about using paid social to complement your outreach efforts for years. It’s passive and complementary to your existing efforts. Betsy Hindman calls this “surround sound.” It doesn’t take a lot of money, but it does take making the case for budget and learning how to use these advertising tools effectively.

5. Do more with the coverage you already earned.

A big problem in marketing and PR is that we’re so busy, we’ve become conditioned to just cross things off the list when they’re done. And when we cross one thing off, we’re onto the next thing.

But when you earn a media mention, you are not done yet. What you do with your coverage is just as important as getting in the first place. Share it. Repurpose it. Send it around internally.

This helps your overall media relations efforts because nobody watches the media like the media, which means coverage begets coverage.

Internal sharing pulls double duty: When the next catastrophe hits, and the leadership takes out the budget hatchet, again, they don’t want to cut yours because they understand the outsized-value you deliver to the business.

Here are 12 things you should do to amplify a media placement once you earn it.

6. Build your own audience.

Advertising spends big money to rent out someone’s else’s audience. PR pitches reporters because they work for a publication with an audience. Why not put some of that effort into building your own audience?

Just because the media landscape has changed doesn’t mean there isn’t an appetite for your niche news. That’s what content marketing is all about.

Too many confuse content marketing with marketing content. Content marketing means, running your blog, or whatever you choose as your platform like a publication. PR people are perfect for this!

And it will make you better at your media relations job because you’ll be learning how to build an audience. Your pitches will be better because you experience the thrills, let-downs, and mundane aspects of publishing.

Also, the audience you build will help you identify, those items that are most worthy of bona fide news coverage. They will help you surface aspects that break the threshold for news.

I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve pitched something to the media, found it fall on deaf ears, but then I blogged about it, it takes off, and I wind up earning coverage anyway.

* * *

Ned’s Job of the Week (JOTW) newsletter (sample) and Sword and the Script Media conducted the third annual JOTW Communications Survey to understand trends in the field of communications. A total of 300 professionals took the survey:

  • 95% of respondents are based in the U.S.;
  • 92% report having 11 or more years of experience;
  • 52% of respondents are in-house communicators; and respondents come from more than a dozen different industries.

Detailed demographics are included at the end of the report embedded below, which can be freely downloaded on SlideShare.

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Image credit: instagram.com/frankstrong

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