The PR Industry Should Place MORE Value on Media Relations, Not Less

No, seriously.

Pardon us while we rant for a minute.

Last week, a colleague brought The Holmes Report’s 2015 World PR Report to our attention. Why? Because the conclusions of PR professionals around the globe were a little surprising.

Some were obvious: talent management and recruiting is a big challenge, employees need to be up-to-date on all things social, measurement is more valuable than ever, etc.

This graph, however, caught our attention: it seems that the only things less important than media relations skills are those pertaining to research, CSR and paid placement.

holmes reportFrom the post:

“Across the world, however, one thing remains more or less constant. Media relations skills (15%) are not seen as particularly relevant. That should cause a measure of trepidation among the older generation of PR industry executives. Such is the nature of change.”

We will have to respectfully disagree.

Of course community management is important as more big-name clients (hi, McDonald’s) choose PR firms over digital agencies to handle their social presence.

And yes, content marketing is huge because the phrase can apply to almost anything–from your standard paper-dry b2b thought leadership pieces to videos and images populating an Instagram account.

That said, we still believe that media relations is the heart of the PR discipline–and when we asked a couple of our favorite contacts, they agreed.

Of course PR is a complex patchwork of practices that go far beyond writing press releases and sending pitches. Even the most easily irritated journalist knows this. Still, MR is the public face of the industry for good reason: how valuable is your operation if it can’t effectively relate to media “on the ground level?” SOMEONE has to do it.

We’ve dealt with organizations of all sizes ranging from huge global corporations and the world’s largest PR firm to remote one-man operations powered by Starbucks wi-fi–and the ones that stand out are those that truly understand and appreciate the value of relating to media. The quality of a given firm in this respect has nothing to do with its size or its client list.

And despite the industry’s progress, many journalists still have a dim view of PR on the whole. (Just check out their responses to bad pitches if you doubt this.)

The reason why is pretty simple: the business model encourages firms to push media relations work down to the bottom of their organizations, leaving the least experienced people to interact with even the best-known journalists. It’s a daunting task, and we know because we were terrible at it!

Following this pattern, firms can then charge clients by the hour whether the pitching process is productive or not as “spray and pray” meets “rinse and repeat.” Eventually, many clients realize that this may not be the most effective use of their money…but by that time, the checks have already been cashed anyway. Since there’s no pressing reason to revise the model, it persists.

Here’s the thing, though: the contacts who stand out to us in our experience are those who simply GET media relations. Lots of people can pull up spreadsheets and hit send, but the process of building legitimate relationships with other human beings requires skills that some people have inherently, be they in-house comms or account managers. A single back-and-forth via email or social can, in most cases, demonstrate which pros are great at this kind of thing and which ones are doing what their bosses consider to be “grunt work.”

Can you guess which ones journalists prefer to work with?

OK, yes: the business is changing rapidly. But some basics still apply, and if PR wants to more effectively prove its value to both clients and journalists/influencers, placing less emphasis on media relations is not the right way to go about it.